Bill Haley usually gets his due for helping to kick off the rock & roll era with "Rock Around the Clock" in 1954, but as it happens, Haley had been cutting solid rock sides several years before that. Haley covered Jackie Brenston's epochal "Rocket '88'" within a few months of its 1951 release with his Western swing outfit, Bill Haley & the Saddlemen, and after that it didn't take long for Haley and his bandmates to make with the boogie and add some strong proto-rockabilly material to their set. The result was a string of regional hits for the Essex label that eventually led to Haley's signing to Decca Records and the recording of the song that became both his greatest triumph and the millstone he could never escape. The Best of Bill Haley and His Comets 1951-1954 is hardly the first album to skim the cream off Haley's pre-Decca hits (pick up Rock the Joint for a more complete picture of this era), but it's more concise and better sounding than most collections of Haley's Essex sides, and leaves his lukewarm hillbilly material by the wayside in favor of straight-ahead rock & roll (though Billy Williamson's blazing steel guitar solos point to the band's country roots). These recordings prove that Haley's showy style had fully evolved long before "Rock Around the Clock" made him an international star, and if anything this material makes for a more satisfying listen than the vast majority of Haley compilations on the market, with "Rock the Joint," "Real Rock Drive," and "Crazy Man, Crazy" standing alongside his very finest work. The Best of Bill Haley and His Comets is a well-considered tribute to the formative years of one of rock's more neglected pioneers, and it's plenty of fun to boot.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming