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ESSEX 305; AUGUST 1952



Take an awkward white male who had been scuffling on the outskirts of the country music field for awhile now and steer him in a totally different direction without much warning, one he’s unlikely to feel comfortable in due to the racial segregation that existed at the time, and exacerbated by the cultural disconnect owing to his being far from his teen years already.

Now tell that 27 year old to not just change his entire style, but also come up with appropriate songs for that style to record and then tell me what someone in those circumstances would be likely to come up with.

Here’s a hint… he’d probably come up with something like this… and would probably regret it down the road.


All The Guys Standin’ On The Walk, Just Wishin’ They Were Me
Though it had been Holiday Records owner Dave Miller who had signed Bill Haley in the spring of 1951 with the express purpose of having him cut a cover version of Rocket 88, the rising rock hit by Jackie Brenston that had been released on Chess earlier that year, and then doubled down on that edict by encouraging a still doubtful Haley to do more in that style for the follow-ups when what Bill wanted to do was sing country music… their roles may have been reversed since then and we can’t quite understand why.

Though that first effort, as awkward and stilted as it may have been at times, sold well enough to convince Miller this was the way to go, yet once he closed shop on Holiday and started Essex Records as its replacement, Haley seemed to be the one pushing to do more rockers.

It was his idea after all to cut Rock The Joint, a scalding version of the Jimmy Preston hit from a few years back which Bill had adapted for his far different styled band and was getting great responses to it when they tore it up on stage.

That became Haley’s best seller to date, but it was Miller who promoted the country weeper Icy Heart as the lead side and was surprised when it was the rocker that caught on.

You’d THINK that’d be enough to convince him to throw all of their chips on the rock songs going forward, but while Haley composed the original, Rocking Chair On The Moon, a compromised record but a clear attempt to connect with a rock audience, that wound up being relegated to the B-side when this follow-up single came out in mid-summer.

That’s because Miller inexplicably chose Dance With A Dolly (With A Hole In Her Stockin’) as the A-side, a veritable middle finger to the audience who’d just unexpectedly given him his biggest seller in his years in the business.

Let’s not forget this was a song based on the old-timey standard Buffalo Gals – hardly recent, let alone appropriate, material. It’s also not in any way beneficial to their case that the song had been hits in very tame renditions in the mid-1940’s by such artists as Evelyn Knight and Tony Pastor, records just eight years old but whose artists were all but obscure to young rock fans today… and for good reason.

While the lyrics might be passable for rock in certain ways which we’ll soon examine, the musical arrangement doesn’t focus on bringing those qualities to the forefront, but rather downplays them so that instead they can remind everybody these guys were a failed country band.

I guess Dave Miller figured that now that he had a little success he probably should conform to the stereotype of the meddling, misguided record label owner who undermines his most commercially potent artists in a failed attempt to broaden their audience.

Oh well, it’s nothing we haven’t seen countless times before and so we’re not even going to bat an eye at his ineptitude.


Gonna Rock And Stomp ‘Til The Break Of Dawn
It was a longstanding myth – a more polite term for “lie” – that rock ‘n’ roll was a combination of black rhythm & blues and white country and western music with Haley at the forefront of that merger.

This however shows just how wrong that is, for not only was the black R&B they referred to already fully formed rock ‘n’ roll from 1947-onward (as “R&B” never has been an actual STYLE of music at all, just a trade paper term to designate the tastes of black record buyers), but the country aspect of the arrangement are elements that no rock act would incorporate into the music… not this cornpone version of it anyway with twangy vocals, steel guitars and the aspects of the story that paint a picture of a hayseed Romeo.

So if all of those things are dominant here on Dance With A Dolly (With A Hole In Her Stockin’)), then what the hell is it doing being included on a history of rock?

Well, as out of place as all of that is, it’s the other aspects of the record that suggest Haley was starting to get a firmer grasp of the requirements of his new job description. Maybe they’re not overwhelming you quite as much as they’d done recently on more appropriate tunes, but they’re still there if you look for them.

Take the lyrical hook in which he continually emphasizes the word “rock”, trying to fully embrace the term of reference that was already widespread in black youth culture. It was mentioned only once in passing in the older versions, but Haley keeps using it at every turn including prominently adding it to a section that not every artist had used in the past (the one which serves as the heading for this section of the review), making it the focal point of the entire record in the process, knowing it might be enough to entice white kids into giving themselves over to this music, curious as to what that word represented.

Surely HE’S not suggesting it’s about drinking and sex and other illicit nocturnal activities… but he’s also not implying it has the same innocuous meaning those other lame vocalists believed either. The fact he’s driving that term home for all he’s worth every time you turn around is an important facet to his conversion, as he’s given up the lovesick crooning perspective and is determinedly unearthing an almost eager horniness found buried in the otherwise childish storyline.

Maybe he really IS just hoping to dance with this girl, but we all know what dancing and rock ‘n’ roll leads to… eventually in his case… and that’s at least one thing in his favor.


Let Me Dress Up Tonight
Of course it’s still the parts that can’t shake the dust of the fields from their boots that make the bigger impression on you here, even if the band carries off their parts well, they’re mostly parts no self-respecting rocker would be caught dead playing. We don’t even get a really good Danny Cedrone guitar solo to distract us.

But at least the rhythm keeps a steady pace, they do have good cohesion and there’s enough impatient eagerness found in Haley’s delivery to reasonably claim that he’s a good stand-in for the inexperienced horny young white kids, new to dancing, new to sex and new to rock ’n’ roll, but nevertheless intrigued and excited to encounter all three for the first time.

After this failed to click it seemed that Dave Miller came to his senses, as Dance With A Dolly (With A Hole In Her Stockin’) would be the final single to be released under the band name The Saddlemen, soon adopting the more youthful, aggressive, suggestive and futuristic Comets appellation.

That of course necessitated getting rid of those hokey cowboy outfits as well and before long, though Haley himself would continue to look for lyrical inspiration from childish sources, the focus would start to pivot towards beefing up the musical firepower to make up for what he and the boys lacked when it came to style, deportment and attitude.

It’ll take awhile maybe but at this point I think he’s proven to us that he wasn’t about to do an about face and retreat to the barnyard to sing for a hoedown. From here on in he and his record label were both casting their fate with rock ‘n’ roll and taking their chances.

Besides, considering the most he could hope for by sticking with this kind of song is just to waltz with a girl who has torn hosiery it’s not like he had anything to lose by going all in on something far more dangerous and ambitious. Sometimes that’s all the motivation you need to keep pressing on.


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