Back home in the United States, Bill Haley and the Comets were already passé. Their role in launching the rock-and-roll revolution was unquestioned, but it had been almost two years since “Rock Around the Clock” exploded on the scene, and in the meantime, a certain young man from Memphis had come along and changed the rules of the game. Elvis Presley, with his good looks and world-altering charisma, had made it nearly impossible for a slightly paunchy 30-year-old like Bill Haley to compete in the youth market in the United States. But Bill Haley and the Comets weren’t in the United States on this day in 1957—they were in England, disembarking from the Queen Elizabeth at Southampton and preparing to launch the first European tour ever by a major American rock-and-roll act.
When Haley and his band reached London’s Waterloo Station later that same day, mayhem ensued. Thousands of fans formed a crush at the station to greet the group in a raucous display the press dubbed “the Second Battle of Waterloo.” For the generation of war babies just becoming teenagers in Great Britain, Haley’s tour offered the first chance to see a real, live rock-and-roll show. Those shows made a particularly strong impression on certain members of that generation who would go on to change the course of music history.
“The birth of rock ‘n’ roll for me?” said Pete Townshend several decades later, “Seeing Bill Haley and The Comets….God, that band swung!”
“The first time I really ever felt a tingle up my spine was when I saw Bill Haley and The Comets on the telly,” said Paul McCartney. “Then I went to see them live. The ticket was 24 shillings, and I was the only one of my mates who could go as no one else had been able to save up that amount. But I was single-minded about it….I knew there was something going on here.”
“I’ve still got the ticket stub in my wallet from when I went to see Bill Haley and the Comets play in Manchester in February 1957—my first-ever concert” said Graham Nash. “Over the years I’ve lost houses…I’ve lost wives…but I’ve not lost that ticket stub. It’s that important to me.”
Bill Haley and the Comets may have aged out of rock-and-roll stardom back home, but they were greeted as heroes on this day in 1957 by a nation where rock and roll was just starting to explode.