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Chart Rewind: In 1955, Bill Haley Ushered In the Rock Era

"(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" was the first rock 'n' roll track to top Billboard's leading pop singles chart, then known as the Best Sellers in Stores.

In 1955, the rock era effectively launched with the No. 1 ­success of “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets. The single was the first rock ‘n’ roll track to top Billboard‘s leading pop singles chart, then known as the Best Sellers in Stores chart, and spent eight weeks atop the list, first hitting No. 1 on the tally dated July 9 of that year.

The then-30-year-old Haley, a Highland Park, Mich., native (real name: William John Clifton Haley Jr.), had already found success with his rocking cover of Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” which reached No. 7 in 1954, but it was “Rock Around the Clock” that made him a star. The song was released in 1954 and shot to No. 1 the following year, thanks in large part to its use in the opening credits of the 1955 Richard Brooks-directed film The Blackboard Jungle. By July 2, the Decca Records single had reportedly  sold more than 1 million copies — and it hadn’t even hit No. 1 yet.

Despite Haley’s transformative triumph, rock ‘n’ roll quickly found its new ambassador in the younger, sexier Elvis Presley, who shot to mainstream popularity in 1956 and became the most culturally recognized and commercially successful star of the early rock ‘n’ roll era.

Though “Rock Around the Clock” was Haley’s only No. 1, he notched more than a dozen chart entries — including “See You Later, Alligator” — before he died in 1981 at the age of 55. Nearly 20 years after “Rock Around the Clock” reached No. 1, it became a top 40 hit a second time in 1974 after it appeared on the soundtrack of George Lucas’ film American Graffiti. That same year, ABC debuted the ’50s-era sitcom Happy Days that used a version of the song rerecorded by Haley as its opening theme for two seasons.