It’s basically all about rhythm and blues, and rock ‘n roll. It’s pretty hard to say what trends are waxing or waning because it’s only two years, but jazz isn’t included here (though with Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and JC coming, it’s not dead!), and country isn’t as fun (aside from another JC). There are no more showtunes! Yey! I’ve discarded all crooning, so sorry Sinatra fans, no Frank Sinatra is going to be on this list.
Here’s the Top 40 Songs of 1955 and 1956
40. Louie Louie – Richard Berry (1956) – Rock ‘n Roll
Obviously, this song gets props because of the classic it became, but this isn’t the version that kicks ass, no matter how original. It must suck to be in debt to your cover.
39. Cry Me a River – Julie London (1955) – Ballad
It’s soooooooo loungy. I feel like some skanky middle aged woman is singing her last hurrah in a Vegas night club when I hear this song and no matter how many guys she rubs her fish netted leg on, she’s still going home empty handed.
38. Smokestack Lightning – Howlin’ Wolf (1956) – Blues
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for this guy, but this is kind of boring blues. Blues is beginning to die in the 50s.
37. Slippin & Slidin – Little Richard (1956) – Rock ‘n Roll
This sound gets a bit staler after hearing a few Little Richard tunes. It’s probably why he didn’t last long.
36. Love Me Tender (1956) – Country
I’m not sure if it’s crooning or country, but it’s just good enough to make the list.
35. Crazy Arms – Ray Price (1956) – Country
It’s probably because I’m starting to run low on country already in the mid 50s, but this song sounds kind of fresh amidst all this rock ‘n roll and rhythm and blues.
34. Please, Please, Please – James Brown (1956) – Rhythm and Blues
Not the greatest song, but it’s still nice to hear James Brown.
33. Can’t Hardly Stand It – Charlie Feathers (1956) – Country
This sounds pretty Elvisy, but in this time, what doesn’t?
32. I’ve Got a Woman – Ray Charles (1955) – Rhythm and Blues
Rhythm and Blues and Rock and Roll are starting to separate now that bands are trying to write hits.
31. Only You – The Platters (1955) – Rhythm and Blues
It’s going to be interesting to see where the divide between doowop and rhythm and blues is, or if I just call it all rhythm & blues because that divide has already happened.
30. Blue Monday – Fats Domino (1956) – Rhythm & Blues
This is a great song, but a problem with many of the artists in this era, except Elvis pretty much, the songs all start sounding pretty similar with each other. Later decades won’t be this tolerant.
29. Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins (1956) – Rock ‘n Roll
I didn’t include Elvis’ version because Carl Perkins wrote it, not sure his version is better though.
28. The Train Kept a Rollin – Johnny Burnette (1956) – Rock ‘n Roll
Sometimes it ‘s really hard to tell between the style of the time, or who was biting Elvis. I wasn’t there, so I can’t say, but this guy sounds like he should be working in Vegas wearing a white jump suit.
27. Brown-eyed Handsome Man – Chuck Berry (1956) – Rock ‘n Roll
26. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You – Elvis Presley (1956) – Rhythm & Blues
… and here’s Elvis having a hand in the creation of doowop. Elvis was really one hell of a star for a few years.
25. I’m a Man – Bo Diddley (1955) – Blues
This is harmonica driven blues. It lacks the signature Diddley groove though.
24. Don’t Be Cruel – Elvis Presley (1956) – Blues
A great tune, but you can already tell Elvis is getting more commercial.
23. Maybelline – Chuck Berry (1955) – Rock ‘n Roll
My first Chuck Berry song that I listened to for this. It’s a good early rock’n roll song, but I know what’s
coming from this guy.
22. I Can’t Quit You Baby – Otis Rush (1956) – Blues
Sometimes you get ranked high because Led Zeppelin covers your song. Aside from that, this is a pretty badass blues song.
21. I Hear You Knocking – Smiley Lewis (1955) – Rhythm & Blues
The 50s sound on this isn’t anything special, but it’s a great tune.
20. Baby Let’s Play House – Elvis Presley (1955) – Rock ‘n Roll
More pure rock ’n roll for Elvis with a guitar solo coming over the top.
19. Be-Bop a Lula – Gene Vincent (1956) – Rock ‘n Roll
Another sub-genre of rock ’n roll is rockabilly, but to me, rockabilly is the early rock ‘n roll sound which would become clearer once rock ‘n roll started morphing into a whiter “rock”.
18. Milkcow Blues Boogies – Elvis Presley (1955) – Rock ‘n Roll
What’s really great about early Elvis is he’s a great hybrid of rock ’n roll, country, blues and R&B. He’s hard to label … in the beginning.
17. Leave My Woman Alone – Ray Charles (1956) – Rhythm & Blues
This sounds so much like Phish’s “Daniel Saw the Stone”. D’oh!
16. Why Do Fools Fall in Love – Frankie Lymon (1956) – Rhythm & Blues
Heroin overdose at age 25 gets you onto my list.
15. Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley (1956) – Rhythm & Blues
I was once taught this song was based off of a suicide note, and I’d rather accept that as fact, rather than whatever the truth is, and well, it could very well be the truth.
14. Long Tall Sally – Little Richard (1956) – Rock ‘n Roll
Kind of the same as Tutti Frutti, though it may even be a better song. Tough call. Frutti comes first though, therefore it’s better … I guess.
13. Love Is Strange – Mickey & Sylvia (1956) – Ballad/Showtune
Yes, I am most likely overrating this song because it was in Casino, but c’mon, that guitar is bad ass.
12. Dimples – John Lee Hooker (1956) – Blues
The things that make music best are the memories one has with a song. I have a fond memory of watching a local Tampa band named Nervous Turkey perform this in a Davis Island Apartment courtyard and the singer (later in that show) slid, pulling himself along the ground, bear-chested, towards the crowd. Now he owns a great restaurant in Seminole Heights.
11. Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley (1955) – Rock ‘n Roll
A unique early rock song, and a beat that would help lay the foundation for what we have today. He loses points for having a song called Bo Diddley, however, considering that it was a new style, Bo Diddley style, he gets those points right back.
10. Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters (1955) – Blues
This song has a great swagger. Not much different than Diddley’s “I’m a Man”, but so much more swagger.
9. Tutti Frutti – Little Richard (1955) – Rock ‘n Roll
Sure the song is a little silly, but the formula is a rock ’n roll foundation. If you write a foundation for one of the most successful genres ever, you’re pretty impressive.
8. Roll Over Beethoven – Chuck Berry (1956) – Rock ‘n Roll
The guitar in this is pretty much doing what he did in his most landmark song, and even though the pace is up on this song, it’s still not as up as JBG will be.
7. Who Do You Love – Bo Diddley (1956) – Rock ‘n Roll
It’s fun classifying Diddley as rock ‘n roll rather than blues. His “Diddley” has too much roll to be considered blues.
6. Ain’t That a Shame – Fats Domino (1955) – Rhythm & Blues
Whatever Fats was doing in the 50s, and there were many people doing it, he did it the best. He has so much soul. Thank god Katrina didn’t kill him.
5. I Walk the Line – Johnny Cash (1956) – Country
Where Elvis has country tinges to his rock ‘n roll, JC has rock tinges to his country. This is basically the first alt-country song, though that genre wouldn’t exist until the 1990s, when any form of music that didn’t sound like it came from the 80s was called … “alternative.”
4. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley (1956) – Rock ‘n Roll
This has everything a great rock ‘n roll song should have. This is almost like the stamp on the genre showing it’s going to be around here for awhile.
3. I Put a Spell on You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1956) – Blues
GREAT screaming, but I guess we should expect nothing less from someone who goes by “Screamin” Jay Hawkins. Nervous Turkey also covered this one. In fact, I think this was the song playing when the audience got the ground crawl.
2. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash (1956) – Country
This could be the only song on the entire list that will end up being on it twice by the same artist. It’s that good. I will rank his live version from Folsom Prison in the late 60s.
1. Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino (1956) – Rhythm & Blues
This is slowly becoming one of my favorite songs ever.