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Popular music: 1956

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 1956

Hound Dog - Elvis Presley
Hound Dog is a twelve-bar blues song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Recorded originally by Big Mama Thornton on August 13, 1952, in Los Angeles and released by Peacock Records in late February 1953, "Hound Dog" was Thornton's only hit record, selling over 500,000 copies, spending 14 weeks in the R&B charts, including seven weeks at number one. Thornton's recording of "Hound Dog" is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll", and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 2013.

Hound Dog has been recorded more than 250 times. The best-known version is the July 1956 recording by Elvis Presley, which is ranked number 19 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time; it is also one of the best-selling singles of all time. Presley's version, which sold about 10 million copies globally, was his best-selling song and "an emblem of the rock 'n' roll revolution".

Heartbreak Hotel - Elvis Presley
Heartbreak Hotel was Presley's first on his new record label RCA Victor. It was written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton, with credit being given also to Presley. Axton presented the song to Presley in November 1955 at a country music convention in Nashville. Presley agreed to record it, and did so on January 10, 1956, in a session with his band, The Blue Moon Boys, the guitarist Chet Atkins, and the pianist Floyd Cramer. Heartbreak Hotel comprises an eight-bar blues progression, with heavy reverberation throughout the track, to imitate the character of Presley's Sun recordings.

In 1995 Heartbreak Hotel was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2004 Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Axton approached the popular singing duo the Wilburn Brothers, and offered them the chance to record "Heartbreak Hotel". However, Doyle and Teddy Wilburn declined, describing the song as "strange and almost morbid".

Don't Be Cruel - Elvis Presley
Don't Be Cruel Don't Be Cruel was written by Otis Blackwell in 1956. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. was the first song that Presley's song publishers, Hill and Range, brought to him to record. Blackwell was more than happy to give up 50% of the royalties and a co-writing credit to Presley to ensure that the "hottest new singer around covered it". But unfortunately he had already sold the song for only $25, as he stated in an interview of American Songwriter. The song featured Presley's regular band of Scotty Moore on lead guitar (with Presley usually providing rhythm guitar), Bill Black on bass, D. J. Fontana on drums, and backing vocals from the Jordanaires.

The Great Pretender - The Platters
The Great Pretender is a popular song recorded by The Platters, with Tony Williams on lead vocals, and released as a single on November 3, 1955. The words and music were written by Buck Ram, the Platters' manager and producer who was a successful songwriter before moving into producing and management.

Buck Ram said that he wrote the song in about 20 minutes in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in order to have a song to follow up the success of "Only You (And You Alone)". Stan Freberg parodied this version. In 2004, the song was voted 360th greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone. Plas Johnson played tenor saxophone.

Blueberry Hill - FatsDomino
Blueberry Hill is a popular song published in 1940, best remembered for its 1950s rock and roll version by then 28-year old Fats Domino. The music was written by Vincent Rose, the lyrics by Larry Stock and Al Lewis. It was recorded six times in 1940. The first recording, sung by Gene Autry, was featured in the 1941 movie, The Singing Hill. Louis Armstrong's 1949 recording charted in the Billboard Top 40, reaching number 29. Fats Domino's version has become a rock and roll standard. It reached number two for three weeks on the Billboard Top 40 charts, becoming his biggest pop hit. It was also ranked number 82 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

I Walk The Line - Johnny Cash
The unique chord progression for the song was inspired by backwards playback of guitar runs on Cash's tape recorder while he was in the Air Force stationed in Germany. Later in a telephone interview, Cash stated, “I wrote the song backstage one night in 1956 in Gladewater, Texas. I was newly married at the time, and I suppose I was laying out my pledge of devotion." After the writing of the song Cash had a discussion with fellow performer Carl Perkins who encouraged him to adopt "I Walk the Line" as the song title. Cash originally intended the song as a slow ballad, but producer Sam Phillips preferred a faster arrangement, which Cash grew to like as the uptempo recording met with success.

Be-Bop-A-Lula - Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps
The writing of this rockabilly song is credited to Gene Vincent and his manager, Bill "Sheriff Tex" Davis. Evidently the song originated in 1955, when Vincent was recuperating from a motorcycle accident at the US Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. There, he met Donald Graves, who supposedly wrote the words to the song while Vincent wrote the tune. In early 1956, Gene Vincent performed the song on a radio show in Norfolk, Virginia, and recorded a demo version which was passed to Capitol Records, who were looking for a young singer to rival Elvis Presley. The song drew comparisons to Presley and is listed as No. 103 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Long Tall Sally - Little Richard
Long Tall Sally is a rock and roll 12-bar blues song written by Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, Enotris Johnson, and Little Richard; recorded by Little Richard; and released in March 1956 on the Specialty Records label. It became one of the singer's best-known hits and has become a rock and roll standard covered by hundreds of artists, including Elvis Presley and the Beatles. The song was originally called "The Thing". Pat Boone's cover version of the song - for "white" audiences - reached No. 12 in the US pop charts.

According to Blackwell, he was introduced to a little girl by Honey Chile, a popular disc-jockey. Apparently, the girl had written a song for Little Richard to record so she could pay the treatment for her ailing aunt Mary. The song, actually a few lines on a piece of paper, went like this:
"Saw Uncle John with Long Tall Sally
They saw Aunt Mary comin'
So they ducked back in the alley
Richard was reluctant to record it at first. They worked on the song, adding verses and a chorus, until they got the hit they wanted.

Love Me Tender - Elvis Presley
Love Me Tender was recorded by Elvis Presley and published by Elvis Presley Music from the 20th Century Fox film of the same name. The words are credited to Ken Darby under the pseudonym "Vera Matson", the name of his wife, and Elvis Presley. The song was adapted from the melody for "Aura Lee", a sentimental Civil War balla published in 1861.. The song has since featured in many other films and television shows.

As with nearly all his early RCA recordings, Presley took control in the studio despite not being credited as producer. He would regularly change arrangements and lyrics to the point that the original song was barely recognizable.

Roll Over Beethoven - Chuck Berry
Written by Chuck Berry, the lyrics of the song mention rock and roll and the desire for rhythm and blues to replace classical music. The song has been covered by many other artists.

Berry wrote the song in response to his sister Lucy always using the family piano to play classical music when Berry wanted to play popular music. It was, as biographer Bruce Pegg says, "inspired in part by the rivalry between his sister Lucy's classical music training and Berry's own self-taught, rough-and-ready music preference". The lyric "roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news" refers to how classical composers would roll over in their graves upon hearing that classical music had given way to rock and roll.

See You Later, Alligator - Bill Haley And His Comets
Originally entitled "Later, Alligator", the song, based on a 12-bar blues chord structure, was written by Louisiana songwriter Robert Charles Guidry and first recorded by him under his professional name "Bobby Charles" in 1955. Guidry also wrote "Walking to New Orleans", which was recorded by Fats Domino.

Haley's version, recorded on December 12, 1955, was featured in Rock Around the Clock, a musical film Haley and the Comets began shooting in January 1956. Haley's arrangement of the song is faster-paced than Guidry's original, and in particular the addition of a two-four beat changed the song from a rhythm and blues "shuffle" to rock and roll. Bill Haley's recording popularized a catchphrase already in use at the time, (and Princess Margaret of the United Kingdom was quoted as saying it). It would become Haley's third and final million-selling single, although it did not hit the top of the American charts.

Standing On THe Corner - The Four Lads
A popular song written by Frank Loesser and published in 1956. It was introduced by Shorty Long, Alan Gilbert, John Henson, and Roy Lazarus in the Broadway musical, The Most Happy Fella. Dean Martin also released a version in 1956; a version by The King Brothers became popular in the United Kingdom in 1960 when the musical was staged in London's West End.

On the Street Where You Live - The Four Lads
On the Street Where You Live is a song from the 1956 Broadway musical My Fair Lady. It is sung in the musical by the character Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who was portrayed by John Michael King in the original production. In the 1964 film version, it was sung by Bill Shirley, dubbing for actor Jeremy Brett. The most popular single of the song was recorded by Vic Damone in 1956 for Columbia Records. Lawrence Welk and His Orchestra, Eddie Fisher, Andy Williams, Ray Conniff and Bing Crosby all recorded the song and with similar success.

My Prayer - The Platters
This song, first popularised in 1939, was originally written by Boulanger with the title Avant de mourir (Before dying) 1926. The lyrics for this version were added by Kennedy in 1939. Glenn Miller recorded the song that year as did The Ink Spots', their version featuring Bill Kenny. It has been recorded many times since, but the biggest hit version was a doo-wop rendition by The Platters.

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.

Why Do Fools Fall in Love - Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers
Why Do Fools Fall in Love is a song that was originally a hit for early New York City-based rock and roll group Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, in January 1956. The song helped to make Frankie Lymon a household name and would make him a rock and roll pioneer.

The Teenagers' first single, 1956's "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," was also their biggest hit. After Lymon went solo in mid-1957, both his career and that of the Teenagers fell into decline. He was found dead at the age of 25 on the floor of his grandmother's bathroom from a heroin overdose. He was the first of many rock'n'rollers who were unable to handle fame and success and ended their lives this way prematurely. His life was dramatized in the 1998 film Why Do Fools Fall In Love.

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.

Jambalaya (On the Bayou) - Brenda Lee
Solo performer Brenda Lee sang rockabilly, pop and country music, and had 47 US chart hits during the 1960s, and is ranked fourth in that decade surpassed only by Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Ray Charles. She received the nickname "Little Miss Dynamite" in 1957, after recording the song "Dynamite" when she was 12, and was one of the earliest pop stars to have a major contemporary international following.

Brenda come from a poor family - her singing career began at the age of three when her mother and sister hoisted her up on the counter of a local store to sing so that they could buy something to eat from the coins dropped in a hat by passers-by. At age six, she won a local singing contest sponsored by local elementary schools. Lee's breakthrough came in February 1955, when she turned down $30 to appear on a Swainsboro radio station in order to see Red Foley and a touring promotional unit of his ABC-TV program Ozark Jubilee in Augusta. She won the heart of the audience with a punchy rendition of the Hank Williams song, 'Jambalaya'. It was quickly recorded and became a best seller.

Mary's Boy Child - Harry Belafonte
This Christmas song, written in 1956 by Jester Hairston, is widely performed as a Christmas carol. It was Harry Belafonte who popularied the song. It was recorded in 1956 for his album An Evening with Belafonte. One of the best-known cover versions of the song is from the German-based disco-group Boney M. from 1978, "Mary's Boy Child – Oh My Lord."

The song had its genesis when Hairston was sharing a room with a friend. The friend asked him to write a song for a birthday party. Hairston wrote the song with a calypso rhythm because the people at the party would be mainly West Indians. The song's original title was "He Pone and Chocolate Tea", pone being a type of corn bread. It was never recorded in this form. Some time later Walter Schumann, at the time conducting Schumann's Hollywood Choir, asked Hairston to write a new Christmas song for his choir. Hairston remembered the calypso rhythm from his old song and wrote new lyrics for it.

Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) - Harry Belafonte
Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) is a traditional Jamaican folk song, commonly classified as an example of the better known calypso music. The best-known version was released by American singer Harry Belafonte in 1956 and later became one of his signature songs.

The song originated as a Jamaican folk song. It was thought to be sung by Jamaican banana workers, with a repeated melody and refrain (call and response); to each set lyric, the workers made a response. There were numerous versions of lyrics, some likely improvised on the spot by the singers. The song was probably created around the second half of the nineteenth century or the first half of the twentieth century, where there was a rise of the banana trade in Jamaica.

Ooby Dooby - Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison (1936-1988) was an American singer, songwriter, and musician known for his impassioned singing style, complex song structures, and dark, emotional ballads. Many critics described his music as operatic, nicknaming him "the Caruso of Rock" and "the Big O".

Orbison began singing in a rockabilly and country-and-western band in high school, and planned to study geology so that he could secure work in the Texas oil fields if music did not pay. He then heard that his schoolmate Pat Boone had signed a record deal, and it further strengthened his resolve to become a professional musician. He heard a song called "Ooby Dooby" while in college, composed by Dick Penner and Wade Moore, and he began performing it as lead singer with The Teen Kings.

After hearing Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash performing, he approached Sam Phillips of Sun Records who recorded Ooby Dooby and was a hit. The band ultimately split over disputed writing credits and royalties, but Orbison stayed in Memphis, recording as a solo artist with Phillips. Orbison enjoyed his greatest success with Monument Records, having moved on from rockabilly and was now focused on writing and recording romantic ballads. From 1960 to 1966 he had 22 hit singles with that label.

Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom) - Perry Como
Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom) is an American popular song written by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning. Published in 1956, it was recorded by Perry Como. His recording was done at Webster Hall in New York City. The conductor was Mitchell Ayres and the producer was Joe Carlton. The back-up vocals were provided by the Ray Charles Singers. Como's first recording was with the Weems band was a novelty tune called "You Can't Pull the Wool Over My Eyes", recorded for the Decca Records label in May 1936 when he was 24.

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