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Today In History: Bill Haley Started A Rock Revolution

Hulton Archive
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Bill Haley & His Comets // Bob Haswell / Stringer

On this day in 1954, Bill Haley & His Comets released "(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock," a song that would change the sound of American music. It might not have been the first rock ‘n’ roll song, but it’s widely regarded as the song that brought rock to the mainstream.

But what was it about "Rock Around the Clock" that made it such a musical outlier at the time of its release? During the eight-week span of when Haley recorded the song in April 1954 and when it was released on May 20, Perry Como’s crooner ballad "Wanted" was No. 1. Kitty Kallen’s forlorn "Little Things Mean a Lot" was the song of the summer, topping the charts for nine weeks in June and July. And '50s boy band the Crew Cuts closed out the summer with their doo-wop hit "Sh-Boom."

Unfortunately, "Rock Around The Clock" was issued as a B-side to "Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town)" and didn’t pick up much traction upon release. But the following year, the movie Blackboard Jungle (featuring a 28-year-old Sidney Poitier as a rebellious high school student) played the song over its opening credits, and the teenage audience went crazy for it. The song climbed the charts and hit No. 1 in July, taking over from the widely popular instrumental mambo "Cherry Pink (and Apple Blossom White)," by Pérez Prado and His Orchestra. Haley and the Comets had set the rock train in motion, and by the following year, Elvis Presley would cement the nation's obsession with the genre with his string of number 1 hits.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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