Rock 'n' Roll Stage Show

by: Bill Haley & His Comets

Wow -- this is such a good, fun record that it's a crying shame that it never figured larger in Bill Haley's reputation or legacy. Rock 'N' Roll Stage Show was the first long-player by Bill Haley & His Comets that was conceived as an album, as opposed to being a collection of single sides gathered together. The 12 numbers were recorded in three sessions (six of them in one day) during the last week of March 1957 and included five instrumentals, all of them (like virtually the whole album) originals by the bandmembers. Haley and the band had obviously figured out the connection between having hits with original songs and earning really big money, and at this stage of the game they weren't bad at coming up with material; if there's nothing here as memorable as "Shake, Rattle & Roll," there's also little that's less than first-rate, and certainly as good as anything on the early albums by, say, Chuck Berry (who had yet to release an LP until 1957), as the members rip and surge their way through numbers like the hot, smooth "Rudy's Rock," a great showcase for saxman Rudy Pompilli; the looser, more playful "Goofin' Around"; the searing "Blue Comet Blues"; or the pounding "Calling All Comets." What's more, steel guitarist Billy Williamson turns in a killer vocal performance (broken up by a soaring sax and guitar break) on "Hide and Seek," which is very much in the running for the honor of best unknown Bill Haley track. And "Hey Then, There Now" isn't far behind. Even the presence of the Comet Trio on "Tonight's the Night" -- an original co-authored by Haley that owes a tiny bit to the Andrews Sisters song of the same name -- doesn't detract, as Frannie Beecher's hot guitar noodles around the vocal group and Al Rex's bass keeps a rocking beat. Haley's cover of "Choo Choo Ch' Boogie" is bleached out compared with Louis Jordan's wartime rendition, but it isn't bad for a cover and is comparable to his version of "Shake, Rattle & Roll." It's only on the products of the last session, "A Rockin' Little Tune" and "Rockin' Through the Rye," that the inspiration starts running a bit dry; they're just two of 12 songs, not enough to hurt this album, though they showed the beginning of a trailing off of Haley's string. ~ Bruce Eder

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