Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rock Around the Clock

On the program this Spring is "Rock Around the Clock" by Max Freeman and Jimmy DeKnight, arranged for handbells by Carol Lynn Mizell. While perhaps not the first recording of its kind, Rock Around the Clock is considered the song that started the Rock and Roll era.

The song was written in 1952 for Bill Haley and the Comets. Haley knew he had a hit song for a new sound, but convincing the producers at his label, Essex Records, proved difficult. Not until Haley switched to Decca Records in 1954 was he able to record it, as the B-side to the "Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)."

The song was widely recognized until it was heard with the opening credits to the 1955 movie "Blackboard Jungle." It is reported that producers were looking to choose music that was popular with kids. The movie's star actor, Glenn Ford, pulled the album from his then-10-year-old son's collection, and it was chosen for the film. The song's popularity soared, becoming the #1 song in America for eight straight weeks.

Haley would re-record the song many times, as did many other artists, but none have ever been as popular as the original, legendary recording. The song re-appeared on the charts in 1974 when it was used as the opening song for the first season of the television show "Happy Days."

The arrangement for handbells by Mizell incorporates an unusual handbell technique, designed to mimic a trombone "slide." Trombones can easily play a note and slowly move to another note, but each handbell have has a distinct note. The effect is achieved by playing both the first note and the second note at the same time, but changing the direction of the bell so that the audience hears the first note predominately at first, then slowly shifts so that the second note is heard louder than the first. In fact both bells are ringing the entire time. What's most disconcerting to the ringer is that you don't hear the effect if you're too close; only a listenter from a distance will hear the dominant note stand out.

Bill Haley once said "No matter how bad a show might be going some night, I know that song will pull us through. It's my little piece of gold." We hope so, too.

No comments: