Released: August 1951
This was the second song Robert Johnson ever recorded, but its creation has also been attributed to Elmore James. Either way, it’s the latter’s version that rules, and proves beyond dispute why the guy was dubbed “the king of slide guitar".
Released: October 1958
Easily one of the most recognisable cuts in the entire list, Valens’ adaption of a Mexican folk song is jam-packed with infectious refrains, classic guitar lines and monster drumming. Nice woodblocks too. While it bizarrely only reached 49 in the UK charts it’s gone on to become a household classic.
Once the adolescent screams had abated, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ was revealed to be a jaunty 50s jive-a-thon, a simple plea from a puppy dog faced Elvis to not dismiss his pure, beating heart of love. Backed by ‘Hound Dog,’ the track became one of the biggest sellers of his career.
Released: December 1956
A cover of a Doris Day standard, Nat King Cole’s version was a creamy confection of dream-like music covered in swathes of layered strings, over which Cole’s velvet voice floated. It sounded like a puffy white cloud floating in the sky. No wonder it’s permanently associated with Christmas.
Released: May 1957
Holly was inspired to write the track after his cinematic hero John Wayne repeatedly used the phrase in a film and it ended up a chart-topper on both sides of the pond. Appropriately the rugged anthem was full of bolshy swagger and teenage ballsiness.
Released: April 1958
Bob Dylan’s favourite intrumental has been pilfered by Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), Rodriguez (Roadracers), Spongebob and the Sopranos. One of the earliest records to explore distortion and feedback it’s also the song that invented the power chord, ensuring Townshend and Blackmore are forever in his debt.
Released: July 1954
One of the many tracks that’s been claimed as the first rock and roll record (alongside efforts from Fats Domino, Bill Haley, and Roy Brown), the Pelvis’ cover of blues singer Arthur Crudup’s ‘That’s All Right’ is certainly the one that broke him. His first commercial release was recorded in an impromptu jam featuring guitars, upright bass and no drums. The rest is, as you know, history.
Released: March 1956
A 12-bar blues jaunt that was unlike no other. Richard’s vocal was frazzled and spunky, half gospel apostle, half bar room holler as he told the story of Uncle John getting his ja-ja’s on with bald-headed Sally in a backstreet alley. The filthiest thing to be released in all of 1956.
Released: September 1957
Banned from some extremely prudish radio stations on its release, due to its perceived suggestive content, this smooth pop ditty is two minutes flat of teenage high jinx and sweet harmonies that went on to garner the dubious accolade of being George Dubya’s favourite track.
Released: January 1954
Featuring one of the dirtiest riffs this side of Jimmy Page’s fretboard, this is five minutes of low down, grungy, swampy blues at its best, Muddy Waters delivering his gravelly take on Willie Dixon’s classic, which incidentally refers to a provocative belly dance from the late nineteenth century.