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Top 40 Hits of 1955 - 1959

Top 40

Some were #1 hits and others should have been. Still more became the roots of pop music, stretching for many decades into the future. This was the start of the rock 'n' roll era, with AM radio blasting out the "top 40" hits of the day. Elvis Presley was the undisputed king of these years with 32 songs charted, including 12 of them at #1.

This was also the time when the first Baby Boomers were becoming aware of pop music. They and their older siblings demanded a new style: ROCK AND ROLL!!!. See our honorable mention section for the songs their parents were choosing, which were the last, fading remnants of the big band era.

Shown below are representative samples of the music of Elvis and the many others who helped define rock 'n' roll. In association with Amazon.com, there are links to CD's of the original recordings (where available) or of those included in "greatest hits" collections. Also shown are two jukeboxes of MP3 clips -- one for #1 - 20 and one for #21 - 40 -- where you can buy the MP3's, too. Enjoy!

No. Title & Peak Popularity Artist or Group CD   Video
1. Rock Around The Clock -- 1955 Bill Haley & His Comets Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
The first rock 'n' roll tune to hit #1, this was the one that started it all for mainstream America. It was recorded in 1954, but did not become popular until heard in the movie "Blackboard Jungle" in the Spring of 1955.
2. Don't Be Cruel / Hound Dog -- 1956 Elvis Presley Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
#1 for an amazing 11 weeks, this record included both songs which Elvis performed on Ed Sullivan's TV show. He became the first national rock 'n' roll star, even though his hip-swinging sexuality offended many (especially older) viewers.
3. That'll Be The Day -- 1957 Buddy Holly & The Crickets Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
This rockabilly pioneer recorded music for less than 3 years before his death in an airplane crash at age 21. However, he influenced the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and many others. Paul McCartney bought the rights to most of Holly's music.
4. Johnny B. Goode -- 1958 Chuck Berry Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Blending blues and country with a rock beat, Berry showed a generation of rockers how it was done. His guitar work provided the foundation for groups like the Beatles and Stones, while his trademark duck walk made him a concert favorite.
5. Great Balls Of Fire -- 1958 Jerry Lee Lewis Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
With a great deal more talent than good sense, "the Killer" often let his personal life interfere with his success. As advertised, though, his "pulsating piano" truly was incredible!
6. Heartbreak Hotel -- 1956 Elvis Presley Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
With his first #1 hit, Elvis showed that even ballads sounded new and different in the rock era. RCA shelled out big bucks to buy his contract from Sun, but it paid off well with this 1956 song of the year, his first release for them.
7. Good Golly Miss Molly -- 1958 Little Richard Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
With his frenetic pace and wild falsetto, Little Richard [Penniman] blazed a flaming trail for others to follow in the early days of rock 'n' roll. This was his last big hit before he quit to become a minister.
8. Blueberry Hill -- 1956 Fats Domino Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
This New Orleans R & B star made a successful transition to rock, eventually selling over 65 million records, only outpaced by Elvis among the rock pioneers of the fifties. This, his most popular tune, peaked at #2.
9. All Shook Up -- 1957 Elvis Presley Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Elvis again earned song of the year honors in 1957 with this tune, which was his 4th hit to spend more than 20 weeks on the charts. He is the only artist who ever had the top single for 2 years in a row.
10. At The Hop -- 1958 Danny & The Juniors Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
These Philadelphia teens earned the first #1 single of 1958, thanks in part to a guest spot on the new nationally televised "American Bandstand". Street corner doo wop swept the nation in this classic hit.
11. Sweet Little Sixteen -- 1958 Chuck Berry Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
This seminal number became Berry's most successful rock hit at #2 on the pop chart and #1 in R & B. It later was converted by Brian Wilson into the Beach Boys' first major success, "Surfin' U.S.A."
12. Charlie Brown -- 1959 The Coasters Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Originally from L.A. (therefore "coasters"), their combination of comedy and doo wop made them one of the most popular groups of the era. Their line "why's everybody always pickin' on me?" is still a common teen lament today.
13. Jailhouse Rock -- 1957 Elvis Presley Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Title song of the movie of the same name, Elvis performed it in one of the most memorable scenes from any of his films. But he could not "stick around a while and get [his] kicks" since he was drafted into the Army soon after.
14. See You Later, Alligator -- 1956 Bill Haley & His Comets Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Haley's other well-remembered hit shared the energy and style of our #1, although it was not as successful commercially. He had no other top 10 hits after this, but remained a major concert act in Europe and Mexico for many years.
15. Wake Up Little Susie -- 1957 The Everly Brothers Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
The first #1 for this country duo, it showcased the harmonies that were later adopted by groups such as Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, and the Mamas and the Papas. So do you remember the drive-in movies?
16. Peggy Sue -- 1957 Buddy Holly Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
A prolific songwriter, Holly wrote a lot of material and recorded it all in a short period of time. He also popularized the 2 guitar - bass - drums lineup that became standard for young rockers everywhere.
17. 16 Candles -- 1959 The Crests Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
In their only top 10 hit, Johnny Maestro and the Crests delivered a sweet East Coast sound that could have been a prototype for all of the "guy groups" of the sixties. Maestro returned to the charts with the group Brooklyn Bridge 10 years later.
18. Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On -- 1957 Jerry Lee Lewis Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
With his first big hit, Lewis rose to the top of the pop, country, and R & B charts all at the same time. This and #5 were huge, but his success was short-lived, after he married his 13-year-old cousin. He became a country star 10 years later.
19. Stagger Lee -- 1959 Lloyd Price Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Like his idol Fats Domino, Price was another New Orleans R & B star who made it big in rock 'n' roll. After this #1 hit, he switched to more of a manistream sound in songs like "Personality."
20. Maybellene -- 1955 Chuck Berry Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
This St. Louis hairdresser struck it big with his first record. Originally called "Ida Red," the name was changed to that of a cow in a children's book, "Maybellene." This was the first of 5 Berry hits to make the top 10 in the mid-fifties.
21. Tutti Frutti -- 1956 Little Richard Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
His first pop hit only rose to #17, but Little Richard's wild style and his piano banging soon made him a star. This song set the tone for much of his later work and eventually sold over 3 million copies. A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop a-lop bam boom!
22. Bye Bye Love --- 1957 The Everly Brothers Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Unsuccessful as a straight country act, Don and Phil combined their close harmonies with more of a rock beat for this, their first big hit. It led to a string of 15 top 10 hits over the next 10 years.
23. Be-Bop-A-Lula -- 1956 Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Billed as a tougher, darker version of Elvis, Vincent made this rockabilly tune a classic. It was his only top 10 hit, but it eventually sold 9 million copies, which is more than many other artists' lifetime totals.
24. Blue Suede Shoes -- 1956 Carl Perkins Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Perkins took his song to the top of the charts, but Elvis later sold more copies of it. This was his only top 10 hit, but he later wrote many hit country songs and the Beatles recorded a number of his tunes, thanks to Perkins fan George Harrison.
25. Yakety Yak -- 1958 The Coasters Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
With their first #1 hit, the Coasters established themselves as America's class clowns. As with #12, teens could easily identify with the lyrics and with the situations they portrayed: "Don't talk back!"
26. Love Me Tender -- 1956 Elvis Presley Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Title song of the first of Elvis' 34 films, it succeeded "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog" at #1. This was the first time an artist had followed himself in that spot. Based on the Civil War ballad "Aura Lee," it fit the movie perfectly.
27. Splish Splash -- 1958 Bobby Darin Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
After 7 failed singles, Darin came up a winner with this one. His biggest hit was the jazzy "Mack The Knife," but this was the one that established him as a star with the teen record buyers. He later charted 7 other top 10 hits.
28. Bo Diddley -- 1955 Bo Diddley Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Blues and R & B legend Bo Diddley was never a major top 40 player, but his trademark bum, ba-bum-bum, bum-bum rhythm became a rock 'n' roll tradition. In particular, the Rolling Stones borrowed heavily from his stylings.
29. Ain't That A Shame -- 1955 Fats Domino Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
An R & B star in the early fifties, Domino moved to rock with this number in 1955. Pat Boone's white-bread version made it to #1, but the original by Fats was by far the better rendition.
30. Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay -- 1958 Danny And The Juniors Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
This song was written in response to attacks on rock music, especially the campaign to smash rock records by KWK, St. Louis. Not a great hit at the time, rising only to #19, it has had a lot of airtime over the years because people agree with its title.
31. Summertime Blues -- 1958 Eddie Cochran Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
This young rocker died in an auto accident at age 21, while touring in England. His only top 10 hit is well remembered, though, as a teen view of summer. Gene Vincent (#23) survived that accident, but also never regained the top 10.
32. (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear -- 1957 Elvis Presley Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
Fans sent Elvis thousands of teddy bears, in the belief that he liked them. This song, his 8th #1 hit in 15 months, was the initial response. He later donated the bears to charity at Christmas time.
33. The Great Pretender -- 1956 The Platters Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
As the first black singers to have a #1 hit on the pop chart, the Platters scored 4 top 10 hits in less than a year, including "Only You" and "My Prayer." Later, in 1958, they were one of the first groups ever to appear in a music video.
34. Little Darlin' -- 1957 The Diamonds Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
The Diamonds covered R & B tunes and made them into pop hits. This one, their biggest hit, was followed the next year by "The Stroll." If you ever watched "American Bandstand" during that era, you certainly heard that one!
35. Willie And The Hand Jive -- 1958 The Johnny Otis Show Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
A Greek-American band leader, talent scout, and DJ, Johnny Otis discovered many R & B stars and led a popular touring revue for many years. This Bo Diddley-style number was his biggest pop hit.
36. Get A Job -- 1958 The Silhouettes Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
This Philadelphia gospel group switched to rock with a bang. When their first single was featured on "American Bandstand", it became one of the few doo wop songs to make it to #1. Oldies group Sha Na Na was named for a line in the song.
37. Kansas City -- 1959 Wilbert Harrison Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
As with #36, Harrison also made it to #1 with his only top 10 hit. This was one of the first songs written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, back in 1952. They also have 4 others in our top 40: #2 and 13 by Elvis; and #12 and 25 by the Coasters.
38. La Bamba -- 1959 Ritchie Valens Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
The first Hispanic rock star, Valens made it big with this song and its flip side, "Donna". He died at age 17 in the airplane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. Don McLean called this "the day the music died" in "American Pie".
39. What'd I Say (Part 1) -- 1959 Ray Charles Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
With his first million seller, the "Genius" combined blues and gospel with a contagious rhythm and his own unique singing style. An outststanding performer, even though blind, he later became known as one of the key pioneers of soul music.
40. Why Do Fools Fall In Love? -- 1956 Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers Click to buy at Amazon.com youtube
13-year-old Frankie Lymon brought a beautiful soprano voice from Harlem to the world in 1956. His style influenced many of the new Motown acts in the early sixties, along with the young lead singer of the Jackson 5, almost 10 years later.
COLLECTIONS
"Billboard" Hits
Billboard Top Rock 'n' Roll Hits: 1955
Billboard Top Rock 'n' Roll Hits: 1956
Billboard Top Rock 'n' Roll Hits: 1957
Billboard Top Rock 'n' Roll Hits: 1958
Billboard Top Rock 'n' Roll Hits: 1959
Billboard Pop Memories: 1955-1959
Billboard Top Movie Hits: 1955-1959
Box Sets
Loud, Fast & Out Of Control -- 4 CD's
This marvelous set contains more than half of our top 40, along with some tunes popular before 1955, like the classic "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" by Joe Turner & His Blues Kings (1954).
Doo Wop Box -- 4 CD's
As above, this set also contains songs popular before 1955, such as the beautiful "Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite" by the Spaniels (1954).
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