"Rock Around The Clock" is widely considered to be the song that, more than any other, brought rock and roll into mainstream culture around the world.
Nevertheless it is, both musically and lyrically, highly indebted to several influential predecessors
Musically the verse melody of "Rock Around the Clock" does bear a very close similarity to that of Hank Williams' first hit, "Move It On Over", from 1947.
But Williams' song was very similar to Charley Patton's "Going to Move to Alabama", recorded in 1929 – which itself was at least partly derived from Jim Jackson's "Kansas City Blues" from 1927.
The song also uses phrases from Count Basie's "Red Wagon", first recorded in 1939.
The resemblance of Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" with Hank Williams' "Move It On Over" isn't surprising. Haley happened to be a big Williams fan: the flip side of "Rock This Joint" was "Icy Heart" a direct rip-off from Hank's "Cold, Cold Heart".
And in 1957 Bill Haley would even literally cover "Move It On Over"
(c) Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys (1947) ("Move It On Over")
Recorded April 21, 1947 in Nashville, TN
78 RPM - Hank Williams With His Drifting Cowboys - Move It On Over / (Last Night) I Heard You Crying In Your Sleep - MGM - USA - 10033
But a decade earlier, in 1937, Count Basie had used the same musical framework in the instrumental "Red Wagon"
(c) Count Basie (1937) ("Red Wagon")
Count Basie Quartet; Count Basie (p), Freddie Green (g), Walter Page (b), Jo Jones (d).
Recorded January 6, 1939 in New York
Released on Decca 3071
But Hank Williams' "Move It On Over" was also a clever arrangement of Charley Patton's "Going To Move To Alabama"
(c) Charley Patton (1929) ("Going To Move To Alabama")
Recorded October 1929 in Grafton, WI
Bur as I said above, on his turn, Charley Patton's "Going To Move To Alabama" was, at least partly, derived from Jim Jackson's "Kansas City Blues" from 1927.
Jim didn't move to Alabama, but to Kansas City
(o) Jim Jackson (1927) ("Kansas City Blues (Parts 1 & 2")
Recorded October 10, 1927 in Chicago
Released on Vocalion 1144
Lyrically "Rock Around The Clock" bears a very close similarity to Hal Singer's "Rock Around the Clock" (1950).
Part of the lyrics go: "One for the money, two for the show, three make ready, four let's go, let's rock"
(o) Hal Singer and his Orchestra (1950)
Hal Mitchell, trumpet ; Chippy Outcalt, trombone ; Hal Singer, tenor sax/vocal ; Georges Rhodes, piano ; Grachan Moncur, bass ; Bobby Donaldson, drums ; “Spo-Dee-Oo-Dee” Sam Theard, vocal
Recorded August 1950 in New York
Released on Mercury 8196
But "rocking around the clock" even dates back to Trixie Smith's "My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)" (1922).
Trixie sang "I looked at the clock and the clock struck one I said "Now Daddy, ain’t we got fun", he kept rockin’ with one steady roll" and she continues with similar refrains until the clock strikes ten
(o) Trixie Smith (1922)
Recorded September 1922 in New York City
released on Black Swan 14127 and Paramount 12164
78 RPM - Trixie Smith - Give Me That Old Slow Drag / My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) - Black Swan - USA - 14127
In 1944 Joe Williams wrote a new arrangement of the Trixie Smith version.
Joe sang: "I looked at the clock, the clock struck one, I said come on baby, let's have a little fun. And she said let em roll Daddy, let em roll a long long time" Joe continues with similar refrains until the clock strikes eleven.
(c) Joe Williams (1944) ("'Round the Clock Blues part I and part II")
Recorded ca November 1944 in Cincinnati
Released on Cincinnati 2300
'Round the Clock Blues : J. Williams & J. Williams : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
Wynonie Harris "Around the Clock" (1945) follows the same approach
Wynonie sang: "well I looked at the clock, the clock struck one, she said come on Daddy, let's have a little more fun. Yes we were rolling, yes we rolled a long time". He also continues with similar refrains until the clock strikes seven
(c) Wynonie Harris (1945) ("Around the Clock part I and part II")
With Johnny Otis' All Stars
Recorded July 1945 in Los Angeles
Released on Philo P-103
Wynonie "(Mr. Blues)" Harris And Johnny Otis' All Stars – Around The Clock I / Around The Clock II (1945, Shellac) - Discogs
Jimmy Rushing covered it in 1945 with the Johnny Otis orchestra as "Jimmy's 'Round the Clock Blues". Jimmy continues with similar refrains until the clock strikes seven
(c) Jimmy Rushing (1945) ("Jimmy's 'Round the Clock Blues")
Recorded September 13, 1945 in Los Angeles
Released on Excelsior 142
Jimmy Rushing With Johnny Otis Orchestra – Jimmy's 'Round The Clock Blues / Harlem Nocturne (1945, Shellac) - Discogs
(c) Big Vernon (=Big Joe Turner) (1947) ("Around the Clock Blues part 1 and part 2")
With Pete Johnson on piano.
Recorded November 1947 in San Francisco
Released on Stag 508
In 1958 Chuck Berry made a new arrangement of "My Daddy Rocks Me With a Roll"/ "Around the Clock Blues" using the exact intro lines of the Wynonie Harris version above.
"Well, sometimes I think I will,
Yes, and sometimes I think I won't,
Sometimes I think I will,
Yes, and sometimes I think I won't,
Sometimes I believe I do,
And then again I believe I don't."
Well, I looked at my watch it was nine twenty-one
'Twas at a rock 'n' roll dance havin' nothin' but fun.
Chuck also continues with similar refrains until his watch shows ten twenty-nine
(c) Chuck Berry (1958) ("Reelin' and Rockin'")
Recorded December 1957
Released on Chess 1683
So as we have seen above, Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" has borrowed from various musical and textual sources.
And even the Freedman/DeKnight composition itself has been recorded earlier by another group.
Apparently the song was offered to Bill Haley first, but Dave Miller [Essex label] refused to cut it because of an ongoing dispute with James Myers, probably over the publishing assignation.
In 1953, Haley's manager at the time, Jack Howard, and Myers did manage to get the song recorded on the Arcade label, which Howard co-owned with Haley and which, according to NPR, was created specifically to release "Rock Around the Clock." (The label continued to release rockabilly and country singles for many years, a large number of these featuring Comets members as session musicians.)
The recording -- which differs considerably in arrangement and melody from both the original sheet music and the more familiar Haley version -- was taped by a group called Sonny Dae and His Knights. Dae was a friend of Haley's, his real name being Paschal Vennitti.
(o) Sonny Dae and His Knights (1954) ("(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock")
Recorded October 1953
Released on Arcade 123
78 RPM - Sonny Dae And His Knights - (We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock / Moving Guitar - Arcade - USA - AR-123
But there's more: in February or March 1952 Bill Haley with the Saddlemen recorded a version of "Rock the joint" (Essex 303) which is basically an early incarnation of "Rock around the clock" (especially when we listen to Danny Cedrone's guitar solo)
(c) Bill Haley with the Saddlemen (1952) ("Rock the Joint")
Recorded in February or March 1952
Released on Essex 303
But then again, "Rock the Joint" was originally recorded by Jimmy Preston in 1949.
(o) Jimmy Preston and his Prestonians (1949) ("Rock the Joint")
Recorded May 1949 in Philadelphia
Released on Gotham G-188
(c) Bill Haley and his Comets (1954) ("(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock")
Recorded April 12, 1954 at the Pythian Temple studios in New York City
Released on Decca 29124
78 RPM - Bill Haley And His Comets - Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town) / (We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock - Decca - USA - 29124
The co-composer himself also released 2 versions after Bill Haley's big success with the song.
(c) Jimmy DeKnight and his Knights of Rhythm (1959)
Released March 1959 on Peak 45-105
45cat - Jimmy DeKnight And His Knights Of Rhythm - Rock Around The Clock / Rock Around The Clock Cha Cha - Peak [Philadelphia] - USA - 45-105
The same recording was released May 1959 on APT 45-25034
45cat - Jimmy DeKnight And His Knights Of Rhythm - Rock Around The Clock / Rock Around The Clock Cha Cha - Apt - USA - 45-25034
Some 20 years later the same recording was re-released under his real name: James E. Myers
45cat - James E. Myers A.K.A. Jimmy De Knight - Rock Around The Clock / Rock Around The Clock Cha Cha - Arzee - USA - RZ-130