Top 10 Rock and Roll Songs of the 1950s
The Bo Diddley Beat
Music historians have often credited Bo Diddley with being the foundation on which the American genre of Rock and Roll was first based. He should receive more recognition of his contributions to the music trends of the nation and the world because of this.
I saw Bo Diddley for the first time the film Blues Brothers 2000 and his appearance was treated with honor by his brother musicians and many viewers, but he is a national treasure, as are many other of the early greats.
Best combined by Elvis Presley in the 1950s, the elements of Rock and Roll began with Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley beat" rhythm in an African inspired 4/4 time. Elvis had listened to The Grand Ole Opry, The Louisiana Hayride, Jazz, Blues, and Southern Gospel - both black and white - and added elements of the Blues, Jazz, Country and Western, and Black Southern Gospel to Bo Diddley's style and created a brand of American Rock and Roll that was the number one favorite with youth in the US from the mid-1950s until the Beatles emerged as leaders in the early 1960s.
Before Elvis Presley
John Lennon himself once stated, "Before Elvis Presley, there was nothing", according to the witness of music historian Robert Hall, a former rock critic for The Washington Post.
Not only that, but emerging rock performers who held the limelight briefly in Presley's era of the late 1950s were completely eclipsed by the Beatles and most were forgotten.
Elvis himself declined into bad movies and the professional stranglehold of Colonel Tom Parker, who reportedly murdered a person in a Scandinavian country, fled to the US, and was never indicted. Elvis's 1968 Comeback Special made for TV has become a collector's item.
The Blind Boys of Alabama make up one of the premiere Gospel inspired groups in America, are well known, and are still very well received in concert appearances. One of their standards, Run On, was sung often by Elvis and was expanded by Elvis Presley in 1960 with a dozen stars from Rock and Roll music in an ensemble performance that is unforgettable. When I put that song on to play, I cannot stop listening to it. Presley's version of Run On may be one of the first Rock and Roll Gospel numbers.
Cleveland - OHIO!
Cleveland, Ohio's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum inducted its first honorees in 1986 and 1987.
From this induction list of original great rockers come the first Top 10 Best Rock and Roll Songs List, all from the 1950s.
With perhaps the exception of Pretty Thing, which is not as well promoted, all of the songs listed below have appeared on at least a Top 10, 25, 50 or 100 List somewhere. The lyrics to Bo Diddley’s Pretty Thing appear further below.
In fact, four of these early performers became part of a group known as the Million Dollar Quartet at Sun Records on December 4, 1956. They were Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash (inducted in 1992). The songs they recorded were finally released in the 1990s and included Gospel, Pop, and Country genre hits.
Rock and Roll National Music Treasures
1. Bo Didley - Pretty Thing, 1955. It entered the Top 40 Chart after his TV debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Listen to the song in the accompany video.
Didley also perfected the forerunner to rap music in a call and response argument type of song titled Say, Man sung with Jerome Green.
2. Chuck Berry – Maybellene, 1955.
3. Bill Haley and Big Joe Turner, separately - Shake Rattle and Roll, 1954
4. Carl Perkins – Blue Suede Shoes, 1955
This was first song to make an across-the-boards hit as #2 on R&B and Pop and #1 on Country all at the same time. This was also Sun record’s first million–copy seller.
5. Elvis Presley – Elvis has four all-time classics in the 1950s, but in my mind, they are all equal:
Hound Dog, 1956; but in 1953, it was performed first by Big Mama Thornton – Music and lyrics by Jerry Libber and Michael Stoller.
Jail House Rock, 1956 – Music and lyrics by Jerry Libber and Michael Stoller.
Heartbreak Hotel – Music and lyrics by Mae Boren Axton.
Run On,. Throughout the 1950s, this upbeat gospel rock number sung by The Blind Boys of Alabama and others – I’ve heard many versions love most of them, but His best version was done with accompaniment by several famous recording artists in 1960 when Presley was only 25 years old. Elvis makes it rock.
6. Fats Domino, “The Fat Man” - I’m Walkin’, 1957
7. Buddy Holly – That’ll Be the Day, 1956.
Paul McCartney later bought the rights to all of Holly’s work in 1976 and began Buddy Holly week that is held yearly during the first week of September.
8. Little Richard, “The Architect of Rock and Roll” – Good Golly Miss Molly, 1956.
9. Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire, 1957.
In an argument with Check Berry about who was going on last at one gig, Jerry Lee finally set his piano aflame at the end of this number as a next-to-last-act that stole the show.
10. Jerry Lee Lewis -- Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, 1957
Blue Suede Shoes - Carl Perkins
Elivs & Friends - Run On
Shake, Rattle, and Roll - Bill Haley
I'm Walkin' - Fats Domino
Little Richard at Mohammed Ali's 50th B'Day - Good Golly!
Great Balls of Fire! - Jerry Lee Lewis
Jail House Rock
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2008 Patty Inglish MS