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Top 10 Rock and Roll Songs of the 1950s

Updated on July 30, 2019
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years of success in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

America listened to the hits on these radios in the 1950s.
America listened to the hits on these radios in the 1950s. | Source

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.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame | Source

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 Elvis makes it rock. His best version was done with accompaniment by several famous recording artists in 1960 when Presley was only 25 years old.

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


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      The 1950s is a time many people would like to be able to return to. At least they can play the music and remember those times. Thanks for commenting, Laurinzo!

    • Laurinzo Scott profile image

      LJ Scott 

      7 years ago from Phoenix, Az.

      Incredible hub about an incredible time... this music is timeless, purely expressive without vulgarity in the lyrics. The 50's great time musically.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Many disagree with you.

    • profile image

      James Gordon 

      7 years ago

      Bo did not really have any talent.His songs all sound the same..........very BAD

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Hi Harvey! I enjoy watching documentaries about the beginning of the Rock and Roll Era and have a friend that has been an Eelvis tribute artist. It's fun. Glad you stopped by!

    • profile image

      Harvey Stelman 

      8 years ago

      Patty, I thought I was following you, I am now. The article brought me back. If Elvis was Black, he would never have been "THE KING."

      Bo was fantastic to watch and listen to. Very well constructed. H

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 

      8 years ago from Cape Cod

      Well done. Nice Hub. With all due respect to the late Beatle, there was plenty of music before Presley. If you would like to hear some classic R&B Gospel that was the springboard for everything that came after (even Little Richard) listen to the music of Sonny Til and the Orioles. Their 1953 "Crying in the Chapel" is the Gold Standard and really shows up the Elvis version. The Orioles rode this to Number One in R & B and all the way up to Number 11 on the Billboard 'white' Charts.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      9 years ago from Summerland

      looooove music from the '50s...and pretty much everything else from the '50s. thanks for this wonderful hub! i think i'll go listen to some elvis now.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image


      10 years ago from Texas, USA

      Although it is before my time I love this kind of music. Good Hub

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      LUV THE 50'S!!!! OMG LUV ELVIS!!

    • RTaveras profile image


      10 years ago from New York

      Great Hub you can also upload some of those music on this list on a social network called you can also upload music video's aswell check out my blog for more info

    • Britneys Fan Club profile image

      Britneys Fan Club 

      10 years ago

      Hi there Yeah music makes my world go round its what i need every day to lift up my mood and soul :))

      played the guitar many years

      like your hub its very informativ

      pls come by visit my music hub as well

      greetz c ya soon ;)

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I don't think they measure up to the list of the Earlist Top 10 above, but they certainly begin a second list of greats from a few years later.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Good list, I guess, but at least 3 seminal (and certainly not obscure) songs are missing. Johnny B Goode (the first rock n roll song in a 12-bar blues form); Rumble (first real overdrive, distortion, and power chords); and What'd I Say (first use of call-and-response in a R'n'r song).

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Me too, but they're great songs, aren't they?

    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 

      11 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      really nice hub, though I'm too young for the 50's songs, I still love it.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Have a very good time, RGraf! - I really like the invention fo YouTube as well.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin

      You have made me yearn to hear these again. Got to pull out those beautiful LP's.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I'm impressed at the longevity of some of these artists as well, Bard of Ely! I think they will always write and sing music. Thanks for your comment.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 

      11 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I love all those old Rock `n Roll songs and acts so really enjoyed this hub! I was reading today that Jerry Lee Lewis is hoping to get two of the Rolling Stones on his next album!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I had no idea tha the made his own guitars! He mentions himself much like Mohammmed Ali wrote poetry of his own greatness. Advertising perhaps? It's fun to have your comments!

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 

      11 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      The Bo Diddley beat has always captivated me, and I have heard so many other musicians copy it without a clue as to who created it.  I knew of him when I was first struggling to play the guitar back about 1956, when I was five years old.  I got the beat just fine, and later added chords to my heart's content.

      I was Diddley-fied!

      One other interesting point - did you ever notice that in many of Bo's songs he talks about himself?  He seems to have mentioned his name in just about everything he played!

      Also, he made many of his own guitars, no mean feat if I may say so!  He also first did things like feedback and distortion, which would be a signiture of much of the later half of the 60's and much of the 70's music.

      Excellent hub!


      Chef Jeff

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      FoursX2 - Yes! You are right about that similarity and I had not thought about that before. So enlightening! You're a peach!

      Susasn - I loved doing this hub and will come back to it often myself, in order to hear and see these greats. I always have to listen to Run On, 10 times!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      This is an absolutely great hub, I love the 50's, my era. I was just a child but as I grew up I kept exposure to so many of these songs. I am a huge Elvis fan, I am so glad I will be able to review this hub any time I want to. Thanks for your hard work.

    • FoursX2 profile image


      11 years ago from Laguna Niguel, CA

      Great article! Anyone who still doesn't believe Bo Diddley is the father of rock-n-roll should first listen to his instrumental "Aztec" then listen to an instrumental by the Ventures called, "Apache". Bo Diddley's influence is unmistakable.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I am really glad that you enjoyed this one, AnnieRob, because I had lot of fun finding the videos. Now I have them all on one page forever.

      Best wishes to you!

    • AnnieRob profile image


      11 years ago from Sunshine Coast, Australia

      Great memories and great Hub!


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