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Apr 12

Bill Haley and the Comets: “Rock Around the Clock” (R.I.P., Dick Clark)

Anyone who has tuned in to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in the years since Dick Clark’s return from a stroke he suffered in 2004 could probably see that Clark was gradually looking a bit worse, the past couple of years in particular. Yet even with that knowledge, I for one wouldn’t have thought he was close to passing away quite yet (or that an immovable icon like him was even capable of passing away), as he sadly did yesterday at the age of 82 (strange he could have been so young, considering he had been on TV for the past 127 years). His determination not to let the stroke stop him from doing his thing was admirable, underscoring the fact that one’s passion is often enough to get one through the toughest setbacks. Yet admittedly, it was difficult to watch Clark slurring his way through New Year’s Eve each year, knowing that he was a mere shadow of his former self.

The eternally youthful Clark had been with the American public since the earliest years of rock ‘n’ roll, doing everything in his power to promote the form since 1957 on American Bandstand. He was so successful in large part because he was safe: clean-living, clean-cut, and ever-amiable (at least while on-camera), it’s likely that Clark made many concerned parents feel better about their kids’ love of rock ‘n’ roll, thereby allowing it to gradually find its way into more and more homes. While Clark certainly wasn’t known for taking chances and embracing the more dangerous genres of rock — who knows how long it took him to first utter the word “punk” in anything other than a derogatory way, for instance — he nonetheless holds an important place in the history of rock that shouldn’t be underestimated. He will be missed, and it’s unlikely that anyone else will come along to truly fill his very big shoes, if there would even be a way to do that in this era of Internet music discovery.

In memory of Clark, here he is on an early, circa-1960 American Bandstand, introducing Bill Haley and the Comets playing “Rock Around the Clock” a few years after the song’s early ’50s release. It’s a fitting song to feature today, one that I loved as a kid when it was still a newer song, in the early ’70s, than Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is to today’s kids (that ought to make some of you feel pretty damn old); it’s the song frequently credited with taking rock ‘n’ roll into the mainstream (the first “rock” song to top the Billboard charts), and that is exactly the task that Dick Clark took it upon himself to continue in those early years of his show. He didn’t always exhibit great taste in music, but he sure knew what the kids would like.

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