In 1955, bandleader Bill Haley and His Comets recorded a landmark rock and roll song, "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock," which held down the Number One spot for eight weeks and went on to sell 22 million copies worldwide. In Britain, "Rock Around the Clock" has re-entered the charts seven times, most recently in 1974. If only for the impact of "Rock Around the Clock," in which Haley adapted a black R&B song to a more streamlined rock and roll beat, Haley would deserve a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yet his impact in the early days of rock and roll went well beyond that. Two years earlier he'd put out "Crazy, Man, Crazy," an original song that became the first rock and roll record to make Billboard's pop chart. For most of the Fifties, Haley was a presence on the record charts with and in teen-oriented movies.
Haley broke into rock and roll via country and western music. He was a member of the Downhomers and musical director for the Saddlemen. The latter group had a regular radio show at a Chester, Pennsylvania, radio station. Haley brought different sounds into the Saddlemen's repertoire in an attempt to blend, in his words, "country and western, Dixieland and the old-style rhythm & blues." In 1952, the Saddlemen released "Rock This Joint" on the Essex label, and it sold 75,000 copies. By 1953, the group had changed its name to Bill Haley and His Comets and recorded the slang-filled "Crazy, Man, Crazy," a bonafide rock and roll hit. Haley and His Comets were thereupon signed to Decca Records.
At their first session for Decca, they cut "Rock Around the Clock" (which had originally been recorded in 1952 by Sunny Dae. Little attention was paid to Haley's version upon its initial release in the spring of 1954. The group followed it with their cover version of Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll," which cracked the Top Ten in July 1954 and sold a million copies. "Rock Around the Clock" got its second lease on life by being chosen for the soundtrack to The Blackboard Jungle, a 1955 movie about high-school delinquency that generated controversy in the press and pandemonium among the young. In effect, "Rock Around the Clock" became an anthem for rebellious Fifties youth. A 1956 movie named after the song, which featured nine lip-synched performances by Haley, made him a star here and abroad. His celebrity was particularly long-lived in Britain, where he continued to be treated as rock royalty into the Seventies.
Haley, who performed on the revival circuit throughout the Sixties and Seventies, saw his signature song become a U.S. hit for the second time when "Rock Around the Clock" appeared on the 1974 soundtrack for American Graffiti. It is estimated that Haley and His Comets have sold 60 million records worldwide. He died of a heart attack in 1981.