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Popular music: 1955




Popular Music of the 1950s

As top 10, top 20 and top 40 record charts were not introduced in Australia until 1958, the source for this information was calculated in the 1990s in retrospect, using archival data. During the 1950s, often more than one version of a particular song by different artists charted at the same time, thus more than one artist may be listed for a song. Those songs featured here would have been the most popular songs being played on the radio and sold as recordings are listed for this year.

We have also included a number of songs of the genre known today as rock'n'roll, which at that time was in its infancy, and generally considered outside of mainsteam popular music until the late 1950s. Such songs, which had a major influence on the direction in which popular music was going, are included.

Top Songs of 1955

Rock Around The Clock - Bill Haley And His Comets
Rock Around the Clock was written by Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers (the latter being under the pseudonym "Jimmy De Knight") in 1952. The best-known and most successful rendition was recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets in 1954 for American Decca. It was a number one single on both the United States and United Kingdom charts and also reentered the UK Singles Chart in the 1960s and 1970s.

It was not the first rock and roll record, nor was it the first successful record of the genre (Bill Haley had American chart success with "Crazy Man, Crazy" in 1953, and in 1954, "Shake, Rattle and Roll" sung by Big Joe Turner reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart). Haley's recording nevertheless became an anthem for rebellious 1950s youth and is widely considered to be the song that, more than any other, brought rock and roll into mainstream culture around the world. The song is ranked No. 158 on the Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Sixteen Tons - Tennessee Ernie Ford
Sixteen Tons is a song written by Merle Travis about a coal miner, based on life in mines in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Travis first recorded the song at the Radio Recorders Studio B in Hollywood, California, on August 8, 1946. Cliffie Stone played bass on the recording. It was first released in July 1947 by Capitol on Travis's album Folk Songs of the Hills. The song became a gold record. A 1955 version recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford (right) reached number one in the Billboard charts, while another version by Frankie Laine 1956 was released only in Western Europe, where it gave Ford's version competition.

According to Travis, the line "another day older and deeper in debt" from the chorus was a phrase often used by his father, a coal miner himself. This and the line "I owe my soul to the company store" are a reference to the truck system and to debt bondage.

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing - The Four Aces
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing is a popular song with music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. The song was publicized first in the movie, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song. From 1967 to 1973, it was used as the theme song to Love is a Many Splendored Thing, the soap opera based on the movie. The song's refrain is based on the aria Un bel dì vedremo from Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Madama Butterfly.

The American male quartet, The Four Aces, were very popular in the 1950s, their signature tunes include "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing", "Three Coins in the Fountain", "Stranger in Paradise", "Tell Me Why", and "(It's No) Sin", "Shangri-La", "Perfidia", and "Sincerely".

Maybellene - Chuck Berry
Berry's first single and his first hit, Maybellene is considered a pioneering rock and roll song and a pivotal song in the emergence of the genre. Written and recorded in 1955 by Chuck Berry, it was adapted in part from the Western swing fiddle tune "Ida Red". Berry's song told the story of a hot rod race and a broken romance, the lyrics describing a man driving a V8 Ford and chasing his unfaithful girlfriend in her Cadillac Coupe DeVille.

The song was a major hit with both black and white audiences. It has received numerous honors and awards. Soon after its initial release, cover versions were recorded by several other artists. The title is misspelled "Maybelline" on several releases.

There are a few different stories floating around about how the song got its name. Berry has said that Maybellene was the name of a cow in child's nursery rhyme, but Berry's band members recalled that there was a box of Maybellene mascara in the office, which gave Leonard Chess of Chess Records the idea for the title. At the time, Berry's day job was as a salesman for the Maybellene cosmetics company.

Love and Marriage - Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra's Love and Marriage and Chuck Berry's Maybellene graphically illustrate the ever-widening gulf between what the youth of the 1950s wanted to hear and what their parents were listening to. Sinatra was the darling of stage and screen (big and small), this song was introduced by him in the 1955 television production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" that aired on Producers' Showcase. He's already conquered the movies, now he was dominating the small screen at a time when television was "the latest thing" in entertainment. In 1956, the year television came to Australia, Love and Marriage won the Emmy for Best Musical Contribution from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) - Doris Day
This song was written by the team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans that was first published in 1956. Doris Day introduced it in the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), singing it as a cue to their onscreen kidnapped son. The song received the 1956 Academy Award for Best Original Song and became Day's signature song. It was a hit for Australian singer Normie Rowe in September 1965 and Welsh songstress Mary Hopkin in 1971.

The song popularized the title expression "que sera, sera" as an English-language phrase indicating "cheerful fatalism", though its use in English dates back to at least the 16th century. Contrary to popular perception, the phrase is not Spanish in origin, and is ungrammatical in that language.

The Ballad of Davey Crockett - The Wellingtons
The song The Ballad of Davy Crockett was introduced on the US television series Disneyland, in the premiere episode of October 27, 1954. Fess Parker is shown performing the song on a log cabin set in frontiersman clothes, accompanied by similarly attired musicians. The song would later be heard throughout the Disneyland television miniseries Davy Crockett, first telecast on December 15, 1954. This version was sung by The Wellingtons.

Walt Disney Productions launched a massive marketing campaign in the UK in 1955 to publicise the film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (released in Britain in 1956) and to make the country's youth "Crockett conscious". Crockett merchandise was produced en masse, the most iconic item being the imitation coonskin cap. The craze became immensely popular amongst schoolchildren around the world wherever the movie and the TV series were screened. Davy Crockett pioneered the concept of product merchandising based on ta TV or movie themes and characters.

Unchained Melody - Todd Duncan
Unchained Melody is a 1955 song with music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret. North wrote the music as a theme for the little-known prison film Unchained (January 1955), hence the song title. Todd Duncan sang the vocals for the film soundtrack. It has since become a standard and one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, most notably by the Righteous Brothers (1965). According to the song's publishing administrator, over 1,500 recordings of "Unchained Melody" have been made by more than 670 artists, in multiple languages.

In 1955, three versions of the song (by Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, and Roy Hamilton) charted in the Billboard Top 10 in the United States, and four versions (by Al Hibbler, Les Baxter, Jimmy Young, and Liberace) appeared in the Top 20 in the United Kingdom simultaneously, an unbeaten record for any song.It continued to chart in the 21st century, and it was the only song to reach number one with four different recordings in the UK until it was joined by Band Aid 30's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in 2014.

Yellow Rose of Texas - Mitch Miller
In the early 1950s, Miller recorded with Columbia's house band as "Mitchell Miller and His Orchestra". He also recorded a string of successful albums and singles, featuring a male chorale and his own arrangements, under the name "Mitch Miller and the Gang" beginning in 1950. One of these - The Yellow Rose of Texas - sold over one million copies in the United States alone. 13 months after its release, Miller's hit version was used for a key scene in the 1956 Texas-based film Giant, turning it into a top seller for the second time.

A traditional American folk song dating back to at least the 1850s, the song had been made famous a decade earlier when it was featured in, and gave its name to, a 1944 movie starring singing cowboy, Roy Rogers, who played an insurance investigator sent to find a stash of money lifted from a company payroll.

A Blossom Fell - Nat King Cole
Written by Howard Barnes, Harold Cornelius, and published in 1954, A Blossom Fell is a favourite in Nat King Cole's impressive library of evergreen romantic songs. When he was fifteen, Cole dropped out of high school to pursue a music career. In the late 1930s he led a big band, then found work playing piano in nightclubs. Cole recorded "Sweet Lorraine" in 1940, and it became his first hit.

According to legend, his career as a vocalist started when a drunken bar patron demanded that he sing the song. Cole said that this fabricated story sounded good, so he didn't argue with it. In fact, there was a customer one night who demanded that he sing, but because it was a song Cole didn't know, he sang "Sweet Lorraine" instead. As people heard Cole's vocal talent, they requested more vocal songs, and he obliged. Cole continued to record hit singles into the 1960s. In January 1964, Cole made one of his final television appearances, on The Jack Benny Program. He was introduced as "the best friend a song ever had" and sang When I Fall in Love. Cat Ballou (1965), his final film, was released several months after his death.

Earth Angel - The Penguins
Earth Angel is a song by American doo-wop group the Penguins, recorded at a time when the doo-wop style was at is zenith. Produced by Dootsie Williams, it was released as their debut single in October 1954 on Dootone Records. Although the song was going to be overdubbed with additional instrumentation, the original demo version became an unexpected hit, quickly outstripping its A-side. A A cover version by white vocal group the Crew-Cuts was also a bit seller.

The Penguins' only hit, it eventually sold in excess of 10 million copies. The original recording of the song remained an enduring hit single for much of the 1950s, and it is now considered to be one of the definitive doo-wop songs. It has been used in the television series Happy Days. It was featured prominently in the film Back to the Future (performed by Harry Waters Jr. as Marvin Berry & The Starlighters), as well as Superman III and The Karate Kid Part II. It is also used in the jukebox musical Jersey Boys, a musical about the rock band The Four Seasons. Australian group Human Nature covered the song on their 2014 album Jukebox.

Only You - The Platters
Composed by Buck Ram, Only You was originally recorded by The Platters with lead vocals by Tony Williams in 1955. It had been recorded a year earlier with another band member but the group was not happy with its sound and canned it.

Platters bass singer Herb Reed later recalled how the group hit upon its successful version: "We tried it so many times, and it was terrible. One time we were rehearsing in the car ... and the car jerked. Tony went 'O-oHHHH-nly you.' We laughed at first, but when he sang that song—that was the sign we had hit on something." According to Buck Ram, Tony Williams' voice "broke" in rehearsal, but they decided to keep this effect in the recording. The re-recorded version bevame a huge hit, and is one of the group's most loved songs.

Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash
Written in 1953, the song combines elements from two popular folk styles, the train song and the prison song, both of which Cash continued to use for the rest of his career. It was one of Cash's signature songs. Cash was inspired to write this song after seeing the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951) while serving in West Germany in the United States Air Force at Landsberg, Bavaria (itself the location of a famous prison).

The song was recorded at the Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee on July 30, 1955. The producer was Sam Phillips, and the musicians were Cash (vocals, guitar), Luther Perkins (guitar), and Marshall Grant (bass). Like other songs recorded during his early Sun Records sessions, Cash had no drummer in the studio, but replicated the snare drum sound by inserting a piece of paper (like a dollar bill) under the guitar strings and strumming the snare rhythm on his guitar.

Cash took the melody for the song and many of the lyrics from Gordon Jenkins's 1953 Seven Dreams concept album, specifically the song "Crescent City Blues". Jenkins was not credited on the original record, which was issued by Sun Records. In the early 1970s, after the song became popular, Cash paid Jenkins a settlement of approximately US$75,000 following a lawsuit.

Tutti Frutti - Little Richard
Tutti Frutti (Italian: "All fruits") is a song written by Little Richard and Dorothy LaBostrie that was first recorded in 1955, becoming Little Richard's first major hit record. With its opening cry of "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!" (a verbal rendition of a drum pattern that Little Richard had imagined) and its hard-driving sound and wild lyrics, it became not only a model for many future Little Richard songs, but also a model for rock and roll itself. The song introduced several of rock music's most characteristic musical features, including its loud volume, powerful vocal style, and distinctive beat and rhythm.

 Little Richard once said, "Elvis may be the King of Rock and Roll, but I am the Queen", a reference to homosexuality, which was a recurring theme in his songs. Richard was an avid homosexual before becoming a Seventh-day Adventist minister. The title of the song is a 1950s African American slang term for a gay male. Long before Richard recorded that song, he performed it at his shows as "Tutti Frutti, Loose Booty." It was a very raucous and sexual song and was considered too suggestive for white audiences, so it was cleaned up considerably when he recorded it. This included female names being substituted for the male names in the original. The chorus was changed to "Tutti Frutti, aw Rudi". The original lyrics, in which "Tutti Frutti" referred to a homosexual man, were:
Tutti Frutti, good booty
If it don't fit, don't force it
You can grease it, make it easy

They were replaced with:
Tutti Frutti, aw rooty
Tutti Frutti, aw rooty.

"Aw rooty" was a slang expression meaning "All right".

Blue Suede Shoes - Carl Perkins
A rock-and-roll standard written and first recorded by Carl Perkins in 1955. It is considered one of the first rockabilly records, incorporating elements of blues, country, and pop music of the time. Perkins' original version of the song was on the US Cashbox Best Selling Singles list for 16 weeks and spent two weeks in the number two position.

Elvis Presley recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" in 1956 and it appears as the opening track of his debut album Elvis Presley (1956). Presley performed his version of the song three different times on national television. It was also recorded by Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, among many others.

Johnny Cash planted the seed for the song in the fall of 1955, while Perkins, Cash, Elvis Presley and other Louisiana Hayride acts toured throughout the South. Cash told Perkins of a black airman, C. V. White, whom he had met when serving in the military in Germany, who had referred to his military regulation airmen's shoes as "blue suede shoes". Cash suggested that Perkins write a song about the shoes. Perkins replied, "I don't know anything about shoes. How can I write a song about shoes?"

When Perkins played a dance on December 4, 1955, he noticed a couple dancing near the stage. Between songs, he heard a stern, forceful voice say, "Uh-uh, don't step on my suedes!" He looked down and noted that the boy was wearing blue suede shoes and one had a scuff mark. "Good gracious, a pretty little thing like that and all he can think about is his blue suede shoes", thought Perkins.

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