In 1939, Glenn Miller released a record with a hole in it. Oh sure, ALL records had holes in them – but THIS one had a MUSICAL hole. The tune was “In The Mood” – and the band’s arrangement had a repeated verse that slowly ramped DOWN – then STOPPED, leaving a SILENT BAR – then it ROARED back in for a final verse.
And it was that silent bar that DID it. Keeping the rhythm in their heads, the audience knew EXACTLY when the band would jump back in. Thus, it was a kind of TRIBUTE to the audience’s sense of rhythm – a COMPLIMENT, if you will. Glenn did it – and people LOVED him for it.
Thirteen years later, the “hole” in the arrangement was used to magnificent effect in “The Glenn Miller Story” (’54). In the movie, the band are playing the number at an open air concert in England, when a “doodlebug” flies over. Its jet engine sputters to a stop and with its characteristic WHEEEE, it begins to fall…
The audience does what ALL people did when they heard that sound, during WW2 – they throw themselves under the nearest cover, hoping they are not Ground Zero.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Stewart and his boys have reached the diminuendo section of the piece.
And so: WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-KABOOM! …DAH-DAH, DOOBY-DO-DO, DOOBY-DO-DO-DOOWAH…
The audience pick themselves up, realising THE BAND HAD PLAYED ON – RIGHT THROUGH the scare (the bomb had landed nearby – but not near enough for either the blast or debris to nail Glenn and his boys) and the audience erupts with wild applause.
So did the cinema audiences of the time: it was a moment of high emotion – there was not a dry seat in the house (a great STORY – but if it ACTUALLY HAPPENED, I’ll eat my own foot).
Perhaps the success of that dramatic interlude in The Glenn Miller Story influenced Bill Haley’s arrangement of “Rock Around The Clock” – it was recorded just as the movie opened. There’s no diminuendo in the number, but it does feature that HOLE.
A session drummer was responsible for the timing of the famous ending – it is said he messed UP the first take and the record that eventually sold over TWENTY-FIVE MILLION copies is in fact take TWO. Other sources say the balance between the band and Bill was out… We’ll never know.
But what we DO know is that it too contains a silent bar, before that famous crashing drum finale.
Of course, Rock Around The Clock was far from being an immediate hit. Its use in “Blackboard Jungle” a year AFTER its initial release (as the “B” side!) triggered its phenomenal rise – and the rest is Rock history.
And it would be another year (’56, now) before the device was used in another chart-topper. Except, despite it easily being the best thing Ray Gonif (sorry – CONNIFF) his chorus and orchestra ever did, “’S Wonderful” was never released as a single. He and his guys were ALBUM artists.
However, typically, the Baron Of Bland CHICKENED OUT. Rather than credit his audience with a sense of rhythm (!) he put a CRASH cymbal right in the middle of the silent bar! The bum.
It was left to Warren Covington, leading the late Tommy Dorsey’s band (Tommy had choked – literally – a couple of years earlier: a heavy meal followed by a sleeping pill had knocked him off at just 51) to revive the device two years later, in 1958.
“Tea For Two Cha-Cha” was a massive hit and featured a THREE-bar silence. This was stretching the public’s sense of rhythm to breaking point. And a number of DJs were fooled into starting to speak during it – then, if they hadn’t been quick enough with their fader, they got drowned out when the band came BACK IN!
But this foot-tapper was the LAST time the device was successfully used. Okay, it was invoked many times on Pop records of the Sixties and Seventies – but it only ever REALLY worked with SWING music. And THAT died out as a popular form in the late Fifties.
You can find ALL of the above music on YouTube – here’s Glenn Miller’s In The Mood, to get you started…