While rhythm & blues propelled pioneers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley to create rock and roll, Bill Haley took a different path: Western swing. By 1950, Haley's group The Saddlemen were recording horsey tunes like "Deal Me a Hand" and "Ten Gallon Stetson" on the small Philadelphia label Keystone.
By 1952, the band had become "Bill Haley and his Comets" thanks to a suggestion from WPWA program director Bob Johnson. With the new name came a new sound: early rockers like "Rock the Joint" and "Crazy, Man, Crazy," the Comets first hit.
In 1954, everything changed with the recording of "Rock Around the Clock." Originally recorded by novelty group Sonny Dae and the Knights, the song went nowhere. Haley's version became a huge international hit, with eight weeks at number one. The song busted out after its use under the opening credits of the film Blackboard Jungle.
This was music that throbbed and
ached, gyrated and squirmed. You couldn’t bring this music home to Mom
and Dad. “Rock Around the Clock,” which may or may not have been about
dancing all night, seemed to insinuate something naughtier – that it
wasn’t dancing but sex that would be happening “’til broad daylight.”
Haley, who died in 1981, followed "Clock" with great hits like "Shake, Rattle & Roll," "See You Later Alligator," and "Dim, Dim the Lights." But "Rock Around the Clock" would remain his greatest hit, even making it back into the Top 40 after its use as the theme of the TV show Happy Days.