Five Bill Haley and the Comets Covers You Should Know
One of the chief popularizers of rock ‘n’ roll, Haley led his band The Comets through a string of popular releases in the 1950s. Haley passed away in 1981, but he kept lineup of the Comets together for many years. In the years after his death and well into the 21st century, prime-era members Joey Ambrose (saxophone) and Dick Richards (drums) continued to perform as Bill Haley’s Original Comets, holding down a long-term residency at the Andy Williams Theatre in Branson, Missouri where they regularly appeared on a bill with Paul Revere and the Raiders.
Today Haley’s contributions are sometimes overshadowed by those of other musical giants such as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, but the body of work that Haley left behind continues to influence rockers today and into the future. Here are five notable covers of songs originally popularized by Bill Haley and His Comets.
Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers – “The Saints” (1962)
Those with a knowledge of rock and roll history will know that this recording made in Hamburg, Germany features British singer-guitarist Sheridan backed by the young foursome of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and – on drums – Pete Best. Other songs from the sessions include a rocked-up reworking of “My Bonnie,” a cover of “Ain’t She Sweet” (sung by Lennon) and the only song ever credited to the songwriting duo of John and George, “Cry for a Shadow.” Haley and the Comets released their version of “The Saints Rock ‘N Roll” in 1956.
Sex Pistols – “Rock Around the Clock” (1979)
While their influence upon rock and popular culture is undeniable, the Sex Pistols’ time in the spotlight during their original run was quite brief. Their first record release was in 1977; by ‘79 the original lineup was no more, with both bassist Glen Matlock and singer Johnny Rotten (neé Lydon) gone from the band. For the soundtrack of the quasi-documentary The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, svengali Malcolm McLaren drew upon some unreleased rehearsal tapes to create some “new” Sex Pistols releases. Some tracks featured vocals by other singers, including a cover of “Rock Around the Clock,” sung by Edward Tudor-Pole of the group Tenpole Tudor. Haley’s original recording was released in 1954.
The Renegades – “Thirteen Women” (1966)
When The Beatles appeared on the scene in the early ‘60s, many commented upon their “long” hair. But it wouldn’t be until near the end of that decade that men routinely sported anything like what would today be considered lengthy tresses. But there were exceptions. The Renegades were from Birmingham, England, and they rocked so hard that they made The Pretty Things – who out-rocked most other bands – look positively tame. This raging slab of proto-punk from 1966 presaged the harder-edged sounds to come, but was released only in selected countries (Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and an especially hard-to-find UK release). The original version of this saucy sci-fi number was the B-side of The Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock.”
Los Lobos – “Rip It Up” (1987)
One of the best and most important – if too often overlooked – groups celebrating American musical traditions is Los Angeles-based Los Lobos. With a perspective that encompasses all flavors of American music, the group has been making critically-acclaimed music since its start in the early 1970s. In 1987 they were called upon by the makers of the film La Bamba – a biopic of Richie Valens – to provide the music. Eight of the 12 songs on the La Bamba soundtrack – including a reading of this song, which Haley released in 1956 – are by Los Lobos.
Brian Setzer Orchestra – “Rock a Beatin’ Boogie” (2000)
Guitarist Brian Setzer came to fame fronting the rockabilly revival trio The Stray Cats; their sound hearkened back to rock and roll’s earliest days, with a supercharged delivery that won over modern-day listeners. The group’s original run lasted only from 1979 to 1984, though there have been a number of reunions since then. By the 1990s, Setzer had launched another project – one that continues to this day: The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Combining big band swing arrangements with his wild and out-front guitar, Setzer has managed a successful parallel career that celebrates the exuberance of early rock. Haley and His Comets released their version in 1955.
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. After a stint as Editor-in-chief for a national music magazine, Bill launched Musoscribe in 2009, and has published new content every business day since then (and every single day since 2018). The 4500-plus interviews, essays, and reviews on Musoscribe reflect Bill's keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz, and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill's work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He regularly hosts lecture/discussions on artists and albums of historical importance (including monthly events Music to Your Ears and Music Movie Mondays), and is a frequent guest on music-focused radio programs and podcasts. In Spring 2023 he taught a history of Rock 'n' Roll at UNC Asheville's College for Seniors. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues -- more than 30 to date -- and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's final album. His first book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018, and in paperback in 2019. His second book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave, was published in 2021 by HoZac Books. His third book, What's the Big Idea: Great Concept Albums will be published in 2024. Read even more about him here.