Something about the fifties captures the imaginations of those of us who didn’t live back then. The poodle skirts, the sock hops, the James Dean films, and, of course, the birth of Rock n’ Roll!
The 50s changed music forever, giving us hits from Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, the Drifters, Brenda Lee, the Chantels, and many others. Enjoy our list of the best 50s songs, and go way back!
Table of Contents
- Wake Up Little Susie – The Everly Brothers
- Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley
- Mack the Knife – Bobby Darin
- That’s Amore – Dean Martin
- Ain’t That a Shame – Fats Domino
- Got My Mojo Working – Muddy Waters
- Your Cheatin’ Heart – Hank Williams
- I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Frank Sinatra
- In the Still of the Night – The Five Satins
- Splish Splash – Bobby Darin
- Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – Jerry Lee Lewis
- Yakety Yak – The Coasters
- I Walk the Line – Johnny Cash
- Summertime Blues – Eddie Cochran
- Lucille – Little Richard
- Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins
- How High the Moon – Les Paul and Mary Ford
- Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley
- Tequila – The Champs
- My Baby Just Cares For Me – Nina Simone
- Oh, What a Night – The Dells
- Reet Petite – Jackie Wilson
- Rock and Roll Music – Chuck Berry
- Be-Bop-A-Lula – Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps
- C’mon Everybody – Eddie Cochran
- Susie Q – Dale Hawkins
- Rumble – Link Wray
- Johnny B Goode – Chuck Berry
- Great Balls of Fire – Jerry Lee Lewis
- Smokestack Lightnin’ – Howlin Wolf
- You Send Me – Sam Cooke
- La Bamba – Ritchie Valens
- Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
- Speedo – The Cadillacs
- Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend – Marilyn Monroe
- Dust My Broom – Elmore James
- Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino
- Mona Lisa – Nat King Cole
- That’ll Be the Day – Buddy Holly & The Crickets
- Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley
- Please, Please, Please – James Brown
- I Put a Spell on You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
- Joe Cuba’s Mambo – Joe Cuba and His Orchestra
- Singin’ in the Rain – Gene Kelly
- Why Do Fools Fall in Love – Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
- Searchin – The Coasters
- Lonely Boy – Paul Anka
- Come Fly With Me – Frank Sinatra
- Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine) – Penguins
- I Only Have Eyes for You – Flamingos
- Only You (And You Alone) – Platters
- Chantilly Lace – Big Bopper
- Banana Boat (Day-O) – Harry Belafonte
- Always – Ella Fitzgerald
- Because of You – Tony Bennett
- There Goes My Baby – Drifters
Wake Up Little Susie – The Everly Brothers
An early American rock duo, the Everly Brothers were known for using steel string acoustic guitar playing and tight harmonies as they sang. As you listen to ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ you’ll hear both elements dominantly in the charming sound. The song is a fun little date song – about a boy and a girl on a date to the movies – and she fell asleep! Uh-oh, they’re out past curfew! It’s truly a song of the times, both in subject and sound.
Related: Need help getting up? Here is the best wake up music.
Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley
Perhaps one of the most well-known classic songs of all time, ‘Jailhouse Rock’ by Elvis Presley is definitely a top song from the 50s. The song embodies so much of the spirit of rock ‘n roll: rebellion, celebration, independence. Elvis’s many performances of the song in concert and the film of the same name expressed the concept in “outrageous” ways at the time (“that gyrating boy!”), while the lyrics themselves tell a story of the many inmates “dancing to the jailhouse rock.”
Related: Find this classic song on our list of prison songs.
Mack the Knife – Bobby Darin
Popular singer Bobby Darin helped to make the song ‘Mack the Knife’ by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht famous. The song was originally written for the German play The Threepenny Opera, which premiered in 1928. The title character, as you can guess from the title, was up to no good, but the light melody makes it feel like a fun little song instead. After seeing and loving the play, Darin opted to record the song in 1958.
Related: “Oh the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear”…check out more songs about sharks.
That’s Amore – Dean Martin
Classic romance song with intentionally campy lyrics and sweet odes to lovers, ‘That’s Amore’ (Amore = Love in Italian) is one of the most overused songs from the 50s, at least in cute romance films and even cartoons. The lyrics depict love in Napoli, where the kids say, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore. When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine, that’s amore!”
Ain’t That a Shame – Fats Domino
Written and performed by Fats Domino with Dave Bartholomew, the original recording was originally named ‘Ain’t It a Shame.’ The song was released in 1955, hit it big on the pop chart, and later became one of the top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song received additional fame when Pat Boone later covered it; however, Fats Domino’s recording has remained the most popular version.
Got My Mojo Working – Muddy Waters
This blues song by Preston Foster, a little-known musician, was first released by the Gospel singer Ann Cole in 1956. Later, Muddy Waters toured with Cole and loved the song, so he started working with it, adding lyrics for his version. He helped to popularize the song as a Blues standard. The song is about Hoodoo practice, referencing “mojo,” a sort of magic charm within folk magic developed by enslaved African Americans in the USA.
Related: Poof over to our songs about magic playlist.
Your Cheatin’ Heart – Hank Williams
Considered by many as the original country-western singer, Hank Williams set the stage for the genre with this melancholic song, ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart.’ Williams wrote the song shortly after divorcing his wife, Audrey Mae Sheppard. The singer’s second wife, Billie Jean Jones, says Williams was inspired to write the song while they were driving to her parent’s home to announce their engagement and Williams said the title in conversation.
Related: Hear this tune on our list of the best songs about cheating on someone.
I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Frank Sinatra
A popular song by Frank Sinatra, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ is a romantic song about loving so deeply that someone gets “under your skin.” The song was actually written by the famous musical writer Cole Porter in 1936 for Born to Dance, a film musical starring Virginia Bruce, who sang the song in the film. Typically, the phrase means someone irritates you, but Porter cleverly turned the phrase into something romantic and enticing.
In the Still of the Night – The Five Satins
One of the most famous doo-wop songs, ‘In the Still of the Night’ has a unique origin story. The writer, Fred Parris, wrote the song on a train between Philly and his hometown, New Haven, shortly before being shipped off to Japan for a military posting. The song was recorded shortly before he left. From afar, he heard the song climb the charts sung by the Five Satins. He did later return and rerecord the song, this time enjoying the song’s popularity up close.
Related: You can find this song on our Dirty Dancing soundtrack list.
Splish Splash – Bobby Darin
This fun, upbeat song ‘Splish Splash’ has some Big Band overtones playing into the instrumentals as Bobby Darin moves into the rock n’ roll era. The silly lyrics help to make this one a super fun song that’s been used much in pop culture, from television commercials, film, and television that have anything to do with water, bathing, or similar. “Splish splash, I was taking a bath long about a Saturday night…”
Related: Swim over to more water-themed songs.
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – Jerry Lee Lewis
This distinctly early rock song by Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,’ has some impressive piano backing and solos going on, along with classic 50s rock guitar, which helped to shape the sound of the era. The song wound up being a bit controversial because it was considered “too suggestive,” and he used the word “hell-a,” which was, at the time, considered cursing. That didn’t keep Jerry Lee Lewis from becoming one of the most revered early rock stars, though.
Yakety Yak – The Coasters
Here’s a song we’ve probably all heard somewhere in pop culture. The rockabilly, Big Band, early rock song is a fun one to dance to or bop to along the way as you travel somewhere. The song was written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who had written some of Elvis’s big hits like ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ The song was written for The Coasters and happens to be a song you can read something into. The writing pair were both Jewish, and it was written for a Black vocal group – the phrase “don’t talk back” takes on new meaning when you know this, paired with an understanding of their history of suppression.
Related: Don’t talk back! Here’s our cleaning music playlist.
I Walk the Line – Johnny Cash
Probably Johnny Cash’s most famous song, ‘I Walk the Line’ is a blend of rock, country, and folk musical styles. The song was written and recorded in 1956 by Cash, eventually helping him hit number one on the Billboard charts. It’s a love song and reminds him of how much he loved his wife and didn’t want to betray her due to all the temptation of feminine attention on the tour he was on with Elvis Presley.
Related: Keep a good pace with the best walking music.
Summertime Blues – Eddie Cochran
19-year-old Eddie Cochran recorded ‘Summertime Blues,’ making him a huge star with teen fans who completely related to the lyrics as they felt held back by family and society rules. He was seen as a bit of a musical rebel, partially due to this song, which was romanticized and expanded when he passed only two years later in a car accident. Cochran and Jerry Capehart wrote the song. Capehart later told Rolling Stone Magazine that the song was written because there were plenty of summer songs but no summer hardship songs.
Related: Here are some songs about being a teen.
Lucille – Little Richard
This classic rock song ‘Lucille’ by Little Richard foreshadows the rhythmic feel of rock music in the 1960s with its heavy bassline and slower tempo (despite its upbeat feeling). The song came out in 1957 as a single for the singer and ultimately became one of his most popular numbers. The rhythm in the song is reminiscent of train motion.
Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins
“Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready. Now go, cat, go!” What a way to set off a song of the early rock’ n roll era? The lyrics tell volumes of the music of the time which went on to rock ‘n roll for decades to come. You can still hear some of these kinds of rhythms and influences in contemporary songs. ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ now classic rock guitar and bass riffs helped make the piece a standard for Carl Perkins, one of the Million Dollar Quartet with Sun Records.
Related: Step over to our list of songs about footwear.
How High the Moon – Les Paul and Mary Ford
‘How High the Moon’ started as a jazz standard, written by Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis. The song first appeared in the Broadway musical review Two For the Show, but the music went on to be recorded by the incredibly talented couple Les Paul and Mary Ford. The wife and husband team performed the rock version in 1953 on American TV, helping to earn additional fame for both them and the song, thanks to the new technique Paul offered of multi-tracking.
Related: Howl all night with these songs about a full moon.
Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley
Having made its way into the popular TV show Happy Days, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ is a song most folks have probably heard unless classic TV and rock don’t do it for you. Even still, you’re likely to have heard this song countdown in other pop culture, as it’s arguably the earliest rock song to ever chart at #1. It was first recorded in 1953 by Sonny Dae and His Nights, who received no acclaim for the recording. A year later, after some legal finagling, Bill Haley for Decca Records recorded the song and became the most famous singer for it.
Related: Pass the time with these clock songs.
Tequila – The Champs
Guitar and horn-heavy, lyrics light ‘Tequila’ is an incredibly fun song that anyone can get into without reservation. It’s hard not to dance to it – just try! Throughout the song, the word “tequila” is sung or spoken every so often, and that’s it. No message. Just fun! Interestingly enough, the song was on the B-side of a song by the Champs, ‘Train to Nowhere,’ and the disc jockeys flipped that song over and played Tequila instead, helping the song rise to fame and popularity around the world.
Related: Find more tequila songs on our list of songs about shots.
My Baby Just Cares For Me – Nina Simone
This classic jazz standard by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn was originally written for the musical Whoopee! in 1930. But the song got a facelift from Nina Simone, who rerecorded it in 1957, with the distinctive stylings you hear in this version. She recorded the song for her debut album Little Girl Blue and recorded all tracks in a single 14-hour session. The album was released two years later, and the song has been featured in commercials and films ever since.
Related: Can love stand the test of time? Here is our old love songs list.
Oh, What a Night – The Dells
The Dells started out singing in ice cream parlors and street corners in Harvey, Illinois, and Chicago before landing a deal in 1955. They released this doo-wop song a year later, ‘Oh, What a Night,’ which became a huge hit after their previous flop the year before. The rhythmic love song recalls a special night with a particular woman. “I won’t forget all those things you have told to me. The craze in my heart won’t let me forget your love.”
Reet Petite – Jackie Wilson
From Jackie Wilson’s first recording as a solo artist after leaving The Dominoes, ‘Reet Petite’ got its title from a Louis Jordan film Reet, Petite and Gone. The song is about a “sweet, kind” girl the narrator’s madly in love with. “Well, have you ever seen a girl for whom your soul you’d give? For whom you’d fight for, die for, pray to God you’d lie for?”
Rock and Roll Music – Chuck Berry
You can’t get any more iconic than the 1950s classic rock song ‘Rock and Roll Music’ by Chuck Berry. The song has always been one of Berry’s most popular songs and has been recorded over and over again for many purposes by many differently styled artists. Berry first recorded the song in Chicago in 1957, though, and understandably has been listed among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. “It’s gotta be rock roll music, if you wanna dance with me!”
Be-Bop-A-Lula – Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps
One of the signature sounds of early rock was nonsensical “words” and sounds in the lyrics and title. ‘Bee-Bop-A-Lula’ is one of those songs that exemplifies this concept well. From the title to the repetitive phrase throughout, the song kind of sets a trend for this sort of music through the decade and beyond. Attaching these words to the song’s romantic subject (my bee-bop-a-Lula baby) creates easy to remember lyrics with the upbeat, piano-heavy song to make it not just memorable, but easily one of the best prime examples of amazing early rock songs.
C’mon Everybody – Eddie Cochran
With a heavy surf rock vibe from the top of the song, Eddie Cochran’s song ‘C’mon Everybody’ was his biggest hit before his untimely death at the age of twenty-one. The song has been covered by multiple artists since, including the English band Humble Pie. The song peaked on the charted in the UK in 1959, the year before he passed and then again when it was re-issued in 1988 when it hit #14.
Susie Q – Dale Hawkins
A rockabilly song by genre pioneer Dale Hawkins, ‘Susie Q’ was released in 1957. The song was inspired by Susan, the daughter of the record company owner, and she was actually given partial writing credit for the song. The song has a heavy blues vibe mixed in, giving it a truly unique sound, especially with that cowbell rhythm infusion. The song has been deemed as one of the most influential of the era.
Related: Roll call! Here are some more songs with female names in the lyrics.
Rumble – Link Wray
Groundbreaking with its gritty guitar distortion, the instrumental piece ‘Rumble’ was an on the fly song improvised by Link Wray when he was asked to play something like it at one of his shows. When Wray attempted to record it for his label, the owner rejected it, until his daughter said she liked it. The open hopped on it and decided to release the unusual song. The title was actually a bit controversial, too, as it was assumed to imply some form of gang violence like the “rumbles” in the popular musical West Side Story portrayed.
Related: Listen to this song on our Blow the movie soundtrack.
Johnny B Goode – Chuck Berry
You might know ‘Johnny B. Goode’ from the soundtrack of Back to the Future, one of the most iconic films of the 1980s. But the song was released in the 1950s by Chuck Berry. The song depicts the story of Berry’s life, a musician coming from humble beginnings, a penchant for guitar, and a unique journey that led to his famed musicianship. Details were changed, of course, but the song rocks on unforgettably telling Berry’s life.
Related: You can hear a cover of this song on the Back to the Future soundtrack.
Great Balls of Fire – Jerry Lee Lewis
Perhaps one of the most iconic songs ever made into film and TV soundtracks is ‘Great Balls of Fire’ by Jerry Lee Lewis. Lewis was one of the groundbreaking gents in the rock n’ roll scene, later depicted in the Million Dollar Quarter, a stage jukebox production retelling of the groundbreaking recording sessions in 1956 involving Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. The song itself makes it into the production.
Related: Hear this song on our list of Top Gun soundtrack songs.
Smokestack Lightnin’ – Howlin Wolf
‘Smokestack Lightning’ by blues artist Howlin’ Wolf had been a song the artist was performing from the early 30s or earlier. The hypnotic song uses only one chord for the chorus and draws from earlier blues pieces. The songwriter said the song was inspired by watching the trains rolls through at night, with the sparks flying out of the smokestacks – the lightning. The song was originally recorded by Wolf for the Chess label in 1956.
Related: You’ll love our lightning songs playlist.
You Send Me – Sam Cooke
The sweet love song, ‘You Send Me’ by Sam Cooke, was originally released in 1957, as his debut single. The song was ranked as No. 115 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and was placed in the Rock’ n Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 most important songs. The beautiful song has been covered time and time again, but the original by Sam Cooke stands the test of time. “You send me… You thrill me… Whoa, whenever I’m with you, you send me.”
Related: Here are the best love songs of all time.
La Bamba – Ritchie Valens
You’ve likely heard ‘La Bamba’ in multiple uses across many pop cultural references, from film and television to commercials. The song is actually a traditional Mexican folk song that was recorded by Ritchie Valens, a descendant of Mexican immigrants, in 1958. The song gave Valens some moderate fame for the remaining year of his life before passing in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, but became more popular after the 1987 biopic of his life, given the same title as the song.
Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
One of Elvis’s most famous rock ‘n roll songs, ‘Hound Dog’ will probably always be considered one of the best songs of the 1950s. The hit was recorded by Elvis in 1956, but Big Mama Thornton originally released it in 1953 – the singer’s only hit. Thornton’s version made it into the Hall of Fame as one of the songs most influential to rock ‘n roll, while Elvis’s version is far more well-known and made it into the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Related: Go to our list of songs in Forrest Gump.
Speedo – The Cadillacs
The song ‘Speedo’ by The Cadillacs is a fun, doo-wop song with an infectious beat and tight harmonies, filled with nonsensical words and sounds so iconic of the musical genre. The silly song isn’t about swimsuits, either, but rather a nickname. “They often call me Speedo, but my real name is Mr. Earl.” The song is about Earl, the guy who acquired a nickname for himself because he didn’t believe in “wastin’ time” in his pursuit of women.
Related: You may have heard this in the classic gangster flick, Goodfellas. Check out music in Goodfellas.
Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend – Marilyn Monroe
From the film musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the song ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ is sung by Marilyn Monroe and performed in vivid pink and red colors and unique staging, complete with women in the chandelier, dressed in all black, rotating as the scene progresses. Monroe’s distinctive singing style comes out in the song with the breathy texture while also showcasing her range in the song’s opening. “A kiss may be grand, but it won’t pay the rent, but…these rocks don’t lose their shape diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
Related: Love shiny things? Here are the best songs about diamonds.
Dust My Broom – Elmore James
A blues song written by Robert Johnson in 1936, ‘Dust My Broom’ was later recorded by Elmore James in 1951, making it into the classic, well-known early rock song we know today. The slide guitar in James’ version has been recognized as one of the most important blues guitar riffs, inspiring many following musicians. There’s a bit of ambiguity about the song’s origin, but most folks credit the song to Johnson.
Related: This song features on The Wolf of Wall Street soundtrack.
Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino
“I found my freedom on Blueberry Hill, when I found you. The moon stood still…” The rhythmic love song was originally written by Vincent Rose, Al Lewis, and Larry Stock for the 1940 Western The Singing Hill. The song was later recorded by Fats Domino with this horn and piano-heavy instrumentation. The song has a sad ending, though, as the narrator remembers his love, acknowledging, “Though we’re apart, you’re part of me still.”
Mona Lisa – Nat King Cole
A popular song written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston for the film Captain Carey, Nat King Cole covers the melodic love song to the famous painting, Mona Lisa, with full orchestral backing. But the song is much more than admiration for a Da Vinci painting—rather, it’s the singer’s way of comparing his love with the famous beauty of days of old. “Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you. You’re so like the lady with the mystic smile.”
Related: Get inspired by these art songs.
That’ll Be the Day – Buddy Holly & The Crickets
‘That’ll Be the Day’ by rockabilly artist, Buddy Holly was released in 1957 when Holly recorded it for the second time with The Crickets. Originally, the song was rejected by Decca Records when he recorded it with his band, The Three Tunes. Now deemed one of the best songs of the 1950s, Decca probably regretted that for a while before their buyout! The song was Holly’s first hit, even though it was credited to The Crickets (his band at the time).
Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley
‘Bo Diddley’ by the rock n’ roll pioneer of the same name is a classic song in the 1950s rock world that helped to set the stage for much of modern music. The song became best known for the Bo Diddley beat, which has been such an impactful part of music history. If you listen closely, you can hear the hambone rhythm similarity in the song (hambone in a dance and slap technique), but the electric guitar changes the style, of course, and helped pioneer the way for future generations of musicians.
Please, Please, Please – James Brown
A pleading song, ‘Please, Please, Please’ was James Brown’s first commercial recording, which he made in Macon, Georgia, on WIBB, the local radio station. The song doesn’t have a particular narrative but more of a sense of emotional angst, and Brown exclaims “please” periodically and expresses thoughts about a girl going him wrong. The song helped to build Brown’s career, playing it on the road for two years. Eventually, it became his showstopper at his regular Apollo Theater performances.
I Put a Spell on You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
‘I Put a Spell on You’ isn’t so much about magic but lamenting the loss of a girlfriend he wishes he hadn’t. Magic does come into play, however, as the song takes a ghoulish turn. As the artist was known, Screaming Jay Hawkins originally recorded the song in a slower beat, with a “tamer” vibe than this highly expressive, rather “creepy” version of the song. Hawkins performed the song at a Christmas concert in 1956, receiving a huge reaction from the bizarre staging and special and sound effects. In later performances, he came out in a flaming coffin, wielding a skull on the TV special for DJ Alan Freed.
Related: Get spooked with our playlist of songs about Halloween.
Joe Cuba’s Mambo – Joe Cuba and His Orchestra
Known as the Father of Latin Boogaloo, Joe Cuba was an American conga drummer of Puerto Rican descent. It’s a bit difficult to find much information about the song itself ‘Joe Cuba’s Mambo,’ but the song style is a Latin dance style, and a rough translation tells us that the song is an impression of the music style. “Listen to our theory of this crazy fad… Just let the rhythm guide you with your feet… Just swing along, and we’ll supply the rest.”
Singin’ in the Rain – Gene Kelly
Not all the best music from the 50s is rock ‘n roll! Some songs come from amazing musicals, like this one, the titular song ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ This one’s sung by Gene Kelly, the leading male in the film musical, dancing his way through the rain with umbrellas, light poles, and more, giving the film its iconic shots now used in theater productions today (with real water as rain falling in most stage productions!).
Related: Grab your umbrella! Our list of rainy songs is in the forecast.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love – Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
Released in 1956, ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ became a popular song for the American rock band Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. The gifted young singer, Lymon, was a backup singer for the Premiers when he was only 13 years old. Ultimately, the Premiers became the Teenagers, with young Frankie taking the lead as a vocalist. The group, partially through the help of this popular, upbeat love song, helped the band lead the way for young Black singing groups over the following decades.
Searchin – The Coasters
The Coasters released ‘Searchin” in 1957 with Atco Records, and the rhythm and blues song topped the charts for 12 weeks. The song is recognized as one of the seminal songs of early rock ‘n roll, helping to shape the style into a universal genre. The song’s lyrics tell of the singer’s determination to go find his love, wherever she may be. The song has a nice little gimmick, too, which certainly didn’t hurt at the time, leaning into detective tales like Sherlock Holmes, Joe Friday, and Same Spade, who were so popular then.
Related: Looking for something? Here are the best searching songs.
Lonely Boy – Paul Anka
Despite being successful and having everything most people think you could want, Paul Anka’s song ‘Lonely Boy’ depicts certain loneliness and sadness that could never be found in fame. “I’m all alone… I’ve got everything you could think of, but all I want is someone to love.” Anka’s career was launched when he was just 16 when his song “Diana” topped the charts in 1957. His meteoric rise was partially due to his skill at expressing the teenage experience of the 50s, actually being a teen himself at the time.
Related: Listen to this song on our list of alone songs.
Come Fly With Me – Frank Sinatra
One of Frank Sinatra’s most popular love songs, ‘Come Fly With Me’ definitely ranks among the best songs of the 1950s. Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn wrote the song. Van Heusen was a test pilot during World War II, during which he gained a passion for flying, which inspired the song’s lyrics. “Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away… Once I get you up there, I’ll be holding you so near you may hear angels cheer ’cause we’re together.”
Related: Fly over to our flying songs playlist.
Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine) – Penguins
For many of us non-boomers, ‘Earth Angel’ became a part of the conversation when we first saw Back to the Future and the scene when Marty’s mom and dad finally dance at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. The real-life band The Penguins, a doo-wop group, recorded the song in 1954 as a single with DooTone Records. The song turned them into a one-hit wonder, selling over 10 million copies, a huge sale for the day. The song went on to be covered by many other artists, including the fictitious Marvin Berry and the Starlighters, the band in Back to the Future.
Related: Enjoy these songs that start with E.
I Only Have Eyes for You – Flamingos
The unique doo-wop song recorded by the Flamingos has such a tight sound because the group partially learned their harmonizing skills thanks to a church in which instruments aren’t permitted. The group has such a smooth, tight sound that as you listen to ‘I Only Have Eyes for You,’ every word and movement flows perfectly with complete ease. The song was written for the 1934 film, Dames, but the Flamingos reimagined the sound with tight harmonies and distinctive instrumentation, making the song their own—and one of the best songs of the 50s.
Only You (And You Alone) – Platters
A sweet love song recorded by The Platters in 1954, ‘Only You,’ tells the story of true love when dreams come true when you find your one and only you. “Only you can make all this world seem right. Only you can make the darkness bright… You are my destiny.” The original version wasn’t released, but a second rendition a year later was released, with Tony Williams singing lead. The “break” in his singing was purposefully kept in, thanks to the inspiration felt by the group in the unique sound.
Chantilly Lace – Big Bopper
This upbeat rockabilly song performed by the Big Bopper was released originally as a B-side for another of his songs. ‘Chantilly Lace,’ though, became one of his most played songs ever – and one of the most played songs of the year (1958). The song is basically about what the singer likes on a date. “Chantilly lace and a pretty face, and a ponytail hangin’ down.”
Banana Boat (Day-O) – Harry Belafonte
‘Day-O’ isn’t a rock song but one of the most popular and best-known calypso songs. Sung by Harry Belafonte, the original guy to get calypso music into the common vernacular, Day-O, or the ‘Banana Boat Song,’ is the iconic tune that sets that stage for listeners on what calypso is and what the life of people of the time in Trinidad and other Caribbean islands lived. “Work all night on a drink of rum… Stack banana ’til the morning comes! Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana. Daylight come, and we want go home!”
Always – Ella Fitzgerald
This popular light jazz standard, ‘Always,’ was written by Irving Berlin in the 1920s for his future wife. One of the unique elements of this song is that only the black keys (flats and sharps) are used on the piano when the song is played in its original key. In this version, Ella Fitzgerald recorded the song for her 1958 album, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook, for which she won a Grammy Award. The song has always been extremely popular and has been recorded by many other famous artists, including Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, Phil Collins, and Paul McCartney.
Because of You – Tony Bennett
‘Because of You’ was originally recorded in 1940, a pop song written by Arthur Hammerstein and Dudley Wilkinson. The original version was recorded by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra and was charting for one week. Tony Bennett recorded the song in 1951, sending him into the spotlight, his first major hit. He’s continued performing the song ever since, loving the song and appreciating the impact it’s had on his career. This particular version, Bennett partners with k.d. Lang.
There Goes My Baby – Drifters
The first single released by the second iteration of the Drifters, ‘There Goes My Baby,’ charted multiple times and was eventually added to the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The band had hit a slump, but this song brought their career back into focus for music fans all over. The song wasn’t just great musically, though—it also pioneered the idea of using a full backing orchestra with strings to enhance an R&B song.