This is the decade when the powers that be realized how profitable music could be. It was no longer about singin’ into a can per se. Rock ‘n Roll starts to take over the radio, as what was once called rhythm and blues cross over into the main stream. The 1950s are also the beginning of pop music, you know, that wonderful genre that’s concocted by a record label and then they find performers who can play the song and have a hip look, kind of like what Green Day is today. Doo-wop also begins in the early 50s, and naturally, blues, jazz and country continue to be semi-successful genres of music.
What I have a most difficult time with in this era is the distinction between rock ‘n roll and rhythm and blues. Early R&B, is pretty much early rock ‘n roll, so that’s why I’m having such a tough time. A big reason they had separate rhythm and blues charts is because Bill Haley and Elvis weren’t making rock ’n roll music for white people yet. This is still an era of separate but equal let’s not forget. The black musicians starting rocking the fuck out of music during this time, and when Bill Haley finally steps up to the mic to make something nice for little Jill and Timmy, well, it’s okay, but Bill Haley isn’t Fats Domino or Big Joe Turner. Passion goes so much further in efforts to be considered timeless than making a profitable jingle. Wow, I apologize for being so preachy right now, but it needs to be said.
Here’s the list:
40. Jambalaya on the Bayou – Hank Williams (1952) – (Country)
39. Un Poco Loco – Bud Powell (1951) – (Jazz)
This is a nice little jazz ditty. Ennh.
38. One Mint Julep – The Clovers (1952) – (Rock ‘n Roll)
I love that there are more songs about drinking in the 50s. Aside from Senator McCarthy being an asshole, the 50s must have been a good time. Especially now in hindsight because the Cold War never amounted to anything except for American’s living in fear for a few decades.
37. Money Honey – Clyde McPhatter (1953) – (Rhythm & Blues)
This almost sounds like the beginning of doo-wop music.
36. I Just Want to Make Love To You – Muddy Waters (1954) – (Blues)
Granted, it may be the first song to just come right out and say, “Let’s fuck” but man, the pacing is so boring. Hopefully, Muddy is a little more excited when he gets laid than he was when he wrote this song. If I ever do a “Most Overrated” list, I should probably include this.
35. Good Rockin’ Tonight – Elvis Presley (1954) – (Rock ‘n Roll)
Elvis Presley was perfect for this era because he was two parts country, two parts bluesy , and fifty parts rock ‘n roll. Most importantly, before the record labels got a hold of him, he actually had soul.
34. Rock Island Line – Lonnie Donegan (1954) – (Country)
This song came out right before this type of song’s window of opportunity was slammed shut.
33. It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels – Kitty Wells (1952) – (Country)
This kitten’s got claws!
32. Come On a My House – Rosemary Clooney (1951) – (Pop)
I found this listed as Armenian Folk, which obviously didn’t take off in America, but it is a pop song, so let’s call this the beginning of pop because after all, it’s a song that was produced that an artist would have been fired for, if she hadn’t performed it. Contrary to popular belief, this was not the beginning of Arista or Capitol Records.
31. Night Train – Jimmy Forrest (1952) – (Jazz)
As badass as a song titled “Night Train” is, as bad as James Brown would be some years from now, I still just picture Rudy Huxtable dancing to music like this sometimes, and it takes away from it a bit.
30. You Belong To Me – Jo Stafford (1952) – (Ballad)
Patsy Cline and Bob Dylan cover this one. That’s enough for me.
29. Three Sheets to the Wind – Peppermint Harris (1952) – (Blues)
Peppermint Harris may have been the first person ever to get crunk and skeet.
28. I Heard That Whistle Blow – Hank Williams (1951) – Country
27. Evil – Howlin’ Wolf (1954) – (Blues)
Howlin’ Wolf had many good tunes. One of those guys I first heard about by listening to The Doors. I did buy the Howlin’ Wolf chess box set during the box set fad of the early 90s, so naturally, he gets special treatment from me. Oh, and Jim Morrison has now been pardoned for showing his wiener in Miami, though Luke Campbell is still at large.
26. Reconsider Baby – Lowell Fulson (1954) – (Blues)
This guy jams!
25. Drifting too Far From the Shore – Hank Williams (1951) – (Country)
Despite this song being about deviating from the path of Christianity, it’s pretty good. For some reason, it’s okay when a traditional song is spiritual, but if someone sang about Jesus today, why? After all, we know he never turned water into wine, because if he could do that, they never would’ve crucified him.
24. How High the Moon – Les Paul & Mary Ford (1951) – (Country)
When you invent a guitar, you’re probably going to be pretty good at it.
23. I Got Loaded – Peppermint Harris (1951) – (Blues)
There are certain topics of lyrical discourse that make you score well, and saying “I got high” in 1951 gets you Zach List clout.
22. I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive – Hank Williams (1952) – (Country)
21. Sixty Minute Man – Billy Ward & The Dominoes (1951) – (Rock and Roll)
At this point, you can no longer deny the existence of rock ’n roll. This is pure rock, and hey, we’re all sixty minute men ladies.
20. When I’ve Sang My Last Hillbilly Song – Willie Nelson (1953) – (Country)
Willie may be the first on my list that’s actually still making music today.
19. Blue Moon of Kentucky – Elvis Presley (1954) – (Country)
I like early Elvis honky tonk. He didn’t know he was going to be the first legitimate rock star yet.
18. Soul on Fire – LaVern Baker (1953) – (Rhythm & Blues)
I’m not sure “soul” music is its own genre, I’ll determine that later, but this song has tremendous soul.
17. Hey, Good Lookin – Hank Williams (1951) – (Country)
This is another one of those songs that’s still popular today via several remakes. Hell, I think Toast even covered this one once … blink blink blink … no, they didn’t.
16. Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley & His Comets (1954) – (Rock ‘n Roll)
This is a tough one. Commonly known as the first rock ‘n roll song, to me, it sounds like the first rock ‘n roll song for white people, or a commercial audience. This song just is just too clean and honky to be one of the greats or early rock ‘n roll.
15. Lawdy Miss Clawdy – Lloyd Price (1952) – (Rock ‘n Roll)
The problem I have with differentiating between R&R and R&B is because the definitions have changed through time. I mean, you could call Mary J. Blige R&B now, and it doesn’t sound like anything that was going on in this time.
14. Tiptina – Professor Longhair (1953) – (Rhythm & Blues)
13. Mystery Train – Junior Parker (1953) – (Blues)
A great blues song that’s on the cusp of rock. What a great time for music this was.
12. Your Cheatin’ Heart – Hank Williams (1953) – (Country)
As great as this song is, and as great of time Hank had before his tragic death in the early 50s, this music is just so honky compared to what’s now going on with rock ‘n roll.
11. I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man – Muddy Waters (1954) – (Blues)
10. That’s All Right – Elvis Presley (1954) – (Rock ‘n Roll)
Pre-popular Elvis, or possibly even pre-Elvis Elvis, he’s badass. Elvis may have been the first sell out. So when you see Pomplamoose singing Christmas songs for some car commercial, you can say to yourself, Elvis would have done it.
9. Rolling Stone – Muddy Waters (1950) – (Blues)
A great blues song that had more of an immediate influence on the rock explosion of the 60s rather than Robert Johnson.
8. The Fat Man – Fats Domino (1950) – (Rock ‘n Roll)
It’s Fats Man!
7. Mr. Sandman – The Chordettes (1954) – (Pop)
This is the beginning of pop music. This song was written for airplay and for people to like it. Soul doesn’t matter, heartache or happiness doesn’t matter, it’s just pure nonsense and production value. Great producing though.
6. Earth Angel – The Penguins (1954) – (Doowop)
Not sure if Doo-wop, a combo of R&B and Pop deserves its own genre, but for now, it gets it. Any time your song appears in a time travel movie as a quintessential song of its era, it’s gotta be good.
5. The World is Waiting For the Sunrise – Les Paul & Mary Ford (1951) – (Country)
The guitar is simply amazing. Far and away the best jamming I’ve heard to this point.
4. Honey Hush – Big Joe Turner (1953) – (Rock ‘n Roll)
It’s quite simple, rock ‘n roll doesn’t happen without Big Joe Turner. He definitely brings it to another level … and this isn’t even his best.
3. Hound Dog – Big Mama Thornton (1953) – (Blues)
This may be the first “rock” song because it pretty much lacks the backbeat and roll. It definitely rocks too.
2. Rocket 88 – Jackie Brenston (1951) – (Rock ‘n Roll)
Rock and roll is getting so close to breaking, you can taste it with this song. Compared to what’s happened thus far in music, this song is so refreshing.
1. Shake, Rattle & Roll – Big Joe Turner (1954) – (Rock ‘n Roll)
Fuck Bill Haley and His Comets.