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We should never forget that the number of failed experiments in this world far out-number the successful ones and thus we should be always tolerant of those who fall short.

Then again, by 1952 it wasn’t exactly necessary for artists to experiment any more if they wanted to come out with viable rock records. All they had to do was look around and pick from any number of successful prototypes and adapt it to their personnel if they wanted to fit in.

Unless you think that Bill Haley and The Comets were actually attempting to be innovative and come up with something altogether “new” here, in which case maybe you should get reacquainted with the concept of failed experiments after all, because this one surely qualifies in that regard.


Come Out And Say You Love Me
Not everybody who has become a “rock star” in the genre’s first half decade initially set out to do so. Some whose own natural style was already somewhat aligned with it were simply caught in the rising tide of the music around them, while others were more calculating in their attempts to fit in, shedding the outdated stylistic tendencies they’d had before rock in order to better assimilate with this music that was gaining in popularity at every turn.

But while either of those approaches might describe Bill Haley at a glance, the truth of the matter is he was a distinctly singular figure, partly due to his race obviously, but more due to being completely out of touch with virtually every style of music of this era.

Bill Haley was an old 27 in 1952. He was somebody who had a painful childhood and never quite fit in with those his age growing up and now that he was an adult, married with kids and a string of failed attempts at establishing himself in country music behind him, he’d started to connect with rock ‘n’ roll audiences who were everything he was not. Suddenly he needed material to suit their tastes when he was the last one who intuitively understood their perspective.

To his credit he approached it methodically, some might suggest even scientifically, as he and the band sought out the teenage audience on their own turf, playing high school assemblies and dances for free to try and gauge the response they’d get for their material, their style and their appearance. That’s what led to them shedding their Stetson hats and string ties, changing their name from The Saddlemen to The Comets and which instigated Haley’s famous kiss curl and eventually their using popular teen slang in lyrics.

But like most adults he was still oblivious to the realities of the teenage kingdom. At this stage, at least to his way of thinking, a “kid” was a child, as he seemed to see no difference between pre-pubescent tykes and rebellious teens.

So as a result of this nagging misconception Haley started trying to adapt children’s nursery rhymes to rock ‘n’ roll such as Stop Beatin’ Round The Mulberry Bush based on “Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush” a nursery rhyme using the same sing-songy melody as “The Wheels Of The Bus” and “Pop Goes The Weasel”, which have been known to drive reasonable people insane after three verses.

But Haley wasn’t the first to transform this source material by a long shot. In fact, all he did was adapt the first popular interpretation of it from the 1930’s as done by Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and lots of others, and apply it to a different set of instruments.

So far from being experimental in rock, he was actually going back fifteen years for the song and a century for the inspiration. No wonder it didn’t work.


This Is NOT The Way To Win My Heart!
With some tribal drums opening the record in dramatic fashion (and a later drum solo which is unexpected but very welcome), followed by a steady slap bass with some sharp guitar parts along the way, there’s enough instrumental fireworks to at least draw your interest.

It never truly explodes, but the sparks the musicians shoot off intermittently along the way does show that they were making more than a halfhearted attempt to sound authentic as rockers. The problem remains however that the band as constituted included two figures in steel guitarist Billy Williamson and pianist who doubled on accordion Johnny Grande, who were decidedly out of place in a rock band.

Haley’s loyalty to his friends and partners was to be commended, but he’d have been smarter to insist they learn new instruments, or figure out how to play them more emphatically, as even the piano solo here retains far too much of the children’s quality the tune was drawn from.

But even if they HAD completely overhauled their style, it wouldn’t have helped turn Stop Beatin’ Round The Mulberry Bush into a rocker. The message might be adaptable, as Haley is insisting the girl he likes admit she likes him too rather than be demure about her interest out of either modesty or gamesmanship, but the melody this message is attached to is so engrained in our heads as a childish trifle that no matter what they do it can’t eliminate that feeling of this being sing-along exercise in pre-school.

It doesn’t help matters that Haley won’t even bother to try and downplay that aspect of it in his vocal approach. Never a singer who was capable of subtlety or nuance, he needed a strong insistent rhythm to compensate for his shortcomings, but this dippy song only plays into those shortcomings which makes him sound as if he’s trying to quell an incipient riot at a daycare center after the kids sugar rush kicked in.

My guess is they’ll soon overrun the overmatched band of adults, tie up Haley in the corner and set fire to the place… burning this record in the process if we’re lucky.

He does try and make sure to slip in a reference to Rock The Joint, his one unmitigated triumph to date, but we’re not fooled. While the band has its moments, particularly the rhythm section which is the only thing we can recommend here, the leader is completely in the dark which doesn’t bode well for their chances at making a go of this brand of music in the future.

Unless of course they actually believed there was a thriving market for quasi-rock music aimed at four year olds in which case they’re bound to become stars alongside Bozo The Clown and Howdy Doody.


Better Begin To Rock…
A popular saying in life is “Two steps forward and one step back”, but to apply that here would be overly generous.

Not that their best record hadn’t been at least two steps forward from where they’d been before that, but this record was ten steps back from that breakthrough, if not more.

It’s not just the fact that Stop Beatin’ Round The Mulberry Bush was a bad idea to begin with, or that it was carried out in a fashion that didn’t try to muscle it up for those who liked their earlier efforts, but rather it reveals to the world their overriding image problem… one which they’ll never fully shake, even at the peak of their success.

This record was the sound of somebody who clearly had been caught off guard by the reception to their best rock efforts, someone who intrinsically didn’t even understand what it was that those fans had responded so positively towards in the first place, and who was now blindly groping in the dark for something they hoped would have the same impact without knowing what that even was.

Nothing about this record suggests Bill Haley was someone to be taken seriously in rock ‘n’ roll since it was obvious that Haley himself couldn’t begin to tell you why his genuinely good rockers had worked and this condescending attempt didn’t.

That pretty much tells you all you need to know about this group at this point in the game. They’d gotten lucky, nothing more, and luck has a way of drying up quickly when you have to rely on it.

From here on in, it’d take more than luck. Not necessarily skill… though that would obviously help… but at least a growing awareness of just what it was they needed to do to stay competitive.

This sure as hell wasn’t it.


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