- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
Bill Haley and His Comets recorded the first rock ’n’ roll hit: “Crazy, Man, Crazy,” a now-forgotten piece of swing-based fluff that employed teen-oriented catchphrases of the day (“solid,” “crazy,” “gone”).
Issued on Essex Records, the ditty reached No. 12 on Billboard’s 1953 singles chart. The success of “Crazy, Man, Crazy” caught the interest of industry giant Decca Records, who quickly wooed Haley away from tiny Essex and onto their powerhouse label.
On April 12, 1954, Haley and his band nervously entered Manhattan’s cavernous Pythian Temple studios to tape two songs for Decca that would become the Comets’ debut offering.
Top-notch veteran Decca producer Milt Gabler focused his energy on the “A” side, a novelty called “Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town),” a droll tale of 13 women and one (lucky) man who somehow survive an H-bomb explosion.
The second track scheduled was an upbeat 12-bar blues dance tune called “Rock Around the Clock.” Haley wasn’t the first to record it; “Clock” had originally been done by a rock aggregate called Sonny Dae and the Knights. Dae’s disc failed to catch fire, but Haley liked the song and had utilized it on the road for two years as a hot dance number.
“Thirteen Women” took longer than expected, and the studio clock showed only 30 minutes of the three-hour session available for the “B” side. Haley’s two quickly recorded attempts proved less than perfect.
But when time ran out, Gabler, in a deft display of recording-studio wizardry, grafted the two tracks onto one now-usable master tape.
Decca promoted “Thirteen Woman,” but deejays soon preferred the backside of the single (which was absurdly labeled a fox trot, a smooth ballroom dance). Haley’s disc squeaked onto the Billboard Top 30 for one week in 1954, and then faded into oblivion.
Young Peter Ford, the only child of Glenn Ford and Eleanor Powell, was playing some of his favorite records — at full volume — when director Richard Brooks dropped by the Ford/Powell home in Beverly Hills one evening in early 1955.
Brooks had come to chat with Glenn Ford about a movie they were working on called Blackboard Jungle, a gritty tale of inner-city juvenile delinquents based on Evan Hunter’s hit novel of the same name.
Brooks had been looking for a teen-oriented tune to use over the film’s credits. As rock ’n’ roll was just gathering momentum, the pickings for just the right song were slim back then.
But when Brooks heard “Rock Around the Clock” blasting from Peter’s room, he knew he had found the perfect musical insertion for Blackboard Jungle. Brooks borrowed the lad’s 78 RPM platter, promising to return it later (but he apparently never did).
On his website (www.peterford.com), the now-retired actor/singer/businessman states, “I played a small but pivotal role in launching a musical revolution. Thanks to a unique set of circumstances, the musical passion of a fifth-grader helped ‘Rock Around the Clock’ become, as Dick Clark called it, ‘The National Anthem of Rock ’n’ Roll.’”
Although Randal C. Hill’s heart lives in the past, the rest of him resides in Bandon, Ore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.