1959, the Year that Changed Jazz, Blues, Soul, Motown and rock…
Song Hits 1959
FROM A PAGE BY Roger Lee Hall
There was the growing popularity of R&B and Rock n’ Roll music. Also, there was a broadening of music categories on records, radio, movies and television. Just consider these different categories:
Broadway tunes: “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from GYPSY
Country & Western songs: “The Battle of New Orleans”
(21st best seller of 1950s)
Easy Listening: “Mack the Knife” (the 5th best selling record of the 1950s)
Ethnic/ Latino: “La Bamba”
Exotica/Lounge music: “Quiet Village”
Movie songs: “High Hopes” from A HOLE IN THE HEAD
(Oscar winning song)
Nostalgia: “My Happiness”
Patriotic: “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”
(only hit for Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
Rhythm & Blues: “Stagger Lee”
Rock n’ Roll: “A Big Hunk O’ Love” (another No. 1 hit for Elvis Presley)
This was also the year when three Rock n’ Roll legends died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959: J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson, Richie Valens, and Buddy Holly.
And it was the year that Elvis returned from his Army service in Germany and kept his hit records rolling along.
1959 was the year when the first Rock guitar instrumental (“Sleep Walk”) reached No. 1 on the charts.
And it was year of scandal when New York disc jockey, Alan Freed, was brought to trial for taking money for promoting records in the so-called “Payola Scandal.” Other disc jockeys were also fined, like Peter Tripp from WMGM in New York, who pioneered the Top 40 format.
So look at this list and see how many you know from these…
50 Song Hits from 1959
All My Tomorrows — Frank Sinatra
Along Came Jones — The Coasters
+The Battle of New Orleans — Johnny Horton
The Battle Hymn of the Republic — Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The Best is Yet to Come — Tony Bennett
+A Big Hunk O’ Love — Elvis Presley
+The Big Hurt — Miss Toni Fisher
Charlie Brown — The Coasters
Climb Ev’ry Mountain — Patricia Neway from THE SOUND OF MUSIC
+Come Softly To Me — The Fleetwoods
+Donna — Ritchie Valens
+Don’t You Know — Della Reese
+Dream Lover — Bobby Darin
El Paso — Marty Robbins
+The Happy Organ — Dave “Baby” Cortez
+Heartaches By The Number — Guy Mitchell
High Hopes — Frank Sinatra
It Doean’t Matter Anymore — Buddy Holly
+It’s Just A Matter of Time — Brook Benton
+Kansas City — Wilbur Harrison
La Bamba — Ritchie Valens
+Lavender Blue — Sammy Turner
+Lonely Boy — Paul Anka
The M.T.A. — The Kingston Trio
+Mack the Knife — Bobby Darin
+Mr. Blue — The Fleetwoods
+My Happiness — Connie Francis
My Wish Came True — Elvis Presley
+(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such As I — Elvis Presley
Oh! Carol — Neil Sedaka
Peter Gunn Theme — Ray Anthony & His Orchestra
+Put Your Head On My Shoulder — Paul Anka
Quiet Village — Martin Denny & His Orchestra
Sea of Love — Phil Phillips & The Twilights
See You in September — The Tempos
Shout — The Isley Brothers
Since I Don’t Have You — The Skyliners
+16 Candles — The Crests
+Sleep Walk — Santo & Johnny
Small World — Johnny Mathis
+Smoke Gets in Your Eyes — The Platters
+Stagger Lee — Lloyd Price
Talk to Me — Frank Sinatra
A Teenager in Love — Dion & The Belmonts
+There Goes My Baby — The Drifters
+The Three Bells — The Browns
+(‘Til) I Kissed You — The Everly Brothers
+Venus — Frankie Avalon
What’d I Say — Ray Charles
+Why — Frankie Avalon
No. 1 Songs from 1959
Arranged by number of weeks at No. 1 and alphaebtical titles for tied weeks
(according to The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn)
Mack The Knife — Bobby Darin (9 weeks at #1)
The Battle Of New Orleans — Johnny Horton (6 weeks at #1)
Venus — Frankie Avalon (5 weeks at #1)
Come Softly To Me — The Fleetwoods (4 weeks at #1)
Lonely Boy — Paul Anka (4 weeks at #1)
Stagger Lee — Lloyd Price (4 weeks at #1)
The Three Bells — The Browns (4 weeks at #1)
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes — The Platters (3 weeks at #1)
A Big Hunk Of Love — Elvis Presley (2 weeks at #1)
Heartaches By The Number — Guy Mitchell (2 weeks at #1)
Kansas City — Wilbert Harrison (2 weeks at #1)
Sleep Walk — Santo & Johnny (2 weeks at #1)
The Happy Organ — Dave “Baby” Cortez (1 week at #)
Mr. Blue — The Fleetwoods (1 weeks at #1)
Why — Frankie Avalaon (1 week at #1)
Ten Top Albums from 1959
KIND OF BLUE — Miles Davis (No. 3)
GUNFIGHTER BALLADS AND TRAIL SONGS — Marty Robbins (No. 6)
HEAVENLY — Johnny Mathis (No. 7)
TIME OUT — The Dave Brubeck Quartet (No. 10)
THE SOUND OF MUSIC — Broadway Cast (No. 17)
AT LARGE — The Kingston Trio (No. 18)
THE MUSIC OF PETER GUNN — Henry Mancini (No. 19)
HERE WE GO AGAIN! — The Kingston trio (No. 22)
THE LORD’S PRAYER — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (No. 29)
COME DANCE WITH ME! — Frank Sinatra (No. 35)
— Source: 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 50s
by Charlotte Greig
Recommended Recordings on CD
Styles of Music Popular in the Fifties
Rock ‘n’ Roll Musicians
Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Billy Haley & the Comets, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, The Coasters, Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens, Roy Orbison, Gene Vincent
Pop Music Musicians
Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, Patti Page, Teresa Brewer, Ames Brothers, Andrews Sisters, The Four Aces, Doris Day, Pat Boone
Johnny Cash, Gene Autry, Hank Williams, Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline, The Everly Brothers, June Carter Cash, Les Paul & Mary Ford
Rhythm & Blues
Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Sam Cooke, The Orioles, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, The Ravens, The Penguins, The Crows, The Platters, Billy Ward & his Dominoes, James Brown, Lloyd Price, Bobby Day
Rock ‘n’ Roll
The 1950’s saw the emergence and rise of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rockabilly. Carl Perkins was one of the pioneers in the creation of rock music and his style is often referred to as “Rockabilly” because it sounds like a combination of country and R&B music with rock influences. Some other artists that were popular in the rockabilly genre were Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent. Perkins wrote and recorded his chart-topping hit “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1955 and the song was then covered by Elvis Presley and enjoyed even more success.
Elvis Presley is thought to be the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” by many and rose to fame after beginning a professional relationship with Sam Phillips – a studio owner who wanted to market “black music” to white audiences. Elvis was more successful in this endeavor than any other artist of the time and he epitomized the Rock ‘n’ Roll style and teenage rebellion of the 1950’s. One incident that best exemplifies these qualities in Elvis was his controversial performance with hip gyrations on the Milton Berle Show in 1956, a performance that shocked the conservative sensibilities of adults during the time but drew in the youth as his performance on the Ed Sullivan Show only a few weeks later drew in nearly eighty-percent of the television viewing audience.
While Elvis is largely responsible for the popularization of rock music, it is important to remember the original African-American artists who created the genre and were pushed out of the rock scene like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, The Coasters, Chubby Checker, Fats Domino and the many others who were not afforded the opportunity to even record their music.
Traditional Pop and StandardsTraditional Pop music of the 1950’s refers to the music that was popular before rock music came into the mainstream in the middle of the fifties, it also refers to music that was popular at the same time as the beginning of rock music during the rest of the decade but remained largely free of rock influences. Some examples of traditional pop artists who were popular during the decade were Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Patti Page and Dean Martin.
Often the most popular musicians in this genre translated well onto television as they would sometimes have their own television variety shows or music specials. They sang a lot of original material, but a lot of their most popular hits were American standards, or songs that had been released many years previously but were already well known by the public. Most songs in this genre could be classified as being simple and melodic with catchy lyrics.
Many of the traditional pop artists of the 1950’s were interpreters of pop standards who would take the old well-known songs and put their own individual style into it. Some of the most popular interpreters were Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Doris Day. This genre was greatly influenced by jazz, swing and big band.
Johnny Cash and Hank Williams defined the Country and Western style of music during this decade. Cash’s music was more of a country sound with a rockabilly influence and his songs often centered around a certain theme, including life, sorrow, and relationships. He also strived to integrate humor into his lyrics to make his collection well-rounded and respected by a variety of audiences. Because of his compassion for his fellow human being, he performed many times for inmates in several prisons across the country and his most famous performances resulted from Folsom Prison.
In similar musical style, Hank Williams was a prominent singer and songwriter of the decade. He continues to be a country music icon and helped to popularize the Honky Tonk style of country music, characterized by the piano and ragtime sound combined with country and rockabilly harmonies. His most popular songs, including “Hey Good Lookin’” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” have come to define the country style of the 1950s. He also helped to create the Outlaw Country genre – a style which included songs about spirituality and rowdy times.
Other country artists also began their careers in the 1950s but did not reach the height of their success until the next decade, like Patsy Cline and Conway Twitty. Country music also served as catch-all genre where many artists, like Connie Francis, Frankie Laine, and Pat Boone, might record one or two singles with a country influence but would remain largely producers of traditional pop music during the decade.
Rhythm and BluesRhythm and Blues emerged from the jazz music of the 1940’s and it came to be a term for blues music that was slightly more upbeat. Rhythm and Blues of the fifties combined jazz, doo-wop, blues, and gospel to create a unique sound during the decade. It also spurred the creation of such genres as Rock ‘n’ Roll, soul, Motown, and funk music.
Many R&B artists of the decade were originators of rock music and a lot of the songs that came out of the fifties in the rhythm and blues genre are one in the same with the rock ‘n’ roll genre. A lot of the most popular songs of rock music enjoyed time on the R&B charts during the decade. Many African-American musicians who pioneered rock music were somewhat pushed into the category of R&B artists by music producers who were trying to make way for white rock ‘n’ rollers to capitalize on the new genre.
This genre is largely populated by African-American musicians with many white artists and musical groups covering the original material and turning R&B songs into traditional pop songs with a more mainstream sound (like the Chordettes and the Crew-Cuts). Some of the most notable R&B artists of the decade include Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Sam Cooke, The Drifters, The Platters, Ray Charles and Lloyd Price.
**As you read through this section you may think that some artists listed in one genre should be featured in a different genre. This is because that a majority of the popular and well-known artists were well versed in a number of genres and enjoyed great cross-over success during this decade.
Nearly all music from the fifties featured influences from rock, R&B, country, and pop. We tried our best to break down these genres and the examples of artists for each were chosen on the basis of if you were to hear their most popular songs today, what genre would it most feel like. It is important to recognize that many of the musicians of the fifties focused on gaining mainstream recognition and to do so they needed to appeal to all audiences and therefore dabbled in many genres.
It was also one of those perfect times in music history where a confluence of genres just happened to produce some of the most loved and well-known music of the past eighty years.**
Popular Songs Each Year in the 50’s
Some more hits from the 50’s
You’re Breaking My Heart Ink Spots 1950
I Believe Frankie Laine 1953
Three Coins In The Fountain Frank Sinatra 1954
Stranger In Paradise Tony Bennett 1955
Rock Around The Clock Bill Haley & His Comets 1955
Memories Are Made Of This Dean Martin 1956
All Shook Up Elvis Presley 1957
Jailhouse Rock Elvis Presley 1958
Great Balls Of Fire Jerry Lee Lewis 1958
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes The Platters 1959
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