Top 10 Songs of the 50s

Introduction

The 1950s marked a transformative era in the world of music, giving birth to the rock and roll revolution. With pioneers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, the decade saw a fusion of rhythm and blues, country, and gospel that created a new sound that would capture the hearts of generations.

Rock and roll’s infectious beats and rebellious lyrics struck a chord with the youth, sparking a cultural shift and influencing fashion, dance, and attitudes. This era also witnessed the emergence of legendary labels like Sun Records, where artists like Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded iconic tracks.

Notably, the 1950s brought electric guitars to the forefront, with artists using them to create electrifying solos and unforgettable melodies. The decade also saw the rise of girl groups, doo-wop harmonies, and the birth of the Motown sound, all of which left an indelible mark on the musical landscape.

From the birth of the Billboard charts to the advent of television, the 1950s laid the foundation for the diverse musical landscape we enjoy today, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to inspire and influence artists across genres.

We have selected for you the top 10 hits of the 50s in our opinion:

1. Johnny B. Goode Chuck Berry

You may recognize ‘Johnny B. Goode’ from its inclusion in the legendary 1980s film, Back to the Future. However, this iconic song was originally released in the 1950s by the talented Chuck Berry. Serving as a musical time capsule, the song portrays Berry’s own life journey – an aspiring musician emerging from modest origins, his unwavering love for the guitar, and a distinctive path that ultimately shaped his remarkable musical prowess. While certain specifics were altered, the song powerfully captures the essence of Berry’s life, leaving an indelible mark.

Notably, ‘Johnny B. Goode’ is often regarded as one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Its energetic guitar riffs and captivating lyrics have influenced countless musicians and have been covered by numerous artists across various genres. Additionally, the song’s title character, Johnny B. Goode, has become a symbol of the archetypal rock and roll hero, embodying the spirit of youthful rebellion and musical passion that defined the era.

2. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

Undoubtedly one of Elvis Presley’s most iconic rock ‘n roll tracks, ‘Hound Dog’ remains a perennial contender for the title of the finest song from the 1950s. While Elvis recorded the hit in 1956, its origins trace back to Big Mama Thornton, who initially released it in 1953 – her sole chart-topping success. Thornton’s rendition secured a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a pivotal influence on the genre, yet it’s Elvis’s rendition that has attained widespread recognition, earning a spot in the esteemed list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Elvis’s version of ‘Hound Dog’ not only propelled him further into the spotlight but also symbolized the evolving spirit of rock ‘n roll. The song’s energetic rhythm, combined with Presley’s electrifying performance, captured the essence of the era’s youth rebellion and musical innovation. Its impact was profound, contributing to the song’s enduring popularity and its continued celebration as an emblem of 1950s musical excellence.

3. Great Balls of Fire – Jerry Lee Lewis

Arguably one of the most legendary tracks seamlessly integrated into the soundtracks of both film and television is Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Great Balls of Fire’. Lewis, an avant-garde figure in the rock ‘n roll landscape, played a pioneering role in shaping the genre. His pivotal contribution is vividly depicted in the Million Dollar Quartet, a stage jukebox production that revisits the momentous recording sessions of 1956, which brought together Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Remarkably, the song ‘Great Balls of Fire’ itself holds a prominent place within this production, embodying the exuberance and audacity that defined that era’s musical revolution.

The infectious energy of ‘Great Balls of Fire’ not only solidified Jerry Lee Lewis’s status as a rock ‘n roll icon but also mirrored the zeitgeist of a generation enamored with the raw vitality of this new musical movement. Its inclusion in the Million Dollar Quartet production further cements its legacy, ensuring that the fiery spirit of the song and its era continue to captivate audiences and pay homage to the remarkable contributions of these pioneering musicians.

4. Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins

“Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready. Now go, cat, go!” sets the stage for a song that epitomizes the early rock ‘n roll era. These lyrics encapsulate the essence of the music of that era, a sound that would resonate through the decades, leaving an indelible mark on the world of rock ‘n roll. The echoes of these rhythmic patterns and influences can still be discerned in contemporary music, a testament to the enduring impact of this musical movement.

The timeless appeal of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ can be attributed in part to its classic rock guitar and bass riffs, which have etched themselves into the annals of music history. These distinctive elements helped elevate the song to a status of eminence, solidifying it as a quintessential work by Carl Perkins, a significant member of the renowned Million Dollar Quartet associated with Sun Records.

Carl Perkins, along with fellow luminaries like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, contributed to a musical revolution that reshaped the trajectory of popular music. ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ with its irresistible blend of catchy lyrics and infectious rhythms, stands as a testament to the enduring appeal of rock ‘n roll’s pioneering days, a legacy that continues to inspire and influence artists across generations.

5. Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley

Having found its place in the hit TV series Happy Days, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ is a tune that has likely graced most ears, unless classic television and rock music fail to strike a chord with you. Nonetheless, even if those elements don’t resonate, the song’s infectious melody has still likely made its presence felt in various other corners of pop culture. Arguably, this track holds the distinction of being one of the earliest rock songs to claim the coveted #1 spot on the charts.

Originally recorded in 1953 by Sonny Dae and His Nights, the song initially failed to garner significant recognition. However, a year later, after some legal maneuvering, Bill Haley took the reins for Decca Records, recording the song and subsequently becoming the most recognizable vocalist associated with it. The transformation of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ from its humble beginnings to its prominent place in rock history showcases the complex interplay between artists, labels, and the evolving music landscape of the time.

Bill Haley’s rendition, with its vibrant rhythm and lively energy, propelled ‘Rock Around the Clock’ to stratospheric heights, playing a pivotal role in shaping the course of rock ‘n roll’s ascent to mainstream prominence. As it continues to reverberate across generations, the song remains a timeless emblem of the exuberance and revolutionary spirit that defined the early days of rock music.

6. Wake Up Little Susie – The Everly Brothers

Emerging as a pioneering rock duo from the United States, the Everly Brothers carved their niche by skillfully weaving steel string acoustic guitar melodies with seamless harmonies that became their signature. When you engage with ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ these defining elements take center stage, enveloping the listener in a captivating and endearing sonic experience.

The song itself narrates a lighthearted tale of youthful romance – a boy and a girl venture to the cinema for a date, but a twist of fate leads to the girl falling asleep. This innocent escapade propels them past curfew, adding a touch of comedic tension to the narrative. ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ encapsulates the essence of its era, both in its thematic exploration of youthful adventures and its musical embodiment of the early rock ‘n roll sound.

The song’s resounding popularity echoes through time, standing as a testament to the Everly Brothers’ ability to craft relatable and catchy tunes that resonated with audiences. It’s a vivid snapshot of the cultural landscape of its day, capturing the spirit of a generation and contributing to the Everly Brothers’ status as celebrated icons in the realm of rock music.

7. Mack the Knife – Bobby Darin

Renowned vocalist Bobby Darin played a pivotal role in catapulting the song ‘Mack the Knife,’ originally penned by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht for the German theatrical production The Threepenny Opera in 1928, into the realms of fame. Despite its somewhat ominous title, the song’s buoyant melody lends it an air of whimsy, cleverly masking the nefarious deeds of the character it portrays.

The origins of ‘Mack the Knife’ trace back to the creative tapestry of The Threepenny Opera, where it was initially introduced to the world. This theatrical composition weaved together the disparate threads of drama, music, and social commentary, with ‘Mack the Knife’ serving as a characteristically sardonic commentary on society’s underbelly.

Bobby Darin, entranced by the play’s allure and captivated by the song’s captivating charm, chose to breathe new life into ‘Mack the Knife’ by recording his rendition in 1958. Darin’s rendition proved to be a stroke of brilliance, skillfully marrying his charismatic vocal prowess with the song’s intriguing narrative, which tells the tale of a cunning and unscrupulous figure. Through Darin’s rendition, the song metamorphosed into a cross-generational classic, embodying the very essence of timeless musical appeal.

8. That’ll Be the Day – Buddy Holly & The Crickets

Released in 1957, the rockabilly sensation Buddy Holly brought ‘That’ll Be the Day’ to life when he re-recorded it alongside The Crickets. Interestingly, this chart-topping classic had humble beginnings, initially met with rejection by Decca Records during Holly’s earlier recording attempt with his band, The Three Tunes. Little did Decca know, their decision would become a missed opportunity, as ‘That’ll Be the Day’ eventually emerged as one of the defining anthems of the 1950s.

The song’s enduring appeal serves as a testament to its exceptional quality, and it became Buddy Holly’s breakthrough hit. Notably, although credited to The Crickets, the song acted as a springboard for Holly’s meteoric rise, solidifying his status as a rock ‘n roll pioneer.

Holly’s decision to revisit and refine ‘That’ll Be the Day’ with The Crickets was a stroke of genius that catapulted the song to lasting fame. Its resonant melodies and Holly’s distinctive voice intertwined seamlessly, creating an irresistible musical tapestry that continues to captivate listeners, even decades after its inception. The song’s legacy stands as a testament to the remarkable talents of Buddy Holly and his contributions to shaping the landscape of rock ‘n roll.

9. Tutti Frutti – Little Richard

“Tutti Frutti” is a classic rock ‘n roll song written by Little Richard and Dorothy LaBostrie, and it was first recorded in 1955. Known for its exuberant energy and vibrant lyrics, the song’s upbeat tempo and catchy melody contributed to its status as a groundbreaking hit of the 1950s. “Tutti Frutti” is often celebrated as a prime example of the early rock ‘n roll sound, showcasing Little Richard’s dynamic vocal style and the genre’s evolving influence on popular music. The song’s infectious rhythm and joyful spirit have left an indelible mark on the history of rock music.

10. I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Frank Sinatra

A beloved composition by Frank Sinatra, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ is a romantic ballad that delves into the depths of affection, describing a love so profound that it permeates one’s very being. Surprisingly, the origins of this iconic song trace back to the creative genius of renowned composer and songwriter Cole Porter, who crafted it in 1936 for the film musical Born to Dance. In the movie, the enchanting Virginia Bruce lent her voice to the song, breathing life into its evocative lyrics.

What makes ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ particularly intriguing is how Cole Porter ingeniously transformed a common phrase, usually associated with irritation, into a sentiment of passion and allure. Through his artful manipulation of language, Porter turned a seemingly mundane expression into a captivating declaration of deep emotional connection. Frank Sinatra’s rendition of the song further solidified its status as a timeless masterpiece, resonating across generations and etching its place in the annals of romantic music.