Released: July 1955
As introductions go, this was hard to beat. Chuck Berry’s first record, and first hit, pumped more excitement and genius guitar work into its short few minutes than most post-millennial bands muster in a career. Subsequently covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Carl Perkins – and Bubba Sparks.
Released: April 1958
Penned by legendary songwriting duo Leiber and Stroller, this bit of teenage harrumphing and door slamming was given to vocal harmony group The Coasters and, rather confusingly, played out like “a white kid’s view of a black person’s conception of white society,” according to Leiber.
Released: October 1959
An utterly tragic love story of two doomed lovers from rival American Indian tribes who drown in each other's arms. It should be a swooning country ballad, instead it’s a jaunty jive, under-laid with some comical “natives American tribal chanting” (sung, in part, by the whiter than white George Jones).
Released: March 1957
The Everly’s celestial harmonies were goose bump inducing, and would later influence everyone from The Beatles to Fleetwood Mac. ‘Bye Bye Love’ pushed those voices front and centre. They were so lush in fact that you could forget that they were singing lines like “I feel like I could die”.
Combining the boogie of Pete Johnson with Jelly Roll’s jazz and the piano virtuosity of Fats Domino, Huey Smith was a seminal r ‘n’ b pianist whose tunes heavily influenced early rock and roll. Making influenza catchy since ’57.
Released: December 1955
Number One on the country music chart for a month, Cash’s fictional account of incarceration at the Californian clink was a mid-fifties smash, and opened his seminal live album from the state penitentiary, ‘At Folsom Prison’. The track also led Cash to perform an entire set at Folsom Prison, which was recorded for a successful live album.
Released: September 1956
Later recorded by The Rolling Stones and George Clinton, there’s a timeless carefree spirit about ‘Let The Good Times Roll’, which gives the whole thing a gentle ‘Happy Birthday’-like vibe. Over a simple piano figure and a nursery rhyme like melody, these “good times” sound like they’re nothing more salacious than a game of Scrabble and some warm Ribena.
Released: August 1959
The first ever hit for Motown contained a universal, decade-spanning sentiment (seen by the covers of the track by The Beatles in the 60s and The Flying Lizards in the 80s). Barrette Strong’s soulful delivery of the key lyrics of : “Money! That’s what I want!” was full of so much humanity that you could ignore the grubby, capitalist sentiment contained within.
Released: February 1957
Decades after it was released, ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ would be referred to as “David Lynch-esque”. The gossamer tones of Cline’s voice and honky tonk rhythms were paired with the creepy undercurrents of the lyrics, that suggested insomnia or even some sort of psychotic, night-time mania. It was a beautiful duality.
Released: May 1957
A simple blues-rockabilly shake-down which was enlivened by sprawling axe work from future guitar legend James Burton. Hugely influential in the way it shaped the sound of the nascent rock and roll sound, the rudimentary blues contained within would later be appropriated by The Velvet Underground (who covered the track early in their career).