Originally entitled "Later Alligator", the song, based on a 12-bar blues chord structure (141541), was written by Louisiana songwriter Robert Charles Guidry and first recorded by him under his professional name "Bobby Charles" in 1955. Guidry, a Cajun musician, adopted a New Orleans-influenced blues style for the recording. The melody of the song was borrowed from bluesman Guitar Slim's "Later for You Baby" which was recorded in 1954. Guidry also wrote "Walking to New Orleans", which was recorded by Fats Domino.
The song was also recorded by Roy Hall (who'd written and recorded Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On ten weeks before) on December 1, 1955 at a Nashville session. The most famous recording of the song, however, was that created on December 12, 1955 by Bill Haley & His Comets at a recording session for Decca Records.Unlike most of Haley's recordings for Decca, which were created at the Pythian Temple studio in New York City, "Alligator" and its flip-side, "The Paper Boy (On Main Street U.S.A.)", were recorded at the Decca Building in New York. The song was featured in Rock Around the Clock, a musical film Haley and the Comets began shooting in January 1956. Decca records released this disk on February 1, 1956 in both 45 and 78 formats.
Haley's arrangement of the song is faster-paced than Guidry's original, and in particular the addition of a two-four beat changed the song from a rhythm and blues "shuffle" to rock and roll. The song also has a more light-hearted beat than the original, starting out with a high-pitched, childlike voice (belonging to Haley's lead guitarist, Franny Beecher) reciting the title of the song. The ending of the song was virtually identical to the conclusion of Haley's earlier hit, "Shake, Rattle and Roll".
Bill Haley's recording of "See You Later, Alligator" popularized a catchphrase already in use at the time, and Princess Margaret of the United Kingdom was quoted as saying it (this is related in a biography of the Princess published in the early 1960s). It would become Haley's third and final million-selling single, although it did not hit the top of the American charts.
Haley and the Comets re-recorded the song several more times: in 1964 for Guest Star Records, a drastically rearranged version for Mexico's Orfeon Records in 1966, and once more in 1968 for Sweden's Sonet Records. It was also a staple of the band's live act. Several post-Haley incarnations of The Comets have also recorded versions of the song. Guidry, under his Bobby Charles pseudonym, re-recorded the song in the 1990s.
On Broadway, "See You Later Alligator" was sung by Robert Britton Lyons, portraying Carl Perkins, in the musical Million Dollar Quartet, which opened in New York in April, 2010. Robert Britton Lyons also covered the song in the Million Dollar Quartet original Broadway cast recording (copyright 2010 by MDQ Merchandising, LLC).
Doctor Feelgood also recorded a version based on this orginal.