Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bill Haley & His Comets

I am in awe of Bill Haley. He is probably the first rock and roller to show up on the pop charts. “Crazy Man Crazy” reached number 12 on the Billboard chart in mid 1953. 1953!

Elvis’ first record came out in 1954, his first hit in 1956. Chuck Berry and Fats Domino didn’t show up until 1955, Little Richard in 1956, Buddy Holly in ’57.

He doesn’t get the credit of course. Maybe the “experts” think he was too derivative, or too tame, or too old. Well he was kind of paunchy in his heyday. But it doesn’t matter, he was there before anyone else and it’s time to set the record straight.

This collection comes from three sources.

Golden Hits is the main source and it’s here in its entirety. 14 of his 24 hits are there. I got the album at Music City.

I used to hear Music City ads every night on the radio when I was a kid. Music City in the Mall Centre they said. Jack Skelly was the owner, and they said his name a lot. Where is the Mall Centre I asked my mother. Polo Park she said, referring to what was then the biggest mall in the city.

But she was wrong. The Mall Centre was a small strip of stores between the Mall Hotel and the bus depot, diagonally across from The Bay. But when I bought this LP the store had moved more into the centre of downtown. And I don’t know whether it was the same store. I didn’t go in there very many times. I bought Bill Haley, and Eric Burdon & The Animals, and The Irish Rovers, all at the same time, a long time ago, late 70s probably.

I got a tape, can’t remember the name, with about 9 tracks, I think I bought it at Sears Polo Park (funny how these things go) many years later, and 3 songs are here: “Rudy’s Rock,” “Mambo Rock,” and “Hot Dog Buddy Buddy.” And “Crazy Man Crazy,” the song that started it all, I got from an ancient compilation album called Rock And Roll Dance Party, and I found that at Pyramid Records, which is a story unto itself, so it will have to wait.

Haley hits missing in action: “Birth Of The Boogie,” “Joey’s Song,” “Lean Jean,” “Teenager’s Mother (Are You Right?),” Skokiaan.”

Bill Haley & His Comets:

· Rock Around The Clock – the granddaddy of all rock and roll songs. If rock and roll has a signature tune, this is it. (Well, this and “Johnny B Goode.”) The song was written by Max Freedman and Jimmy De Knight, whose real name was James Myers, and I know nothing about either one of them. Haley recorded it and released it in 1954 but it stiffed. Then in ’55 it was used for the movie Blackboard Jungle and the rest is history. They can’t count how many records it’s sold from then till now. It’s been covered of course, and I can think of Sha Na Na (well duh), and Harry Nilsson did it with John Lennon by his side on Pussy Cats, but it wasn’t his most stellar performance.
· Burn That Candle – “mother” is the object here, the one who is supposed to keep the candle burning, while she awaits Bill to waltz in with his sweetie. It was a hit late in 1955
· Forty Cups Of Coffee – Bill is worried sick while his sweetie is out late, and he ODs on caffeine. But the ending is happy, Bill is not angry with her for coming late or not calling. Still, I wanna know, where the heck was she. The song was out in the spring of ’57, when I was just a wee’un.
· Two Hound Dogs – one of many gimmicky songs that Haley did, the dogs are named Rhythm and Blues. And they dance. I guess.This was from the summer of ’55, but it only made number 50. I wonder why. This was the flip side of “Razzle Dazzle.”
· Tonight’s The Night – not The Shirelles song and not the Rod Stewart song, but the theme is the same, surprise. Oh, and not the Neil Young song. This is a group vocal.
· Dim Dim The Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere) – first he wants to burn the candle, then he wants to dim the lights. Make up your mind. How can I love you with the room so bright. This hit before “Rock Around The Clock,” in early ’55.
· Shake Rattle And Roll – one of the most famous rock and roll songs ever. The song was written by Charles Calhoun (I know I know, who?) and was done originally by Joe Turner, whose version is a bit slower, and which has a more loping rhythm. Haley cleaned up the words and managed to reach the top 10 in the fall of 1954. Arthur Conley put the song back on the charts in 1967.
· Rip It Up – Bill Haley does Little Richard. He cleaned up these words too – ‘we’re gonna ball tonight” becomes “at the ball tonight.” Oops.
· (You Hit The Wrong Note) Billy Goat – from the summer of ’57. A dumb song. Sorry
· Rockin’ Rollin’ Rover- more about dogs
· Rockin’ Little Tune – an instrumental, and not a very rock and roll one either.
· Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie – The flip of Burn That Candle, this managed to scurry up to number 23 at the end of ’55.
· Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town) – Haley’s dream. It was in the wake of nuclear holocaust, and now he’s a stud. Too bad about the radiation.
· Saints Rock ‘N Roll – everybody had to have a stab at “When The Saints Go Marching In” and so did Haley. He doesn’t do a bad job of it, but it’s still an annoying song. Was in the top 20 in the spring of ’56.
· Corrine, Corrina – Joe Turner did this one too, and so, later, did Ray Peterson, and Bob Dylan, and Taj Mahal, and many others.
· Crazy Man Crazy – the one that started it off, in mid 1953, on Essex Records (the rest were on Decca).
· Rudy’ Rock – Rudy is Rudy Pompilli, the sax player, who took over as band leader early on, as Haley descended further into mental illness. From autumn 1956.
· Mambo Rock – Haley’s contribution to the mambo craze. From early 1955.
· Hot Dog Buddy Buddy – a real rocker this one, From spring, 1956.
· Calling All Comets – an instrumental, not as strange as the other one.
· Hide And Seek
· Rockin’ Thru The Rye – an adaptation of the song that gave Catcher In The Rye its name. From the summer of ’56, the flip side of Hot Dog Buddy Buddy
· See You Later Alligator – a top 10 hit from early 1956. Did the song come from the expression, or did the expression come from the song?
· R-O-C-K – From spring 1956, he sings about himself

Strauss discovered waltzes
The Handyman brought the blues
Then came Haley
With Crazy Man Crazy
Dig that crazy news

· Skinnie Minnie – from spring 1958
· Razzle Dazzle – from summer ’55. I remember a TV show called Razzle Dazzle.
· A.B.C. Boogie – a swinging teacher
· Don’t Knock The Rock – this was the name of a movie, and I guess Haley was in it and so was the song. Surprisingly this song does not appear to have made the charts.

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