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The 1950s are known for many things: the sprawl of post-war suburbia, the birth of rock n’ roll, the cold war. Its soundtrack is varied, from simple pop to reckless rockabilly and rock. Check out our list of the best 50s songs of all time below.
Best 50s Songs
11. So What – Miles Davis
Let’s start this one out with a curveball, shall we?
It may not be in our public consciousness of the 50s as much as rock n’ roll, but some of the best jazz music was being made during that decade as well.
Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, and many others were making some of the best tracks of the genre.
The best of those is Davis’ “So What,” the opening track from Kind of Blue, which is universally recognized as one of the all-time great jazz albums.
Dig that piano hook.
10. “Hound Dog” – Elvis Presley
“Hound Dog,” written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, was first recorded by blues legend Big Mama Thorton in 1952. Her version sold over 500 thousand copies and remained on the Billboard R&B chart for 14 weeks.
It has been recorded over 250 times since then, most notably, of course, by Elvis Presley, who came out with his mega-hit version in 1956.
9. “Be-Bop-A-Lula” – Gene Vincent
“Be-bop-a-lula, she’s my baby!”
Few lines better encapsulate the carefree aura of the early days of rock n’ roll.
Gene Vincent’s signature song, released in 1957, sold over two million copies and reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Be-Bop-A-Lula” was hugely influential on the rock n’ roll bands of the 60s, thus its place on our list of the best 50s songs.
It has been covered many times, notably on John Lennon’s cover album Rock n’ Roll in 1974.
8. “Fever” – Peggy Lee
It doesn’t get more sultry than this one, my goodness. One of the best 50s songs of all time, and also one of the sexiest.
Peggy Lee’s most famous song was written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell (who often wrote for Elvis) and released in 1958.
Interestingly, it was originally recorded by bluesman Little Willie John, whose song “Leave My Kitten Alone” was covered by the Beatles. Their version was inexplicably left off the 1964 album Beatles for Sale, even though the rocker was one of the best tracks from the sessions.
7. “La Bamba” Ritchie Valens
Sadly, we lost Richie Valens in the same plane crash that took the life of 50s legends Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.
“La Bamba,” a classical Mexican folk tune, was his signature song, and has been featured in many TV shows and movies.
6. “Please, Please, Please” – James Brown
James Brown, called the Godfather of Soul, is one of the most influential artists in history.
His influence on R&B, soul, Motown, funk, and even rap is unparalleled. Only Elvis even rivals him in terms of influence.
“Please, Please, Please” was released in March 1956. It sold around three million copies and set his astonishing career into motion.
Like every artist on this list, many of his songs could be considered one of the best 50s songs of all time.
The pleading vocal on “Please Please Please” ultimately made us choose it.
5. “Walkin’ After Midnight” – Patsy Cline
Not all of the best 50s songs come from the world of rock n’ roll!
This beautiful country classic, written by Alan Block and Don Hecht, was released in February 1957.
It hit number two on the Billboard country chart and 12 on the pop chart.
“Crazy” might be more popular, but “Walking After Midnight” is at least as iconic, even if Willie Nelson didn’t write it.
4. “That’ll Be the Day” – Buddy Holly
No list of the best 50s songs of all time would be complete without a Buddy Holly song.
Holly was unique because he was one of the first songwriters who wrote his own songs, which inspired a generation of young musicians, including the Beatles.
“That’ll Be the Day” was written after Holly had seen the classic movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance. In it, John Wayne says the phrase ‘that’ll be the day’ often, which Holly turned it into a classic hook.
3. Maybellene” – Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry is perhaps the first name that comes to mind when you think of 50s rock n’ roll. Well maybe second after Elvis, but there’d be no Elvis if there wasn’t the genius of Chuck Berry.
Though many of his hits could make this list of best 50s songs of all time, including classics like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Johnny B. Goode,” or “Rock n’ Roll Music,” his first hit, 1955’s “Maybellene,” set the stage for them all.
It stayed at the top of the pop chart for eleven weeks.
2. “Tutti Frutti” – Little Richard
Another rock n’ roll pioneer, Little Richard scored many iconic hits, including “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Long Tall Sally.”
“Tutti Frutti,” his first single, was the song that made him famous. There’s a story about the original lyrics, but this is a family website, so we’ll keep it PG-13 and skip that one.
Amazingly, “Tutti Frutti” didn’t make the Billboard charts at all, but it is widely regarded as the prototype for rock n’ roll. Mojo Magazine placed it at #1 on their list of Songs That Changed the World.
Naturally, then, it’s on our list of the best 50s songs.
1. “Heartbreak Hotel” – Elvis Presley
When Elvis Presley left Sun Records, where he was discovered and made his first hits, some were unsure whether he’d keep making genre-defining music.
The release of “Heartbreak Hotel,” his first single for RCA, proved those people wrong with a vengeance.
More than one of the best 50s songs, it’s one of the all-time classic rock n’ roll songs. The iconic track topped the Billboard Top 100 for seven weeks and became Presley’s first million-seller.
Fun fact: Paul McCartney owns the famous stand-up bass that Elvis bassist Bill Black plays on this song.
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