The 1950s marked the birth of rock'n'roll. From big band tracks to jazz standards, until midway through the 20th century, music was a resolutely parent-friendly zone. But then everything changed. Elvis had flustered teenagers all shook up, while the likes of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and the like were destroying the old safety nets with a virile, passionate new sound. Here are the top 100 tracks from the decade that that sparked a musical revolution. Words by Matthew Horton, Tim Chester, Priya Elan. 100 best tracks of the '50s - Spotify playlist

30Frank Sinatra, 'I've Got you Under My Skin'

Cole Porter had written the track back in the 1930s but it was covered by Sinatra for his ‘Songs For Swingin’ Lovers’ album in 1956 . The smooth, daytime jazz waltz became one of his trademark tracks. But his delivery belied the lyrics, which rather unsettlingly suggested the creeping sense of an inescapable obsession.

29Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, 'I Put A Spell On You'

An air of otherworldly mystery hangs about this bluesy stomp. Tales of recording sessions happening in a state of inebriated revery and the track being banned for being too ‘cannibalistic’, and no wonder, Jay sounds like a cartoon villain as he intones the lyrics.

28James Brown, 'Please, Please, Please'

Brown was never more energized than during this early period of his career when his Gospel roots collided with the passionate blues of his Famous Flames band. This track was famously used as a key part of his gig routine, when a handler came out, covered Brown in a cape and escorted a seemingly overwrought Brown off-stage. It made his legend.

27Johnny Cash, 'I Walk The Line'

Written as a pledge of marital devotion and penned as a ballad, it was producer Sam Phillips who suggested the breezy, arrangement. Although Cash’s music and career would inhabit darker, more complicated and ornate territory, the simplicity of ‘I Walk The Line’ is one of his most memorable moments.

26Little Richard, 'Good Golly Miss Molly'

The reverend of the double entendre, Little Richard’s portrait of a good time “mama” is unforgettable. With a ragtime piano and a crowing vocal, Little Richard creates a sonic romp that suggests there’s a lot more going under the covers than one initially suspects.

25Chuck Berry, 'Sweet Little Sixteen'

The birth of rock 'n roll meant that screaming teens were the norm. It also meant that it was just a matter of time before songs were written about them. Berry’s song follows one such rabid fan over a simple blues riff. As she follows her favourite band around the country, her “sweetness” oscillates between chats with her “mommy” and struggling with “the grown up blues.”

24Big Mama Thornton, ‘Hound Dog’

Elvis may have the more popular version but nobody delivers ‘Hound Dog’ like the Mama; altering her inflections on every line she delivers by far the most captivating rendition. This was the first version, and inspired no less than six covers within a month of its release.

23The Platters, ‘Only You’

Hard to re-appraise objectively after its use and abuse on films and adverts – from Hot Shots to So I Married An Axe Murderer, Alvin And The Chipmunks and beyond - over the years, The Platters’ sweetly harmonised ballad is nevertheless a total classic.

22Ray Charles, ‘What'd I Say’

It’s hard to believe but this track, Ray Charles’ first gold record, the one he finished every set with, one of the cuts that’s credited as kick-starting a small genre known as soul, a frisky nugget currently residing in the national recording registry, started life as an improvised thing at the end of a set.

21Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love?'

Where the sound of street doo-wop met rock and roll, the precocious Harlem teen Lymon and his vocal harmony group The Teenagers sang with the type of honesty about teenage love angst which that only a (then) 15 year old could have known about .

Share This

Connect With Us
This Week's Magazine