The 1950s were the decade that gave birth to rock and roll music, so coming up with a list of the top 50 best rock songs of the 50s is no easy task. Dozens of music’s biggest legends had signature hits that helped define the genre, and narrowing down the list to just 50 means that I will be leaving out some true classics. That being said, here are my picks for the best oldies songs of the 50s:
50 – Chuck Berry – Roll Over Beethoven – I figured it only appropriate that I start out the list with a true pioneer of the rock and roll genre. Chuck Berry was one of the biggest stars of the 50s. Roll Over Beethoven has been covered numerous times, including by The Beatles.
49 – Frankie Ford – Sea Cruise – Yes, they had one hit wonders back in the 50s too. Written by Huey Smith, this 1959 classic was a top 20 hit. Later covered by several bands including The Beach Boys and John Fogerty, Ford’s version remains the most popular to this day.
48 – Danny & the Juniors – At the Hop – One of the best dance songs of the 50s, this tune made it all the way to #1 on the US singles chart back in early 1958.
47 – Jackie Wilson – Lonely Teardrops – This former lead singer of The Dominoes made it to #7 with his signature song Lonely Teardrops in 1958. With incredible vocal range Wilson would go on to reel off several hits in the 50s and 60s.
46 – Buddy Holly and the Crickets – Peggy Sue – Along with Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly was one of the biggest names in rock and roll music in the 50s, and this classic track made it all the way to #3 back in 1957.
45 – The Champs – Tequila – Another one hit wonder this song is a favorite at weddings and parties to this day. Strangely it enjoyed a brief renaissance in 1985 when it was featured in the comedy movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
44 – Hank Williams – Your Cheatin’ Heart – A little country flavor on this list of the top 50 best oldies songs of the 50s. Released after Williams’ death the song is considered to be one of the greatest country songs of all time and has been covered by many of music’s biggest names including Patsy Cline, Ray Charles and Elvis.
43 – Five Satins – In the Still of the Night – One of the original doo-wop songs that launch a musical sub-genre, this 1956 song didn’t enjoy the chart success of many other songs on this list. However, it has enjoyed tremendous staying power over the years and Rolling Stone ranks it #90 on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
42 – The Platters – The Great Pretender – Though The Platters had several hits including Only You (and you alone) and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes this 1955 hit was their only track to make it all the way to #1 on the mainstream music charts. It also made it to #1 on the R&B charts, topping the list for a staggering 11 weeks.
41 – Dale Hawkins – Susie Q – Though this song is most often associated with the band Credence Clearwater Revival it is rockabilly pioneer Dale Hawkins that originally recorded this classic blues rock and roll song, and his recording is considered one of the songs that helped shape rock and roll music in that era.
40 – Little Willie John – Fever – One of the most covered songs of all time this 1956 R&B hit is an easy choice for the list of the best rock and roll songs of the 50s. Covered 2 years later as a more sultry version by Peggy Lee the song became a chart sensation, and has been covered by dozens of artists from Ray Charles to The Pussycat Dolls.
39 – The Clovers – Love Potion #9 – One of the best love songs of the 50s this song would go on to be The Clovers biggest hit, and their version of the song was featured on the soundtrack of the classic 1973 film American Graffiti.
38 – Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues – Though it only peaked at #8 on the charts back in 1958 looking back there can be no question this song deserves a spot as one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
37 – Chuck Berry – Maybellene – You knew you hadn’t seen the last of this guy. Chuck Berry’s first hit, the song hit #5 on the mainstream charts and #1 on the R&B charts back in 1955.
36 – Little Richard – Lucille – One of the biggest chart-toppers of the decade Little Richard was known for his flamboyance and his incredible voice. Lucille stretched both to the limits and really showed off Little Richard’s incredible range.
35 – Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel – It is pretty obvious to any music fan of any age that this guy is going to have a number of songs on a list of best oldies rock songs. The King of Rock and Roll Elvis helped pioneer the genre and help popularize this revolutionary style of music for decades to come. Heartbreak Hotel took Elvis all the way to #1 where he stayed for 8 weeks back in 1956.
34 – The Silhouettes – Get a Job – Another huge doo-wop hit, Get a Job made it to #1 on both the mainstream pop and R&B charts back in 1956, and was later featured on the soundtracks of popular period piece movies American Graffiti and Stand By Me.
33 – Isley Brothers – Shout – One of the most enduring bands of all time, the Isley Brothers have spent more than 50 years entertaining audiences with R&B, soul, funk and rock and roll music. The song would only reach #47 on the charts, but has since become recognized as one of the greatest songs of its era, and was popularized in the 1978 hit comedy Animal House.
32 – Sam Cooke – You Send Me – One of the smoothest crooners of his era Sam Cooke had numerous hits including Twisting the Night Away, Chain Gang and Wonderful World. However, it is the 1957 song You Send Me that really launched his career and helped make him one of the greatest voices in the history of soul music.
31 – Shirley & Lee – Let the Good Times Roll – Though men were dominating the early days of rock and roll music there were a few women carving their own place in music history. Shirley Goodman teamed up with Leonard Lee for this smash pop hit back in 1956.
30 – Del-Vikings – Come Go With Me – This soft smooth hit is one of the greatest doo-wop songs of all time, making it all the way to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart back in 1957.
29 – Chuck Berry – Rock and Roll Music – Really, the top 10 oldies songs of the 50s could have been alternating tunes by Elvis and Chuck Berry. However, for the sake of variety I’ve spread them out a little over this list. Later covered by The Beatles this song helped define the genre in 1957.
28 – The Chords – Sh-Boom – Though The Crew-Cuts 1954 version of this song would rank higher on the Billboard charts, this 1953 original by The Chords was arguably the first major doo-wop hit ever recorded so they get the nod.
27 – Ritchie Valens – La Bamba – When you talk about legends of rock and roll few can top this iconic Spanish rock and roller. His signature song La Bamba only went to number 22 on the charts back in 1959, but the song showed it had staying power, and became a #1 hit for Los Lobos when they covered it on the 1987 movie soundtrack for the biographical film La Bamba about the life of Ritchie Valens.
26 – Big Joe Turner – Shake, Rattle and Roll – Though Big Joe Turner might not be a household name, this song is certainly recognizable by any fan of oldies music. Though it didn’t hit big on the mainstream pop charts it was a #1 hit on the R&B charts for Turner back in 1954.
25 – Elvis Presley – Don’t Be Cruel – Another entry by the King of Rock and Roll as we enter the top 25 oldies songs of the 50s. This single with Hound Dog on the B side actually spent 11 weeks atop the charts following its release in 1956.
24 – Tommy Edwards – It’s All in the Game – One of the best ballads of the 50s this song is ranked #38 on Billboard’s All Time Top 100 Songs. It went all the way to #1 back in 1958 and has been covered numerous times over the past 5 decades.
23 – Bobby Darin – Mack the Knife – Based on a 1928 German opera this song has been performed by such distinguished artists as Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and The Doors. However, the most famous version of the song is without a doubt Bobby Darin’s 1958-59 hit, which made it to #1 on the Billboard charts and earned Darin a Grammy.
22 – Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley – One of the greatest guitarists of all time, Bo Diddley made an immediate impact on the music world with this 1955 debut single. The song soared up the R&B charts that year, spending two weeks at #1.
21 – Johnny Cash – I Walk the Line – Though known best as a country music artist Johnny Cash’s work spanned several musical genres. This 1956 song spent 6 weeks atop the country music charts and crossed into the mainstream consciousness as well, making it to #19 on the pop charts.
20 – The Big Bopper – Chantilly Lace – Before the tragic plane crash that took the lives of Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) this singer/songwriter left this gift to the music world, a tune that is one of the best sing-along songs ever recorded. It spent 22 weeks in the top 40 back in 1958, reaching as high as #6 that year.
19 – Buddy Holly – Rave On – Though first recorded by Sonny West this song didn’t become a major chart hit until Buddy Holly put his own stamp on it. It has been covered numerous times since, by Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band among others.
18 – Elvis Presley – All Shook Up – The Elvis hits just keep coming. This 1957 song pulled off the triple crown, reaching number one on the pop, country and R&B charts, staying at the top for 8 weeks during that spring.
17 – The Coasters – Yakety Yak – This song from one of the greatest groups of the late 50s hit # 1 on both the pop and R&B charts. It was also famously “covered” (okay, slaughtered) by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Twins.
16 – Little Richard – Good Golly Miss Molly – One of rock and rolls great standards you’ll still here this song being played at parties, weddings and on oldies radio stations to this day. It has been covered by hundreds of artists worldwide, and is instantly recognizable by all but the youngest music fans.
15 – Fats Domino – Blueberry Hill – Though several artists including Gene Autry, Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong recorded this song first it is the incomparable Fats Domino with whom this song has forever become associated. His 1956 version of the song reached #2 on the pop charts and #1 on the R&B charts where it stayed for 9 weeks.
14 – Jerry Lee Lewis – Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – One of the greatest rock and roll artists of all time, this energetic piano man got audiences hopping with this 1957 hit, getting to #3 on the pop charts, and #1 on both the country and R&B charts that year.
13 – Elvis Presley – Jailhouse Rock – Recorded to accompany the film of the same name, Elvis Presley had another monster hit on his hands with 1957’s Jailhouse Rock. It spent 7 weeks at #1 on the pop charts that year, further cementing Elvis’s rapidly growing legend.
12 – Ritchie Valens – Donna – Though La Bamba has become the song with which Valens has become most closely identified with it is actually the romantic ballad Donna that was his highest charting hit, ascending all the way to #2 back in 1959. One of the greatest love songs of all time in any genre in my opinion.
11 – The Penguins – Earth Angel – Speaking of great love songs, this heavenly ballad is one of the pioneering songs of rock and roll music. Released in 1954 by The Penguins the song has been covered numerous times by groups such as The Crew Cuts and New Edition.
10 – The Everly Brothers – Bye Bye Love – As we enter the top 10 oldies songs of the 50s another legendary band finally makes an appearance on this list. The Everly Brothers were one of the biggest musical acts of the era, and this is arguably their signature song, a classic tune that made it all the way to #2 back in 1957.
9 – Buddy Holly and the Crickets – That’ll Be the Day – Trying to decide on the best Buddy Holly song is a pretty difficult task, but in my opinion this rock and roll classic is it. The song is one of the most beloved ever recorded, and was ranked #39 by Rolling Stone on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of all Time.
8 – Ray Charles – What’d I Say – Though previously known only for his R&B music with this 1959 hit launched Ray Charles into the pop music scene and mainstream music consciousness. He has never looked back and is now one of music’s most legendary performers in any genre.
7 – Carl Perkins – Blue Suede Shoes – Though it go on to be one of the songs that would help launch Elvis Presley’s incredible career this song was actually originally recorded by Carl Perkins back in 1955, selling more than a million copies while it dominated the country, R&B and pop music charts.
6 – Little Richard – Tutti-Frutti – As good as songs Lucille and Good Golly Miss Molly are there can be no question that this song is the one hit that really sums up the music of Little Richard. Though it never really made a big splash on the pop charts at the time it has gone on to become one of rock and roll’s great standards, and can be pointed at as one of the songs that really helped launch the genre back in the 50s.
5 – Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers – Why Do Fools Fall in Love – Another song that never made it to #1 back in the day it has since gone on to become one of the most recognizable songs in the history of American music and has been covered numerous times over the intervening decades since its original 1956 release.
4 – Bill Haley and the Comets – Rock Around the Clock – Not the first rock and roll song, but in many people’s minds this is the song that really launched the genre when it was released back in 1954. Though it did not take off at first it did wind up in the opening credits of the film Blackboard Jungle and that additional exposure gave the song new life. It soared to the top of the charts – the first rock and roll song to do so – and stayed there for an impressive 8 weeks.
3 – Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire – Is there a more upbeat, more energetic, pull you out of your seat to dance song than this rock and roll classic from 1957? With Great Balls of Fire Jerry Lee Lewis was at his flamboyant best, hammering the piano keys with frenetic energy that became contagious and propelled this song to high spots on the pop, country and R&B charts that year.
2 – Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode – This one was a close one, but in my opinion the legendary Chuck Berry gets barely edged out. With the most famous guitar riff in the history of rock music the song is considered the best guitar song of all time. Though it only made it to #8 on the pop charts back in 1958 there is no denying its iconic status as one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever recorded.
1 – Elvis Presley – Hound Dog – Can there be any other choice for top spot on a list of the top 50 best rock songs of the 50s than one by The King himself. Originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton back in 1952 the song became a massive hit when a young Elvis Presley covered it in 1956. With performances of the song on The Milton Berle Show and The Steve Allen Show Hound Dog’s popularity grew by leaps and bounds, propelling it to #1 on the pop, country and R&B charts simultaneously, becoming the first song in history to achieve that elusive triple crown.