Title: Metalluk's Top-120 Songs from the Fifties (Part I: 1-40)
Jan 2, 2007 (Updated Oct 12, 2007)
Popular Products in MusicThe Bottom Line This is Part I of my list of Top-120 Songs from the Fifties, including numbers 1-40. If you enjoy this list, please check out Parts II & III as well.
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Once upon a time, boys and girls, there was a kind of music called "Rock & Roll," the name of which was later shortened to just "Rock" (I guess they must have forgotten how to "Roll"). Once upon another time, there was no such thing as Rock & Roll and the teenagers were all very, very sad. Strangely enough, the first story began exactly where the second story left off in 1955. That was the year when Rock & Roll was first invented and young people everywhere rejoiced mightily, while their parents quaked and shuttered in their boots. Though much has changed, mainstream popular music, right up to the present time, can be seen as a unitary musical haplogroup, evolving from that one crucial mutation that occurred in the mid-fifties. Complexity and diversity has increased, but Rock is still a direct descendant of Rock & Roll. I don't mean to crow or anything, but I was twelve in 1955 and it's therefore a reasonable supposition that Rock & Roll was invented expressly for me (and the hippest of my contemporaries). The rest of you have just been riding the backside of the wave ever since!
The first half of the fifties is sometimes referred to as the "nothing" period in popular music. The era of the big bands was over and World War II songs were out of vogue, yet nothing exciting had come along to fill the void. Teenagers and young adults of that era had to make do with a coterie of crooners, such as Perry Como, Julius La Rosa, Pat Boone, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Frankie Laine, as well as their female counterparts, such as Doris Day. It was enough to make adolescents turn off the radio and turn to booze instead (we didn't even have the option of marijuana in those days)! Then, Bill Haley, Little Richard, Elvis, and some others came along and saved most of us, at least, from a life of chronic inebriation.
Any list of the top songs from the fifties is thus presented immediately with a challenge. For many of us, very nearly all of the top hundred or two-hundred songs from the fifties come from the second half of the decade, following that moment of spontaneous combustion that became Rock & Roll. My list of the 120 top songs from the fifties includes relatively few released prior to 1955, though I have gone out of my way to include a few of the best. Having had both an older brother and an older sister, I was exposed to the current hits throughout the decade, one way or another. To any lost souls out there who actually experience nostalgia for the crooners of the "nothing" half-decade, what can I say that would not be insulting to your perverse musical taste? Other than, perhaps, my apologies for detesting most of your music!
Why 120? Well, back in the fifties, a popular pastime for adolescents was listening to the weekly top-40 countdowns. Forty, however, is not enough for an entire decade, so I've arranged my list as three installments of forty songs apiece. This is Part I, including songs in positions 1-40, in reverse order in accordance with good countdown procedure. These are my personal selections, though I did cull a number of charts of hit songs for each year to minimize the risk of inadvertently omitting one of my old favorites. If you enjoy this list, please check out Parts I and II.
Metalluk's Top-120 Songs from the Fifties (Part II: 41-80)
Metalluk's Top-120 Songs from the Fifties (Part III: 81-120)
TOP-SONGS OF THE FIFTIES (Nos. 1-40):
40. The Big Bopper: Chantilly Lace (1958). "Chantilly lace and a pretty face and a pony tail hanging down; that wiggle in the walk and giggle in the talk, makes the world go round. There ain't nothing in the world like a big eyed girl that makes me act so funny, make me spend my money, make me feel real loose like a long necked goose." I suppose those lyrics are sexist, but America didn't much mind, in those days. This song climbed to #6. Sadly, The Big Bopper, who was an ex-D.J. named J.P. Richardson, died in the same plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens.
39. Fats Domino: Blueberry Hill (1956). "I found my thrill, on Blueberry Hill." Although this piece was recorded as an afterthought during a recording session in which Fats ran out of material, it reached #2 on the charts. Glenn Miller had also reached #2 recording this same song in 1940.
38. The Platters: You've Got the Magic Touch (1956). Woo-oo! "It makes me glow, so much, it casts a spell, it rings a bell, the magic touch." This song peaked out at #4 on the Billboard pop chart.
37. Bobby Helms: My Special Angel (1957). "You are my special angel, sent from up above. The Lord smiled down on me and sent an angel to love." What a nice thought! Helms was an Indiana boy, born in 1933. His other top hit was "Jingle Bell Rock.'
36. Thurston Harris: Little Bitty Pretty One (1957). "Come on and talk-a to me, a-lovey dovey dovey one, come sit down on my knee." It was Harris who made this song, written by Bobby Day, a famous one, but it later became a cover song for Frankie Lymon, Clyde McPhatter, the Jackson Five, Cliff Richard, Huey Lewis and Billy Gilman.
35. Richie Valens: Donna (1959). Valens was only seventeen when he died tragically in a plane crash on February 3rd, 1959, later immortalized in a song called "America Pie" as "the day the music died." Valens was born Richard Valenzuela and grew up in poverty in Pacoima, Los Angeles.
34. Buddy Knox: Party Doll (1957). "Come along and be my party doll." Knox was born in Happy, Texas in 1933 and has the distinction of being the first rock artist to write and sing his own #1 hit, which was this song. His next best song was "I'm sticking with You."
33. Domenico Modugno: Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (1958). Often called simply "Volare," this song was a ballad sung in Italian. The title means literally "In the blue painted blue." It's been a popular song all over the world ever since its introduction in 1958.
32. Harry Belafonte: Banana Boat Song (1957). This song was often referred to by its opening lyrics, "Day-O." Belafonte was known as the King of Calypso. His breakthrough album was called "Calypso" (1956), but I also especially recommend "Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean (1957)."
31. Richie Valens: La Bamba (1959). Valens was the first Chicano rock star, but his career was so brief (due to his early death) that he was really only known for two songs and this one most especially. Comedy Central ran a skit for a while in which an actor playing the role of Valens was continually called "La Bamba" by his groupies, as though that were his actual name. The song's lyrics are in Spanish. There's a nice movie about Valen's brief life called "La Bamba."
30. The Heartbeats: Thousand Miles Away (1957). This doo-wop group didn't last long, due to a split up as members of the group moved on to other groups. One member of the group was Al Attles, who became an NBA player and Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors. This song, which topped out at #53, was their best.
29. Little Richard: Long Tall Sally (1956). Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman. As a performer, he seemed to be perpetually wired on Ritalin or Cocaine, perhaps. His music was frenetic and funky, mixing boogie-woogie and rhythm & blues with gospel music. His vocal style consisted of rasping shouting. He was emblematic of the black/white dispute about the origins of Rock & Roll, largely because Presley had gained fame partly through covers of Little Richard originals.
28. Elvis Presley: Money Honey (1956). Talking about Elvis, my favorite Pressley songs are his early ones, before he became a fabulous star, hooked on a combination of fame and drugs. This is a great early Presley song. "You know, the landlord rang my front door bell, I let it ring for a long, long spell. I went to the window, I peeped through the blind, and asked him to tell me what was on his mind."
27. Buddy Holly: Peggy Sue (1957). Buddy Holly wrote and performed an amazing number of great songs in his all too brief meteoric career. This one reached #3. The subject immortalized in the title, was Peggy Sue Gerron, a girl who was dating Holly's drummer, Jerry Allison. Peggy Sue later married Allison, but the two also divorced eleven years later.
26. The Del Vikings: Whispering Bells (1957). The Del Vikings (sometimes Dell-Vikings) were one of the first successful racially integrated groups, though most of the members were black. Their style was doo-wop. I grew up in a lily-white suburban town where racism wasn't evident simply because there was only one race in the town. My very first encounter with the concept of racism was when some of my "friends" tried to discourage my interest in the Del Vikings because it was "black music." I soon changed friends, but not my tastes in music.
25. Buddy Holly: Rave On (1958). "A-well the little things you say and do, they make me want to be with you-oo-oo, rave on, it's a crazy feeling, and I know it's got me reeling when you say, 'I love you,' rave on." Like Presley, Holly employed all sorts of catches in his voice and throat sounds that added spice to his vocal delivery.
24. Everly Brothers: Wake Up Little Susie (1957). My first wife was a "Susan" and this was her song, having come out while she was in high school. Can you believe this song was once banned in Boston because it involved high school kids staying out together all night (albeit by the accident of falling asleep in a movie theater)? This song was the first of four Everly Brothers' hits to reach #1 on the pop chart. It also went to #1 on the Country & Western charts.
23. Penguins: Earth Angel (1955). "Earth angel, will you be mine? My darling dear, love you all the time. I'm just a fool, a fool in love with you." This doo-wop treasure reached number one on the Rhythm & Blues charts. It peaked at #8 on the pop charts. It was the Penguins only top-40 hit.
22. Elvis Presley: Trying to Get to You (1956). This song was not as successful as many other Presley songs, but I've come across some other Presley fans who rank it among his best. "Ever since I read your letter, where you said you love me true . . ." This song is one of the premiere examples of Presley's use of voice gimmicks to spice up a number.
21. The Crickets: Maybe Baby (1958). For some odd reason, Buddy Holly (whose real name was Charles Hardin Holley) had a deal with Decca records whereby some of his songs were released under his name and some under the name of his band, The Crickets. This song peaked at #17 on the pop charts.
20. Little Richard: Tutti Frutti (1956). I also liked Presley's version of this piece, but Little Richard's was a shade better. In order to ensure commercial acceptability for this piece, the original opening line, "Tutti-frutti, good booty," was changed to "Tutti-frutti, aw rooty." "Wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-whop-bam-boom!"
19. The Coasters: Young Blood (1957). "I can't get you out of my mind. I took one look and I was fractured." This magnificent song was written by the acclaimed team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, along with Doc Pumus. The Beatles sometimes performed a cover version of "Young Blood" as well as their own derivative song, "I Saw Her Standing There." "Young Blood" and "Searchin' (see #55) were released back to back and climbed to #1.
18. Monotones: Book of Love (1958). This silly but delightful song was inspired by a toothpaste commercial. The Monotones, a group from Newark, New Jersey, never had another hit. "Well, I wonder, wonder who (woo-ooo-woo!) who wrote the Book of Love?" "Chapter One says to love her, you love her with all your heart. Chapter Two you tell her you never, never, never, ever gonna part. In Chapter Three, remember your meaning of romance. In Chapter Four you break up but you give her just one more chance."
17. Elvis Pressley: All Shook Up (1957). This is one of those great early Presley songs with clever use of a guttural sound at a key moment. "A well, I bless my soul, what's wrong with me? I'm itching like a man on a fuzzy tree. My friends say I'm actin' wild as a bug. I'm in love! I'm all shook up!"
16. Bill Haley & His Comets: Rock Around the Clock (1955). Many people designate this song as the first Rock & Roll song. It's probably more accurate to say it was the song that crystallized a new music that had been in fitful development for 3-4 years. Haley himself had participated in the trend with such songs as "Rocket 88" (1952), "Crazy Man Crazy" (1953), and "Shake Rattle and Roll" (1954). Elvis Pressley began to generate some buzz in and around Memphis during the summer of 1954. The new music was polarizing, with some listeners suddenly acquiring new interest in popular music and others dodging for cover. "Rock Around the Clock" held down the #1 spot for eight solid weeks and sold 22 million copies worldwide.
15. The Platters: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (1958). Everyone who enjoys the Platter's music has their own favorites among the songs. This one is mine. "They-ey-ey, asked me how I knew my true love was true. Oh, I of course replied something here inside cannot be denied." The lyrics provide an unusual twist on the certainty of love as the singer discovers that his dubious friends were onto something. This song reached #1 on the pop charts.
14. Lloyd Price: Personality (1959). Sure, it's a ditzy song, but oh what pleasing ditziness! "'Cause you got personality, walk personality, talk personality, smile personality, charm personality, love personality, and of course you've got a great big heart." It's all about appreciating the little things about someone you love.
13. Eugene Church: Pretty Girls Everywhere (1959). "Ev'rywhere I go (there's a pretty girl there), I see a pretty girl (pretty-pretty-pretty girl)." "If I make it to the beach, there's a pretty girl there. You know they knock me off my feet! Them pretty girls there." I guess this is pretty much how I experience life in the world as well. Pretty girls, everywhere!
12. Everly Brothers: All I Have To Do Is Dream (1958). I'm not sure that the psychology behind this song is especially healthy, but it's probably what keeps a lot of teen boys going. "When I want you in my arms, when I want you and all your charms, whenever I want you, all I have to do is drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream." So, basically, guys, when the girl you covet has no interest in you, fantasize about her for a while and then let it go. That helped me get over Christine R. when I was fourteen more or less.!
11. Buddy Holly & The Crickets: That'll Be the Day (1957). On a particular listening, I could pick any of about eight Buddy Holly songs as my favorite, but this one stays near the top all of the time. "Well, that'll be the day when you say good-bye, yes, that'll be the day when you make me cry. You say you're gonna leave, you know it's a lie, 'cause that'll be the day when I die." Unfortunately, that day turned out to be February 3rd, 1959. What a heart break!
10. The Falcons: You're So Fine (1959). This is the song that my wife and I have picked as "our" song and since we're both pathetic dancers, we get lots of laughs with it when we use it as the dance song for those wedding routines. I guess we look so ridiculous that our friends actually find us adorable. This song is doo-wop at its best.
9. Shirley & Lee: Let The Good Times Roll (1956). This is a great Rhythm & Blues number. "Come on baby let the good times roll. Come on baby let me thrill your soul, come on baby let the good times roll, roll all night long." There's a nice back and forth between the male vocalist (Lee) and the female singer (Shirley), who has a raspy, contralto timbre.
8. Tune Weavers: Happy Happy Birthday Baby (1957). This is another psychologically suspicious song about a gal who got dumped some time ago and just can't get past it. It's the kind of pathetic weakness of sentiment that many of us have to deal with at one time or another in life, so there's perhaps a bit of vicarious relief in listening to another person dealing with heartbreak poorly. Margo Sylvia is the primary vocalist for this great song.
7. Everly Brothers: Bye Bye Love (1957). The Everly Brothers always had the same creamy smooth vocal style, featuring close harmonies, so several of their best songs could fairly compete for best overall. I live this one the most. It reached #2 on the pop charts. "Bye bye love, bye bye happiness, hello loneliness, I think I'm-a-gonna cry-y."
6. Little Joe & The Thrillers: Peanuts (1957). What can I say? I'm a sucker for high falsetto singing and cute lyrics. "Peanuts, girl, you my love, I love ya, love ya, and I'll never let you go." Then, there's the line, "Oh, I love you peanuts with all my heart and mind" which, as horny teenage boys, we routinely perverted into "Oh, I love your peanuts with all my heart and mind," with related pleasing fantasies.
5. Little Richard: Keep A Knockin' (1957). "You keep a-knocking but you can't come in, come back tomorrow night and try it again." Cause, baby, I've got this other buxom beauty already in my bed and she might not want to share, but I'll be done with her by tomorrow night. I don't actually recall ever being in that situation.
4. The Del Vikings: Come, Go With Me (1957). Known as the "dum-dum song," this was "our" song when I was dating Michele H. in 8th grade ("dating" is a bit of hyperbole since she lived across town and we mainly only talked on the phone). Good ol' Michele. One time I called her up to "break up." She called back a few minutes later and begged and pleaded that we get back together. As soon as I relented, she said, "O.K., great! Now I break up with you!", and hung up! Good one, Michele! I've got no hard feelings. "Love, love me darlin', come and go with me, please don't send me, 'way beyond the sea; I need you, darlin', so come go with me."
3. Fats Domino: Blue Monday (1957). This song was written by Fats and Dave Bartholomew. I always felt it was the quintessential Fats Domino song maybe because I've never much liked Mondays. I've got a tape that I made for myself that has a series of songs for each day of the week ("Ruby Tuesday, "Jukebox Saturday Night," etc.), but I've never come across a good one for "Wednesday." Can anyone recommend a great Wednesday song?
And now [insert drum roll], the #2 rock song of the fifties is [pregnant pause]:
2. Diamonds: Little Darlin' (1957). "Oh, little darlin', oh-oh-oh where ar-are you, my love-a, I was wrong-a, to-oo try to lo-ove two, a-hoopa, a-hoopa, hoopa. I know well-a that my love-a wa-as meant just fo-or you, oooooonly yooooooooooou." Then, like an old Inkspot number, the bass voice comes in [spoken], "My darlin', I need you, to call my own and never do wrong. To hold in mine your little hand, I'll know too soon that all is so grand. Please hold my hand." I knew this song was going to be a big hit the first time I heard it.
Now, folks [insert trumpet fanfare], what you've been waiting for all week . . . the number one song from the fifties . . . is . . .
1. Elvis Pressley: Heartbreak Hotel (1956). Heartbreak Hotel is now a sleek, hip boutique hotel near Graceland Mansion in Memphis, but in 1956, it was the coolest rock song around. "Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell. It's down at the end of lonely street at Heartbreak Hotel. You make me so lonely baby, I get so lonely, I get so lonely I could die." Recently, another Epinions writer was understandably upset about lyrics seeming to glamorize suicide on a contemporary album called "The Black Parade" by "My Chemical Romance," but I imagine that lyrics like those in "Heartbreak Hotel" have as much or more potential for generating (or, conversely, relieving) despondency as anything in the lyrics of today's songs. "Heartbreak Hotel" is solidly in the tradition of Blues and Blues songs have always had both the potential for deepening pain and loneliness and for giving vent to it. In the end, lyrics by themselves don't cause emotional problems. Lyrics can, however, sometimes be subverted by those with emotional problems into more grist for their churning psychological struggles. In any case, it's not an issue exclusive to present day songs.
So, there you have it. As I already stressed, these are my personal choices and there's no particular reason that your choices will match mine especially well. Nevertheless, you'll find here a nice selection of songs either to reminisce about or to go searching for. "Oh, yeah, searchin' every which a-away, yeah, yeah!
You might also want to check out my lists for the Top-Fifty Albums from the Sixties:
Metalluk's Top-Fifty Albums from the Sixties Part I (Nos. 1-25)
Metalluk's Top-Fifty Albums from the Sixties Part II (Nos. 26-50)