Tuesday, 9 September 2008

"Rock Around The Clock" by BILL HALEY and HIS COMETS (2004 MCA/Universal '50th Anniversary' CD Reissue and Erick Labson Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Birth Of The Boogie…"

For something so supposedly throwaway - our fave genre has sure as Hell gone the distance. December 2015 past was the 60th Anniversary for the release of this extraordinary 12” piece of vinyl of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ mayhem – BILL HALEY and his COMETS giving it some of that devilish “Rock Around The Clock”. And when you think of it’s cultural impact – it’s hard to believe that in some – it’s been cruelly forgotten.

This May 2004 American CD reissue on Universal/Geffen/Decca B0001705-02 (Barcode 602498613627) gives us all 12-tracks of Bill Haley’s original US Mono album "Rock Around The Clock" (with his Comets) released just a week before the Christmas festivities of 1955.

Part of Universal’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll 50th Anniversary” CD Series (see below) - it's remastered to gorgeous sound quality from 1st generation master tapes by ERICK LABSON of Universal – a Sound Engineer who has over 1000 credits to his name for audio restoration and mastering. Its bonus tracks are 3-sides of two singles issued in or around the release of the vinyl album. Here’s a detailed breakdown of what’s what (39:33 minutes):

1. (We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock
2. Shake, Rattle & Roll
3. A.B.C. Boogie
4. Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town)
5. Razzle-Dazzle
6. Two Hound Dogs
7. Dim, Dim The Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere) [Side 2]
8. Happy Baby
9. Birth Of The Boogie
10. Mambo Rock
11. Burn That Candle
12. Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie
Tracks 1 to 12 are the MONO album “Rock Around The Clock” – released 19 December 1955 in the USA on Decca BL 8225 and June 1956 in the UK on Brunswick LAT-8117. It peaked at No. 2 in the UK in August 1956.

13. R-O-C-K
14. The Saints Rock ‘N’ Roll
15. See You Later, Alligator

Excepting one track [7/B] - this CD reissue will allow the listener to sequence all of Haley's eight Decca 7" singles of the time as follows:
1.  (We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock [1] b/w Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town) [4] (1954, Decca 29124)
2.  Shake, Rattle & Roll [2] b/w ABC Boogie [3] (1954, Decca 29204)
3.  Dim, Dim The Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere) [7] b/w Happy Baby (1954, Decca 29317)
4.  Mambo Rock [10] b/w Birth Of The Boogie [9] (1955, Decca 29418)
5.  Razzle Dazzle [5] b/w Two Hound Dogs [6] (1955, Decca 29552)
6.  Rock-A-Beatin' Boogie [12] b/w Burn That Candle [11] (1955, Decca 29713)
7.  See You Later, Alligator [15] b/w The Paper Boy (On Main Street, USA) [not included] (1956, Decca 29791)
8.  R-O-C-K [13] b/w The Saints Rock 'n' Roll [14] (1956, Decca 29870)

It's a bit of an omission leaving out "The Mail Boy (On Main Street, USA)" (the B-side to "See You Later, Alligator") - but the fifteen songs provided above are that rarity - all killer and no filler - every last one of them released on 45 because they were ace crowd pleasers. The 16-page booklet is lovely to look at with that gorgeous colour cover as the first page and the rear sleeve as the last. Inbetween you get expert liner notes by noted writer and Grammy winner BILL DAHL as well as recording credits. But the big news is a fabulous ERICK LABSON Remaster that makes these 15 slices of musical history - sing as never before.

More of a compilation of hits that a pre-planned ‘album’ per say – that doesn’t really hold truck. Right from the off - the joy of the band is audible in every song and you can feel why people went nuts for "Rock 'n' Roll". You can just imagine the new teenagers of the USA (and everywhere else for that matter) sitting down in their local movie theatre glued to the opening credits of "Blackboard Jungle". Then Bill Haley's irresistible and infectious "Rock Around The Clock" comes out of the speakers and literally blows away the cobwebs of a hurting decade after the Second World War. It must have seemed like a cultural Atom Bomb - and best of all - scared the living crap out of their parents. A sense of sly fun pervades the whole record (dancing in the aisles).

Songs like his cover of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle & Roll” and the witty “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town)” took Britain by storm too - mobbed at Waterloo Station in London in 1957. The audio quality on “ABC Boogie” (a teacher up from Basin street) and “Razzle Dazzle” (it’s the hipsters dance and square cats too) is shockingly good. That irresistible trademark double bass backbeat, the miked-up and in-your-face drums all bolstered by zippy guitar licks – the whole combines to make your feet tap and your hip replacements swing (daddy-o). Other gems on there are “Burn That Candle” and the smash single “See You Later, Alligator” which along with Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” - must be one of the most copied songs ever…

So why then is Haley seen by some as 'Uncle Bill'? Haley was 30 when the album was released and yet somehow he seemed older (some even felt he was a pretender). The album came out in December 1955 - but two months later a kid from Tupelo would make it in early 1956 and make Bill seem redundant overnight. Given his good looks, his voice and his sheer animal magnetism - it's easy to see why Elvis would be adopted as the true "King of Rock 'n' Roll" by the teens only months after Haley broke down the door. Elvis was cool - Haley was your Dad.

Yet although Elvis ripped the entire fabric of the known Universe apart in 1956 - this extraordinary album is where it all really started for Rock 'n' Roll and Bill Haley should be loved for that. Haley laid the groundwork and Elvis, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers - they all followed in his footsteps - and all prospered because of him.

You can't help but think that this album and Haley himself are forgotten - and they shouldn't be. A fantastic listen and an important and timely CD reissue - "Rock Around The Clock" is surely one of the great debut albums and a catalyst for so much joy to come (that we now take for granted).

Start your journey to the dark side here children - and swear to your parents you'll only look at Elvis and Bill from the waist up...

PS: It should also be noted that this issue is part of the 'ROCK 'n' ROLL 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION' Series issued in 2004 by Universal in the USA

'Rock 'N' Roll 50th Anniversary Edition' is a secondary series title and is displayed vertically on the side inlay beneath the see-through tray of each release, but unfortunately, if you try to search databases for ANY titles under this moniker, it doesn't recognize the name at all. For those interested - the series includes:

1. After School Session by CHUCK BERRY (1958 debut LP on Chess)
2. St. Louis To Liverpool by CHUCK BERRY (1964 STEREO LP on Chess)
3. The Chirping Crickets by THE CRICKETS (1957 debut LP featuring BUDDY HOLLY)
4. Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger by BO DIDDLEY (1960 STEREO LP on Checker)
5. Rock Around The Clock by BILL HALEY & HIS COMETS (1955 LP on Decca)
6. Buddy Holly by BUDDY HOLLY (1958 1st solo LP on Coral)
7. Rock, Rock, Rock! Original Soundtrack by VARIOUS (Chuck Berry, The Flamingos and The Moonglows) (1956 Chess 'Rock'n'Roll Movie Soundtrack LP)

I bought all 7 of these titles and I can't recommend them enough - each album remastered, colour artwork lovingly restored and each bolstered up with 3 to 5 relevant releases from the time (many previously unreleased). Fans of Haley, Holly, The Crickets, Berry, Diddley and Rock'n'Roll in general should quickly acquire all of these exemplary CDs. They make for the best basis of a collection in a minefield of lesser compilations…and it’s dirt-cheap too…

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