Skip to Content

5 Greatest Songs of the 1950s

5 Greatest Songs of the 1950s

Songs released in the 1950s were influential in many ways. They offered something very different from the music of previous decades. 

But what made these tunes stand out and remain popular for over 70 years?

Today, we’ll rock down memory lane to dive into the greatest hits from the 1950s.

Let’s go!

About the Songs of the 1950s

Music of the 1950s introduced a brand new element to the world. The birth of rock and roll shook people to the core, whether they liked it or not. But many, especially the youth, loved it! 

Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis presented kids with a whole different way of rebelling against their parents. They didn’t want the wholesome crooners their moms and dads listened to. Instead, the artists of the 50s released music that often brought people to their feet. 

While segregation between races was heavy in American culture at this time, rock and roll often broke down those barriers. It wasn’t uncommon to see Blacks and Whites playing together in a band. 

Additionally, audiences reflected a bucking of the societal divisions. They’d come together to listen to songs performed by artists wanting to change the culture in the 1950s. 

Now, we’ll bop back in time to discover five of the greatest hits of the era known as the Golden Age. 

#1 Rock Around the Clock

Bill Haley recorded Rock Around the Clock in 1954. However, writing credits go to Max Freedman and James Myers. As was the case back then, and even today, singers often performed hits penned by someone else. It was one of the first rock songs to top the charts in the 1950s. 

When Haley released this tune, the phrase “rock and roll” was still relatively new. Listeners and label executives found it challenging to describe the style of music they heard in this number. So, Decca Records decided to call it a “Novelty Foxtrot” on the single. An interesting choice if you ask us!

Deep Dive: The Controversy Behind Rock Around the Clock.

Greatest Lyric

One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock rock
Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock rock
Nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock rock
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight

#2 I Walk the Line

Written by the great Johnny Cash, I Walk the Line is one of the artist’s most famous numbers. Recorded in 1956 at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, it became the first #1 Billboard hit for the Man in Black. 

The lyrics describe a promise to Cash’s first wife, Vivian, that he would be faithful to her while on the road. However, the singer couldn’t hold true for very long. After 11 years and several affairs, the marriage ended in 1966. 

Interestingly, the tempo of the song differs from the original recording. Producer Sam Phillips suggested a faster pace. So Johnny hit the studio again to give it another go. And that’s the version we all know today. 

Greatest Lyric

You've got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can't hide
For you, I know I'd even try to turn the tide
Because you're mine, I walk the line

#3 Johnny B. Goode

Chuck Berry wrote the lyrics to this hit song in the mid-1950s. Based on his life, the lyrics tell the tale of a young boy from humble beginnings with a passion for playing the guitar. Johnnie Johnson, a piano player with whom Berry collaborated on several songs, inspired the title. 

You’d have a difficult time finding someone who isn’t familiar with this tune. Covered by numerous artists, including Jimi Hendrix and Judas Priest, it’s also in the cult-classic movie Back to the Future. How could you forget Marty McFly’s version of it at his high school dance?

Johnny B. Goode is even in space. NASA added a recording to a golden disc sent up with the 1977 Voyager mission. It was part of a package meant to represent the best in American culture. 

Greatest Lyric

He used to carry his guitar in a gunny sack
Go sit beneath the tree by the railroad track
Oh, the engineers would see him sitting in the shade
Strumming with the rhythm that the drivers made

Are you more of an 80s fan? The Greatest 80s Summer Songs.

#4 Hound Dog

Many of us probably only know the version of Hound Dog made famous by Elvis Presley. But this great 1950s song is the creation of blues singer Big Mama Thornton. Her 1953 recording was a #1 R&B hit and was her most successful tune. However, the influence she had on artists of the time was significant. 

The lyrics Elvis sang differ from Thornton’s original words. His take was more in line with the one he heard in 1955 from Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys. In comparison, Presley’s cover seems better suited for a more rocking number.

Greatest Lyric

You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the time
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
And you ain't no friend of mine

#5 Tutti Frutti

Little Richard wrote the lyrics to this classic 1950s song while working as a dishwasher at a Greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia. He recorded it in 1955, and the single became his first significant hit. 

The opening line, “Awap bop a lup bop a wop bam boom,” was a common catchphrase for the singer. This would be his reply whenever someone would ask how he was doing. 

Tutti Frutti was a model for many of Little Richard’s future tunes. But it also had a powerful impact on many other rock and roll artists. 

Greatest Lyric

She rocks to the east, she rocks to the west
But she's the girl that I love best
Tutti frutti, oh rooty
Tutti frutti, oh rooty, whoo

Need more 50s rock and roll in your collection? Try 50s Jukebox Hits.

Songs of the 1950s Live On Today

Many of the songs released during the 1950s represented the changing American experience. The artists recording these hits helped unite people from different walks of life. This new style of music, known as rock and roll, also proved to be an influential force for future generations. 

Did we miss your favorite 50s tune? Let us know in the comments!