“Rock Around the Clock” has defied generations.
Videos by American Songwriter
Videos by American Songwriter
Co-written by Max C. Freedman, also known as Ray Freedman, and James E. Myers, who went by the stage name Jimmy DeKnight, “Rock Around the Clock” was originally recorded by instrumental group Sonny Dae and His Knights, but it was Bill Haley & His Comets who took it to the top of the charts and turned it into an international hit in 1955.
Below, we look at the two men behind this timeless hit.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, prior to becoming a hit songwriter, Freedman got his start in the entertainment business as a radio DJ and writer, signing a publishing deal with ASCAP in 1942. He scored his first hit co-writing Bing Crosby’s “Sioux City Sue” with Dick Thomas, which was later recorded by The Andrews Sisters, Gene Autry, and Willie Nelson, among others. Freedman is also credited as co-writer of Dean Martin’s “Dreamy Old New England Moon,” “Tea Leaves,” originally recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, and “Heartbreaker” by Jerry Wayne and The Dell Trio.
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Like his songwriting cohort, Myers was also born in Philadelphia. Raised in a musical family, his father was a drummer while his mother was a piano player. The future songwriter formed his own band, Jimmy Myers and The Truckadeers Orchestra when he was merely a teenager. He broke into the music industry after an old friend named Jack Howard introduced him to the country artists performing on the local radio show, The Hayloft Hoedown.
From there, Myers and Howard formed the Cowboy Records label and started pitching songs by country artists to local stations. “James Myers turned himself into an all-purpose enterprise,” according to author Jim Dawson’s book, Rock Around the Clock: The Record that Started the Rock Revolution!, published in 2005. “He convinced a Philadelphia businessman to hire him to promote three local country music bars. He formed an agency to book the acts that were recording on Cowboy Records.” One of these acts was Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, who later became Bill Haley & His Comets.
There is an air of mystery around the composition of “Rock Around the Clock,” with many left wondering if one writer is more responsible for the song than the other. “I had written the melody and about half of the lyrics, but I was having trouble with the rest of it,” Myers claimed, according to Dawson. “Max Freedman…walked into my office while I was fooling around with it one day and said, ‘That sounds pretty good, can I help you with it?’ I said, ‘Why not?’ When we finished it he said, ‘What are you gonna call it?’ I said ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and he said, ‘Why rock, what’s that mean?’ Why not ‘Dance Around the Clock?’ And I said, ‘I just have a gut feeling, and since I’m half the writer and whole publisher, I’m the boss.'”
However, Freedman had allegedly been writing a song in 1953 titled “We’re Gonna Rock Around the Clock Tonight” that he gave to music copyist Harry Filler, who turned it into a three-part arrangement. At the top of the lyric sheet, Freedman was credited as the writer of the words and music. In October 1955, Ivan Ballen, a music publisher at Gotham Records, threatened to sue Myers, alleging that he plagiarized “Rock Around the Clock” from “Rock the Joint,” originally recorded by R&B musician and singer Jimmy Preston and later by Bill Haley. Myers’ lawyer responded that “Rock Around the Clock” was “written by Max Freedman, a freelance composer, and songwriter, who sold the lyrics to Myers.”
“Rock” enjoyed cross-genre success, having topped the Billboard Hot 100 and hitting No. 3 on the Billboard R&B Songs chart. The song was also a multi-week hit in the United Kingdom, sitting at No. 1 on the UK Singles chart. “Rock Around the Clock” was inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2018.
Freedman passed away in 1962 at the age of 69. Myers died in 2001 when he was 81 years old.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images