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YouTube Gold: Bill Haley And His Comets

Rock Around The Clock may have been a ripoff, but it’s undeniably fun and iconic.

Bill Haley and His Comets
American rock and roll singer Bill Haley (1925 - 1981, centre) and his group The Comets, 1956. Left to right: Rudy Pompilli (1924 - 1976), Billy Williamson (1925 - 1996), Al Rex, Haley, Johnny Grande (1930 - 2006), Ralph Jones and Franny Beecher.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Rock and roll has always been full of ripoffs. For instance, Chuck Berry was furious that The Beach Boys took his sound, lock stock and barrel, for Surfin’ USA. George Harrison was sued for plagiarizing My Sweet Lord from the 1963 hit “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons. And of course the entire genre started in New Orleans by Black musicians before White musicians like Elvis Presley picked up on it.

Whatever happened, we now have musicians like Juna Serita playing funk in Japan, bands like Latvia’s Swamp Shakers playing rockabilly and on and on and on. It belongs to the world.

One of the first bands to popularize rock and roll was Bill Haley and His Comets.

Haley played first in Western swing bands and incorporated a lot of that and country into his sound. His band featured drums, keyboards, a saxophone, multiple guitars and, on occasion, an accordion.

Their first big hit was Rock Around The Clock, which a lot of people point to as the song that marked the beginning of the popular era of rock and roll, sort of an BC/AD mark if you will, albeit of considerably less significance.

Not surprisingly, some consider it a ripoff, in this case of Hank Williams’ 1947 country hit Move It On Over.

The most prominent accuser?

Hank Williams, Jr., who says that it’s almost an exact copy, just faster.

Whatever the case, the mixing of early rock and roll, Western swing and country music with an incredibly infectious guitar solo, produced a song that, as much as any, captured the era. Later it was made into the theme song of Happy Days, a TV sitcom from the 1970’s that ripped off tapped into that era’s nostalgia for the supposedly more innocent 1950’s.

The details are surprisingly murky, but Haley died an agonizing death in 1981, either from alcoholism, a brain tumor, a chemical imbalance, mental illness or some combination of the various conditions. He was just 55.