When I think about Rock & Roll (capital letters, signifying the music, the genre, the cultural phenomenon), I think about this song. It’s not the first rock song ever, some would argue it’s not even the best, but in my mind, it is the song that defines the genre.
Bill Haley and the Comets weren’t really a rock band, initially, but the combination of rhythm and blues and country appealed to Haley, so they began recording in the rock & roll style. “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” was recorded in 1954, but didn’t become a hit until 1955, when it was used in the movie Blackboard Jungle. The response to the song was instant and visceral. There are stories of young people dancing in the aisles of movie theaters when the song played. It propelled the movie as much as the movie propelled the song. Even though rock music had been around a few years by this point, this was the birth of Rock & Roll.
It is a dynamic wonder, all movement and percussion and guitar. The stand-up bass and hi-hat drums create a rhythm that’s impossible to resist. Try it, I dare you. You might not dance, but you’ll be tapping your toes or nodding your head to the beat before it’s over. And find me a better guitar. I can name a lot of guitar parts that were just as good, but not many of them do so much so economically. This song is only a little over two minutes long. That’s all it took to change the world. Not bad.