Still Rocking Around the Clock: Why The Coasters Can Draw Crowds Across the US

When Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers penned Rock Around the Clock, they couldn’t have imagined that people would still be taking their advice more than 60 years on. Indeed, when Bill Haley and His Comets made the song a hit in 1954, mainstream audiences were soon hooked on the rock and roll beat with a 12-bar blues format. Sure, it wasn’t the most successful rock and roll song of its era but it’s since become an iconic tune thanks to its many appearances in TV shows, movies and more in subsequent years. Today, people might not be hopping around the dancefloor like they used to, but the sound made popular in the fifties is still captivating audiences around the world. With the clock seemingly not out of time for the oldies, The Coasters are still out on the road spreading their sound. More than half a century after Searchin and Young Blood were hits, the group are still touring. Although all four members of the original line-up are deceased, the band’s legacy live on in the vocal talents of Joe Williams, Dennis Anderson, Robert Fowler and Primo Candelaria. Capturing the upbeat, and often witty, blues tones of the original quartet, today’s performers can still get music fans rolling back the years.

“As they mouthed the lyrics and danced in their seats, the audience had no worries about yesterday, today or tomorrow. They were engrossed in the music of their youth,” Kristen Fiore of the Village Daily Sun wrote of the band’s April 2018 performance in Florida.

The Coasters emerged out of a doo-wop group known as the Robins. Based in LA, the group worked with the acclaimed Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller but eventually split in 1955. Lead tenor Carl Gardner and Billy Nunn went on to form The Coasters that same year along with Billy Guys, Leon Hughes and guitarist Adolph Jacobs. Down in Mexico broke into the R&B top ten in 1956 before the double A-side Young Blood/Searchin scored the group their biggest hit in 1957. Moving from their Atlantic City base to New York eventually led to another split as Nunn and Hughes left. Will Jones and Obie Jessie restored the quartet and the now famous Yakety Yak was released in 1958. Although it might not have received the same acclaim as Young Blood/Searchin, the high-octane tune was demonstrative of The Coasters’ playful sound. Thanks to the writing talents of Leiber & Stoller, the group was able to tell a seemingly meaningful story in a comical way. However, what The Coasters managed to do better than almost any group from the rock and roll era was to make witty music without making comedy songs. 1959’s Charlie Brown had a similar tone and, again, marked The Coasters as a group that made fun music that was backed by some serious musical talent. In fact, it was this ability to straddle the lines between slapstick and cool that has helped The Coasters’ sound live on in more recent times.

The lighthearted yet slick styling of ABC’s Happy Days was the perfect setting for songs such as Charlie Brown. In a bid to recreate the hip vibe of the fifties and sixties, the producers used music to perfect effect. As well as the enduring sound of Rock Around the Clock and Pratt and McClain’s Happy Days singing viewers in and out of the show, the show was littered with classic tracks. Often initiated by Arthur Fonzarelli aka Fonzie and the diner’s famous jukebox, the music would give the show an air of authenticity and vibrancy that still resonates today. As well as reruns of the original episodes from the seventies and eighties, Happy Days and its musical influences can now be found in spinoffs, tributes, games and even phrases. Mork, the famous alien played by Robin Williams, was first seen in Happy Days before Mork and Mindy became a hit. Fonzie’s famous thumbs up and “aaayyy” can still be heard on the streets, in shows such as The Office and, interestingly, in games. Blueprint Gaming’s online game ‘The Happy Days’ is one such product that’s been inspired not just by the show but music from the likes of The Coasters. As you enter Al’s fictional diner, classic rock and roll beats play in the background before the famous Fonzie “aaayyy” pierces through as you collect as many as 2,000 coins.

Of course, it’s not just in games and TV shows where The Coasters live on. Charlie Brown features on Fonzie’s Favorite Tracks album, while a myriad of modern bands have taken inspiration from the rock and roll era. In among the country-rock guitar riffs that Kings of Leon use, there’s a definite blues tone that traces its roots back to bands like The Coasters. It’s a similar story with The Sheepdogs. Often touring with Kings of Leon, the Canadian band have a bluesy undertone that’s used to deliver “organic rock” to those that still love the old-school vibe. Essentially, despite the rock and roll era having long since passed, The Coasters are able to continue touring because the sounds of the fifties haven’t died. Whether it’s on stage, screen or our computers, modern culture is filled with tributes to the early days of the musical genre and, in turn, the artists that gave us a ton of hits. Even though the original members of The Coasters are no longer with us, their sound is and that’s what audiences won’t stop rocking around the clock to.

Chris Mawson

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