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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

July 9, 1955

I am going to kick off this edition of the Tuesday Timeline by wishing my sister a happy 41st birthday today. Granted, I really doubt that she is actually going to see this blog, but I just wanted to get the message out there just in case.

Today is the ninth of July, and I'll admit that I was having a tough time choosing a topic for this week. I had to search through a number of different sources for ideas, and it took me a bit of time to really come up with an appropriate topic.

And, let's just say that for a Tuesday Timeline entry, this topic choice could not be any more perfect.

Of course, we have some business to take care of first before we propel ourselves back through time. So, let's begin with this look back on July 9 with celebrity birthdays.

I want to wish a very happy birthday to the following famous faces; Ed Ames, Brian Dennehy, Richard Roundtree, Dean Koontz, Chris Cooper, John Tesh, Jimmy Smits, Tom Hanks, Marc Almond, Kelly McGillis, Jim Kerr (Simple Minds), Courtney Love, Pamela Segall Adlon, Scott Grimes, Enrique Murciano, Dani Behr, Jack White (The White Stripes), Fred Savage, Ashly DelGrosso, Jacob Hoggard (Hedley), Kiely Williams, and Mitchel Musso.

(Oh, yeah...O.J. Simpson was born on July 9 as well...but I consider him more INFAMOUS than famous.)

And, what was going on in the world throughout the history books on this date? Well, lots of things!

1572 – Nineteen Catholics suffer martyrdom for their beliefs in the Dutch town of Gorkum

1776 – George Washington ordered the Declaration of Independence to be read aloud in New York City for the first time to members of the Continental Army

1793 – The Act Against Slavery is passed in Upper Canada, and slave importation is prohibited in Lower Canada

1810 – Napoleon annexes the Kingdom of Holland as part of the First French Empire

1816 – Argentina declares its independence from Spain

1850 – Millard Fillmore becomes the 13th President of the United States following the death of Zachary Taylor

1863 – The siege of Port Hudson ends during the American Civil War

1877 – The inaugural Wimbledon Championships opens

1918 – The deadliest rail accident in the United States occurs when an inbound local train collides with an outbound express, killing 101 people in Nashville, Tennessee

1922 – Johnny Weissmuller swims the 100 metre freestyle in 58.6 seconds, breaking a world record

1944 – British and Canadian forces capture Caen, France during the Battle of Normandy

1946 – Original lead singer of AC/DC Bon Scott is born in Forfar, Angus, Scotland

1956 – Dick Clark becomes the host of a television program entitled “Bandstand” - which would eventually evolve to become “American Bandstand”

1958 – Lituya Bay is struck by a megatsunami with a wave measuring a height of 524 metres – the largest wave in recorded history

1962 – Andy Warhol's “Campbell's Soup Cans” exhibition opens at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles

1981 – Donkey Kong is released in arcades by Nintendo; marks the very first appearance of the character that would come to be known as Super Mario

1986 – The Parliament of New Zealand passes the Homosexual Law Reform Act legalizing homosexuality in New Zealand

2004 – Actress Isabel Sanford passes away in Los Angeles, California at the age of 86.

Okay, so which year will be be turning back the calendar pages to?

July 9, 1955.

1955 was a year in which a new kind of music was just making its way onto jukeboxes, record players, and radios everywhere.

That music was good, old-fashioned, rock and roll.

And, on July 9, 1955, one of these rock classics hit the #1 spot on the a time before the Billboard 100 ceased to exist (the Billboard Hot 100 didn't start ranking songs until November 1955).

What was interesting about the song was that the band who made it famous wasn't the band who first recorded the single.

The song history dates all the way back to 1952, when songwriters James E. Myers and Max C. Freedman penned the lyrics (although some music historians claim that Freedman was the sole composer). And, in late 1953, the song was offered to man who had had success earlier in the year with his song “Crazy Man, Crazy”.

The band was “Bill Haley and His Comets”.

The band began performing the song at their live concerts, and were interested in recording the single. But for whatever reason, the record company that the band was signed to refused to give permission. In fact, according to Haley himself, the head of Essex Records (Dave Miller), reportedly tore the sheet music for the single into shreds – on two different occasions!

While this was going on, another group – Sonny Dae & His Knights – recorded the song instead. But while this version was a moderate success, Haley was still determined to record this single himself.

And, in 1954, Bill Haley got his wish.

After cutting ties with Essex Records, Bill Haley and His Comets signed onto the Decca Records label, who had no issue with Haley's band recording the very single that Dave Miller of Essex Records prevented them from recording. But when the band finally got around to recording the single, the band drowned out Haley's vocals, and a second session had to be recorded. But because the band was on a limited time frame (Sammy Davis Jr. was next in line to record material for one of his albums), the second version was more of a minimal arrangement, and the two separate recordings were merged into one single.

A single that appeared in the classic film “Blackboard Jungle”. A single that served at the theme song for the first season of “Happy Days”. A single that spent eight weeks at the top of the charts in the summer of 1955. A single that first hit #1 on July 9, 1955.

ARTIST: Bill Haley and His Comets
SONG: Rock Around the Clock
ALBUM: Rock Around the Clock
DATE RELEASED: May 20, 1954 (re-released in 1955)

How timely that the Tuesday Timeline entry for today is “Rock Around the Clock”! And, why wouldn't it be? Although it was not the very first rock and roll record to be released, it certainly set the tone for what music would be like for many, many years. The song is ranked at #158 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and the song is also widely considered to be the greatest song of the 1950s.

And, for the record, while the line-up of musicians has been questioned over the years, this was the official list of band members as stated on the official record sheet for the recording session.

BILL HALEY – vocals/rhythm guitar
MARSHALL LYTLE – string bass
JOEY AMBROSE – tenor sax
BILLY WILLIAMSON – steel guitar
DANNY CEDRONE – electric guitar

But one thing that you might have noticed was that the song was officially released on May 20, 1954...a full fourteen months before the song became a chart-topper. Why did it take so long?

Well, when the song was first released, it didn't do that great on the charts, and was destined to be another forgotten hit. But then the film appeared on the soundtrack to the classic film “Blackboard Jungle”, which starred Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Sidney Poitier, and Louis Calhoun. The film was released on March 19, 1955, and the song was featured in the opening credits. Teenagers flocked to the silver screen to watch the film, and as a result, they also purchased the album that the single appeared on, helping the song reach the top of the charts in July 1955.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: The song hit its peak on the charts in the United Kingdom in January 1955 – a full six months before the song hit #1 in the United States, and a full two months before the release of “Blackboard Jungle”. The song peaked at #17 in January 1955, but was re-released in September of the same year performing much better on the charts, peaking within the Top 5.

The song was a huge hit all over the world, and the success of the single helped Bill Haley and His Comets secure a job performing the song on a couple of films...1956's “Rock Around the Clock”, and 1957's “Don't Rock the Clock”. And, believe it or not, a sequel of sorts to the song was recorded by the same band entitled “Dance Around the Clock” in 1964. Unfortunately, that song didn't do as well as “Rock Around the Clock”, but the fact that the song was so big that it deserved a sequel...that's almost unheard of, even in the year 2013.

In 1974, the song made a return to the pop charts when the single was used in the soundtrack for the 1973 film “American Graffiti”, which starred Ron Howard. And, later on, Ron Howard would star in the American sitcom, “Happy Days”, which also used “Rock Around the Clock” as the show's theme song for the first few episodes.

And, Bill Haley would continue to perform the single well into the late 1970s. Although in his later years, he often performed abbreviated versions of the song, dropping the second verse altogether. The lone exception being a 1979 performance of the song that he performed for Queen Elizabeth II, in which he performed the full version.

It was a sad day in the music industry when Bill Haley died of a brain tumour at the age of 55 on February 9, 1981. And after his passing came a wave of tributes from a special all-star performance on the 30th anniversary special of American Bandstand to a posthumous Grammy Hall of Fame award presented to Bill Haley in 1982. And, thirty-two years after his passing, Bill Haley's legacy continues to live on through the song that made him a star.

The song is estimated to have sold 25 million copies in total, and several artists have covered the song themselves including The Isley Brothers, Mae West, Harry Nilsson, The Sex Pistols, and even Alvin & The Chipmunks and Sharon, Lois & Bram, introducing new generations to a rock and roll classic.

A rock and roll classic that hit the top of the charts on July 9, 1955.

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