On April 12, 1954— Bill Haley and His Comets recorded “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock.” If rock and roll was a social and cultural revolution, then “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock” was its Declaration of Independence. And if Bill Haley was not exactly the revolution’s Thomas Jefferson, it may be fair to call him its John Hancock.
Bill Haley put his enormous signature on rock and roll history during the final 40 minutes of a three-hour recording session in New York City—a session set up not for the recording of “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock,” but of a song called “Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town).” It took the group nearly all of their scheduled session to get a useable take of “Thirteen Women,” a song that was entirely new to them but was chosen as the A-side of their upcoming single by their new record label, Decca. With time running out and no chance of extending the session, Haley and his Comets were eager to lay down the song they’d been playing live for many months to enthusiastic audience response. The lead guitarist brought in for the session, Danny Cedrone, had not had time to work up a new solo for the instrumental break on “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock,” so he repurposed one he’d used on a Haley recording two years earlier called “Rock This Joint.” Cedrone was paid $31 for his work that evening, which included performing what is still recognized as one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.
Haley and the band had time for only two takes, and in the first, they played so loud that Haley’s vocals were almost inaudible on tape. In an era before multi-track recording, the only solution was to do a second take with minimal accompaniment and hope for the best. Later, a Decca engineer painstakingly spliced together segments from both takes—a near-miracle given the technology of 1954. The finished version was judged good enough to include as the B-side on “Thirteen Women,” which was released in May 1954.
The single sold a respectable but underwhelming 75,000 copies in the coming months, and was destined to be forgotten until a 10-year-old kid in Los Angeles flipped “Thirteen Women” and fell in love with the now-famous B-side. That kid, Peter Ford, happened to be the son of actor Glenn Ford, who was slated to star in the upcoming teenage-delinquency drama Blackboard Jungle. Peter turned his father on to “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock,” and soon enough, the song was chosen to play over the opening credits of Blackboard Jungle, which is how it became a pop sensation, selling a million copies in a single month in the spring of 1955.