Bill Haley & His Comets hit No.1; face censorship

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Fans of rock ‘n’ roll and popular music historians are familiar with Bill Haley & His Comets. One of the earliest rock ‘n’ roll bands in US history, Haley and company scored a No. 1 with “Rock Around the Clock” in 1955. But their invitation to play at a stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey the following year was revoked amid controversy surrounding another band and rock ‘n’ roll in general.

The story: Frankie Lymon &the Teenagers cause a riot in Asbury Park makes problems for Bill Haley & his Comets

According to app.com (part of the USA Today network), 13-year-old Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers were scheduled to play a show coordinated by two jewelry store owners who were leasing space in Convention Hall in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The year before, Bill Haley & his Comets had played, and the show was a success.

However, from all accounts, a huge crowd showed up to see the New York-based Teenagers, and that sea of people surged closer and closer to the stage. It has also been reported that there were only five policemen serving as security guards.

Details are sketchy, but a fight broke out, a man was stabbed in the stomach. People destroyed furniture. Still in its infancy, rock ‘n’ roll was suddenly associated with bad behavior, despite the squeaky clean image of The Teenagers.

But people took notice and made assumptions. The event affected a scheduled show by Bill Haley & his Comets several days later in Jersey City, where the band was scheduled to play Roosevelt Stadium.

Bill Haley & his Comets, “Rock Around the Clock” and city censors

According to ThisDayinMusic.com, when Bill Haley & his Comets attempted to play the show at Roosevelt Stadium, they were met with a city ordinance prohibiting the playing of rock ‘n’ roll, stating: “Rock and roll music encouraged juvenile delinquency and inspired young females in lewd bathing suits to do obscene dances on the city’s beaches.”

This prohibition of rock ‘n’ roll pre-dated the heavy metal Senate hearings of the 1980s, which resulted in so-called questionable music getting warning stickers.

The issue also shows that when rock music is banned, it has nothing to do with how it sounds overall. The soundscape of Twisted Sister is unlike that of Bill Haley & his Comets, or Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, for that matter.

“Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets

Before the controversy recounted here, Haley and company had become stars thanks to “Rock Around the Clock.” Sometimes listed as “We’re Gonna Rock Around the Clock,” the song had an energy, the presaged the rock ‘n’ roll to come.

No, “Rock Around the Clock” wasn’t the first rock ‘n’ roll song. But its eight-week reign at No. 1 points to the fact that it was something that  a new generation of music fans needed.

The fast pace and elliptical lyrics about staying out until dawn, or “broad daylight” actually, made the song just rebellious enough to separate it from popular music of the previous decade. Also, the raucous guitar work is still noteworthy more than 60 years later.

The incidents of censorship and rock ‘n’ roll (and controversial genres to follow) in the late 20th century had their roots in events from the earliest days of rock ‘n’ roll. That the resistance to rock ‘n’ roll was overcome by the persistence of fans and performers shows the true spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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