ROCK around the Clock - widely regarded as the first popular rock n roll single - was released 65 years ago. For some, it was the start of a lifelong love of music and still evokes fond memories of their misspent youth in packed dance halls. Russell Leadbetter reports.

TO 86-year-old Helen Hardie, “it was music to some people, and it was a heck of a noise to others.”

David Dowie, 91, remembers: “It really affected most of the youth, and dance halls were full all the time”. Anthony Scott, 71, recalls: “You could tell walking down the street – the atmosphere was different.”

What they are talking about, in a video released this week by Care UK, was Rock Around the Clock, by Bill Haley & His Comets.

Commonly regarded as the first popular rock’n’roll single, it was released 65 years ago, in 1954. The Care UK video is timed to mark the anniversary.

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From the birth of rock ‘n’ roll to profound cultural changes, the stories from the interviewees’ younger years, says the charity, evoke a time of freedom and prosperity in a post-war climate. Jocelyn Ordidge, 82, remembered: “We were all singing Rock Around the Clock – it even gets my feet going now!”

It’s worth pointing put that other singles from that era have a claim to be the first rock ’n’ roll record - among them, Rocket 88 (recorded in 1951 by Ike Turner with Jackie Brenston’s band) or Good Rockin’ Tonight (released in 1947 by Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup).

But as writer and musician Bob Stanley wrote in The Guardian in 2014, Haley and his Comets “were the first rock'n'roll band, and Rock Around the Clock was the first international rock'n'roll No 1 … Rock Around the Clock was more important [than the other songs] because it was the first rock'n'roll record heard by millions of people worldwide.”

Then again, Guardian music writer Alexis Petridis insisted in 2004 that neither Rock Around the Clock nor Elvis Presley’s That's Alright Mama (recorded in 1954) “can genuinely claim to be the first rock'n'roll record. They were simply the first white artists' interpretations of a sound already well-established by black musicians almost a decade before.”

As author Peter Doggett says in his comprehensive history of pop music, Electric Shock, many critics and newspapers were hostile towards it.

He quotes a Daily Mail review from September 1956: “It is deplorable. It is tribal. And it is from America. It follows ragtime, blues, jazz, hot cha-cha and the boogie-woogie, which surely originated in the jungle.”

Melody Maker, the weekly music publication, objected on musical grounds: in May 1956 it said: “Viewed as a social phenomenon, the current craze for rock and roll material is one of the most terrifying things to have happened to popular music … the rock and roll technique, instrumentally and vocally, is the antithesis of all that jazz has been striving for over the years - in other words, good taste and musical integrity.”

Nevertheless, rock ’n roll was already an unstoppable force.

From the 1950s alone, there are several high-profile trailblazers in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio: Elvis Presley (“quite simply, the king of rock & roll”), Little Richard (who “exploded the Fifties music scene with his thunderous piano and electrifying stage presence, setting the tone for the future of rock and roll”) and Chuck Berry (“it's not an exaggeration to say that he's the most influential figure on modern rock & roll”).

Popular music has evolved at a breathtaking rate ever since. Here we look at just some of the highlights of each decade.

** To hear the residents’ stories, visit:


Care UK’s dementia expert Suzanne Mumford said: “For many residents in our care homes, the 1950s are often associated with happy memories from their youth and positive emotions. The release of Rock Around the Clock symbolises much more than just the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in Britain – it reminds older people of a time when post-war austerity was ending and young people had more freedom to spend evenings, unchaperoned by parents, in coffee shops and dance halls. This has made the record a perfect opportunity to run events that don’t just provide entertainment but give us an opportunity to prompt long-forgotten memories of the 1950s. Many people living in our homes have dementia and reminiscence activities like this are great for getting conversations going and sharing memories."


A QUITE amazing decade. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, Led Zeppelin; major, era-defining festivals at Woodstock (1969) and the Isle of Wight (19687/69); the Summer of Love (1967). Bob Dylan. Jimi Hendrix. Joni Mitchell. Leonard Cohen. Simon and Garfunkel. The Beach Boys. Psychedelic rock, soul, the beginnings of country rock. Procol Harum’s classic, A Whiter Shade of Pale.

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After a quiet spell at the beginning of the decade, Rolling Stone magazine remarked much later, rock music rediscovered the “disruptive power” it had enjoyed in the Fifties, regaining it “with a joyful vengeance until, by the decade’s end, it would be seen as a genuine force of cultural and political consequence. For a long and unforgettable season, it was a truism — or threat, depending on your point of view — that rock & roll could (and should) make a difference: that it was eloquent and inspiring and principled enough to change the world — maybe even to save it.”

* Bestselling hits: The Official UK singles charts for the decade have five Beatles hits in the top 10. Number one is She Loves You, from 1963. Number three: Tears, by Ken Dodd.


LOTS of glam-rock in this decade, with platform shoes and glitter. Slade, Sweet and T Rex, amongst others. The Bay City Rollers flew the tartan-edged flag for Scotland. David Bowie gave us Ziggy Stardust; Abba and Elton John created pop classics. Queen, formed in 1971, and led by the flamboyant Freddie Mercury, became massive; Roxy Music played stylish, distinctive, arty pop. Bruce Springsteen released his first few albums to widespread acclaim. Hip-hop began to develop in the 70s. It was the decade of TV’s Old Grey Whistle Test and of the first Glastonbury festivals, (1970 and 1971) - and of punk-rock, which briefly threatened rock’s established order. The teenaged Kate Bush made a stunning debut with songs such as Wuthering Heights. It was also the decade of disco, heavy metal, a boom in reggae, and the 2-Tone ska revival, to say nothing of The Osmonds, and Michael Jackson (and the Jackson Five); it was the decade of such classics as You’re So Vain, by Carly Simon; Annie’s Song, by John Denver, and Baby I Love Your Way, by Peter Frampton.

* Bestselling hits included Paul McCartney and Wings’ Mull of Kintyre, Boney M’s Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl in the Ring, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Blondie’s Heart of Glass and Art Garfunkel’s Bright Eyes.


DOZENS of top names from both sides of the Atlantic - U2, Bowie, Queen, Mick Jagger, Duran Duran, Simple Minds, Alison Moyet, Madonna - got together for Live Aid, broadcast live from Wembley and Philadelphia. Madonna had become one of the planet’s biggest stars with some great pop songs and provocative videos. We had thrash metal, and synth pop, and the New Romantics, and post-punk, and alternative rock, and gangsta rap, and Metallica, and UK rap/hip-hop. We had Pet Shop Boys, New Order, and MTV. U2 announced their arrival. House music, writes Peter Doggett, “arrived in Britain during a period, spanning the mid-1980s, when every corner of white pop was soaked in the influence of black music”; among the artists he cites here are Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Dead or Alive, Bronski Beat, Fine Young Cannibals and Paul Young.

* Bestselling hits included Don’t Stand So Close to Me, by The Police, Soft Cell’s Tainted Love and The Communards’ Don’t Leave Me This Way.


BRITPOP was one of the most interesting musical trends of this decade, with the considerable talents of Blur, Oasis, Suede and Pulp. We had shoegaze, and riot grrrl, and the Spice Girls. Grunge, having begun the previous decade in Washington state, became massive. Nirvana were the most commercially successful act, but their charismatic frontman, Kurt Cobain, was dead by April 1994. We had rave, and jungle, which together fostered drum 'n' bass. There were countless great songs along the way: Loaded, by Primal Scream; Torn, by Natalia Imbruglia; Rebel Girl, by Bikini Kill; Bittersweet Symphony, by The Verve; and Radiohead’s Paranoid Android.

Bestselling hits included: Candle in the Wind, by Elton John (he sang an updated version at Diana’s funeral in 1997); Barbie Girl, by Aqua; … Baby One More Time, by Britney Spears; I Will Always Love You, by Whitney Houston.


GRIME, says Peter Doggett, was located in the "precise quadrant of London where punk, reggae, rap and jungle coincide." It grew from modest beginnings, and before long there was no escaping it. An academic study in 2017 described grime as the most "significant musical development within the UK for decades" and as "powerful and disruptive" as punk had been in the seventies. Major exponents included Stormzy and Skepta. Contemporary R&B was also hugely popular, as was hip-hop. Coldplay become one of the biggest-selling UK rock acts in years.

* Bestselling hits included Evergreen/Anything is Possible, by Will Young; It Wasn't Me, by Shaggy feat.Rikrok; Crazy, by Gnarls Barkley; What A Girl Wants, by Christina Aguilera.


AMONG today's biggest stars: Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, Beyonce, Ariana Grande. Seventeen-year-old Billie Eilish has become the youngest-ever female solo act to top the UK. Buzzfeed News reports a new trend - micro pop stardom, featuring such names as Carly Rae Jepsen, Charli XCX and Janelle Monae, who "trades largely in classic, 'pure' pop music; sometimes it’s got a country twang ... or trends towards hip-hop ... But what sets these artists apart in today’s broader music landscape is their dedication to the kind of inviting, melodic, stick-in-your-cranium earworms that made superstars of everyone from Michael Jackson to Taylor Swift."

* Bestselling hits include Happy, by Pharrell Williams; Blurred Lines, by Robin Thicke/Pharrell Williams; Someone Like You, by Adele; Get Lucky, by Daft Punk feat Pharrell Williams; Uptown Funk, by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars.