No tags :(

Share it




One look at the title… even many of the lyrics… would suggest that Essex Records made a huge mistake as giving this the B-side designation while plugging a warmed over fifteen year old song based on a century old children’s nursey rhyme as the side to watch.

But while they definitely were wrong in their assessment of the commercial potential of that song, they didn’t necessarily screw up in realizing this one wasn’t going to turn many heads in the rock demographic they were now desperately trying to appeal to.

The problem in this case wasn’t Essex Records not knowing what had potential in this market, but rather it was the artist who was utterly clueless as to what this audience wanted out of him and as soon as he began to shore up one area he’d faltered on, he let the other area he’d excelled at to this point fall off completely.


People Gather ‘Round
History has never really settled definitively on how to view Bill Haley.

When rock broke through to white audiences in the mid-1950’s Haley was the initial focal point and as such received outsized credit for the genre which began seven years earlier and thrived that whole time without any help from him. But when other white acts soon began surpassing him in every way – popularity, innovation, style, musical diversity and aesthetic quality – the new consensus deemed him to have been overrated and he became casually dismissed.

Yet when his enduring popularity for those early breakthroughs was confirmed in the 1970’s rock ‘n’ roll revival period he was elevated back to pioneering status and more or less clung to that reputation for a decade before his position was reassessed for the third time after his death in 1981 and he was once again demoted to something only slightly better than an opportunist.

In other words he either is getting too much acclaim or not nearly enough.

But that’s what happens when Bill Haley was so clearly in over his head much of the time, which is something that the arbiters of rock ‘n’ roll credibility can’t stomach. Yet those same holier than thou judges let that blind them to his workmanlike progress and his growing commitment to the music he undoubtedly helped make a worldwide phenomenon.

Indicative of both his stylistic drawbacks and his musical ambition is Real Rock Drive a song that obviously is trying hard to make sense of his newfound status as a rock artist, yet which shows that he’s an outsider by nature as he more or less rejects the very things which got him this far to begin with… musically speaking at least.

I believe these are what they call “growing pains” and while maybe it shouldn’t call into question his legitimacy going forward, it does speak to the fact that his first goal should be to get some understanding on just what rock ‘n’ roll is, and more importantly what it isn’t.


Gone ‘Til The Break Of Day
There are two ways to look at this record.

One is that anything that features such an out-of-touch arrangement as this can’t possibly have any relevance to rock ‘n’ roll. The most prominent instrument is Billy Williamson’s steel guitar and while he plays it well, both behind Bill Haley’s vocal and when soloing, it’s not the sound of rock ‘n’ roll… past, present or future.

If you want to say that they were attempting to keep their small county following satisfied, this also wasn’t the way to do it, for while they’d be more comfortable with the instrumentation, they wouldn’t exactly be happy with the way it was being played, nor with the song it was attached to. Country audiences are among the most conservative fan bases by nature, so you can’t try suggesting this was a credible attempt to pull those listeners into the rock slipstream either. They’d resist that indignity with all of their might and resent the group for thinking otherwise.

The other way to look at Real Rock Drive however is that it was a halfway decent attempt at coming up with an authentic rock song, provided they’d simply backed it up with a more appropriate arrangement, like the one found on the other side, which had the misfortune of being attached to childish material.

The basic story here is a good one, even if the details further show Haley’s disconnect from the rock audience in both experience and perspective. There are far too many lyrics that show what a rural hayseed he really was.

You won’t be surprised to find that Haley ripped it off from a two year old country record called Tennessee Jive by Buck Turner’s group, almost word for word in fact, which obviously detracts from whatever originality we want to credit him for. His only crucial addition was the new title and the emphasis on rock in the lyrics… important for sure, but not enough to salvage it.

It may SEEM minor, but considering how much value kids put in their language, when they heard Haley spouting words such as “gal” rather than girl, or “truckin’” rather than rollin and “gown” which doesn’t sound as if it’s what a teenage girl would be wearing, it gives the intended audience all the evidence they need that he was far removed from their culture.

Plagiarism aside, Haley’s instincts for the type of content he needed might’ve been okay, as the song centers on the need for cutting loose to music with your friends and romantic partners. Too bad he didn’t back that up with a more driving instrumental track that could’ve easily been gotten by merely re-assigning the parts… letting Williamson have some licks and a solo even, but then giving Danny Cedrone more responsibility and a tougher tone to his guitar riffs and solo. Instead of letting the stand-up bass handle the weight of the rhythm by itself, give the drummer some and really establish a backbeat. If they got a saxophone on board, there’s no reason why the same song couldn’t have been a minor aesthetic success rather than a missed opportunity.


A Real Gone Way
One of the occasional questions that arise with this project is why there’s an absence of hillbilly-boogie records of the early 1950’s. Guys like Hardrock Gunter and Moon Mullican who occasionally get brought up in early rock discussions… albeit only by white people desperate to find someone with a lack of skin pigmentation to throw into the mix so they’re not completely excluded from taking credit for rock ‘n’ roll.

But here’s your answer… because even in Bill Haley, a guy who WAS to become a full-fledged rock icon and rightly so, and had already scored a legitimate rock hit – albeit uncharted – the overt country elements DO NOT WORK in rock settings.

That’s not to say hillbilly boogie or Western Swing are not legitimate styles unto themselves. They are, which is why they don’t need and shouldn’t want any connection to rock ‘n’ roll to make them important in their own right. But rock ‘n’ roll is from another planet, one where prominent country music elements (just like prominent blues or jazz elements FWIW) only dilute rock’s DNA, not add to it.

The fact of the matter is Real Rock Drive isn’t a rock record at all, it’s a country song backed with a country arrangement that attempts to call itself rock ‘n’ roll. It’s slightly spruced up for sure, and with Haley’s pedigree it deserves inclusion on the outskirts of rock, but only as an object lesson so as to show why he still had so far to go before earning his union card. (And to think, THIS was the first release to be credited to The Comets rather than The Saddlemen!).

Once again for anyone stubbornly prone to disagree, we ask you one simple question… had they succeeded with this song, maybe cracking the charts (either pop or country), or at least selling more than anything they’d done before, do you really think they’d have headed further in the direction they ended up going?

Not on your fucking life!

Nothing that followed in their career would’ve happened if this had succeeded, no chart topping, game-changing hits, no short-lived king of rock ‘n’ roll proclamations by the media, no long-lasting rock classics that ensure his place in history. He wouldn’t have done those things because he would’ve already succeeded in something that he was more comfortable in and familiar with. Like it for what it is – and to that extent I sorta do – but as an attempt at crafting a credible rock record it utterly fails in every way.

Everybody needs to learn the game somehow though and here Haley and company are finding out they don’t get to write the rules for this game, instead they just need to learn how to better follow the rules set by others whose legitimacy was never in question.

This one doesn’t do that and shame on anyone who thinks it does.


(Visit the Artist page of Bill Haley & The Comets for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)