Rock and roll as a music genre was in its infancy in the 1950s, leading to a generation becoming acquainted with the sounds of electric guitars and fast beats.
Many of these bands became music royalty. These 50s rock bands changed the course of music history forever.
Bill Haley & His Comets
Among the first successful rock bands of the 1950s, Bill Haley & His Comets created a rock and roll classic with “Rock Around the Clock.” “Rock” has that quintessential 50s rock sound. The song was a number one hit despite being on the B-side of one of their albums. Still, it's easy to see why these guys are considered one of the best rock bands of the 50s.
Bill Haley and His Comets had staying power over the years, too, only disbanding with Haley's death in 1981 after almost 30 years together. Fun fact: a young man named Elvis Presley once served as an opening act to the band. We wonder how his career turned out . . .
The Clovers were a vocal group started in 1946 in Washington DC, consisting of:
- Harold Lucas
- Billy Shelton
- Thomas Woods
- John “Buddy” Bailey
However, several changes in the band's lineup occurred over the years. Still, the group saw massive hits in the 1950s and became one of the most successful bands of the decade.
In 1952, the group managed to score seven charted singles with songs like “One Mint Julep,” “Middle of the Night,” “Ting-A-Ling,” and “Hey, Miss Fannie.” But their biggest hit wouldn't come until “Love Potion No. 9” in 1960. The group had staying power throughout the years despite lineup changes.
Buddy Holly & The Crickets
Buddy Holly is a name synonymous with dying too young. Considering where his career with his band The Crickets was heading, you cannot argue this is incorrect. Holly formed his band with Niki Sullivan, Jerry Allison, and Joe B. Mauldin in 1957.
Seven months later, the band had a hit on their hands with the release of “That'll Be The Day,” which peaked at number three on the Billboard charts.
While the band did splinter while Holly worked on his solo career, they planned on getting back together until disaster struck. Holly died in a plane crash that killed fellow artist Ritchie Valens in 1959 in an event known as the “Day the Music Died.” The Crickets reformed, but the Holly-sized hole in the band was apparent.
Formed in 1952, The Platters began a vocal group that still manages to perform to this day. The group was formed by Herb Reed, Alex Hodge, Cornell Gunter, and Joe Jefferson. Like many of the era's vocal groups, lineup changes meant a constantly reformed roster of talent.
Still, this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group scored 40 hit singles in the 50s and the 60s, such as “Only You,” “The Great Pretender,” and “(You've Got) The Magic Touch.”
These days, the band continues to play, but with four members not in the original lineup. They live by the band's tagline: “Many Voices One Name.”
The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers, consisting of Don and Phil Everly, began writing and recording music as a duo in 1956, and success soon followed. The pair scored a hit with “Bye, Bye Love” in 1957. Their hit songs continued in the years that followed. “Wake Up Little Susie,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” and “Problems” became radio mainstays.
The pair did split briefly to join the United States Marine Corps Reserves, but continued to produce, write, and record music. Their popularity declined, but the brothers still appeared all over the U.S. until Phil died in 2014.
Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
Hank Ballard * The Midnighters are one of the most influential bands on this list, helping kickstart and maintain rock and roll as a genre in the 1950s.
The group began with Ballard joining a group previously known as the Royals. The band soon changed its name to The Midnighters and scored a string of risque hits like “Get It” that got banned from radio play by the Federal Communications Commission.
That issue never went away with the band, even after several other hits like “Work with Me, Annie” and “Annie's Aunt Fannie.”
But there was one song from The Midnighters that became a monster success for another artist. Ballard wrote a little dance song called “The Twist” that was covered a year later in 1960 by Chubby Checker.
Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps
Gene Vincent might not be as well-known today, but he's considered both rock and roll and rockabilly royalty. Vincent helped to create that rockabilly sound that directly influenced artists like Elvis Presley. This influence cements his status as one of the best artists of the era.
Vincent's 1956 hit “Be-Bob-A-Lula” launched his band into the starlight. However, the iconic song “Be-Bop-A-Lula” ended up being the band's biggest hit, with subsequent releases never reaching the heights of this rockabilly classic.
Sir John's Trio, A Popular Rock Band Of The 50s
Johnnie Johnson is known as the “baddest right hand in the land” to many, and his career received new light in the decades since he burst onto the rock scene. Johnson's band “Sir John's Trio” may not have too many accolades, but one member, in particular, helped change rock music forever.
Guitarist Chuck Berry joined the Trio in 1952 and quickly became the group's frontman. Berry would soon become a pioneer in rock and roll, but his work in Sir John's Trio led to such hits as “Maybelline” and “Sunday Blues.” Remember, it's not where you end in life – it's all about where you came from.
Little Richard and The Upsetters
Little Richard didn't always see success as a solo artist. The pioneering rock legend joined up with Wilburt “Lee Diamond” Smith, Nathaniel “Buster” Douglas, Charles “Chuck” Connor, and Olsie “Bassy” Robinson to form The Upsetters as a road band.
The band toured on and off from 1953 to the 1960s until Richard decided to pursue gospel music. Still, the group receives credit for at least one hit with Richard: “Keep A-Knockin'.” Funk legend James Brown gave the band its due, too, saying they were the ones who helped put the funk in rock and roll.
Johnny Burnette and the Rock ‘N Roll Trio
Three Memphis, Tennessee natives got together and formed a rockabilly group that helped put the genre on the map. Active for only six years as a band, Johnny Burnette, Dorsey Burnette, and Paul Burlison still managed to create a classic self-titled album.
In particular, their version of “Train Kept A'Rollin” is considered a rockabilly classic. Their unique sound and sheer talent earn them a spot as one of the best 50s rock bands.
Billy Ward and His Dominoes
Another hit vocal group, Billy Ward and His Dominoes have the honor of having what many consider to be the “first rock and roll record” with the release of “Sixty Minute Man.” The album includes the titular song about one man's ability to keep his woman exceptionally . . . happy. You can fill in the blanks!
Billy Ward and his band scored other hits during the decade, such as “Have Mercy Baby,” “The Bells,” and “Star Dust.”
Without Billy Ward and His Dominoes, there would be no Drifters. The Drifters were formed for Clyde McPhatter, a former member of the Billy Ward band. These members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dealt with several tumultuous years but still managed several successful songs during the decade.
The 1950s version of The Drifters gave the world “Money Honey,” “Honey Love,” “Adorable,” and “There Goes My Baby – all of which were number one hits on the R&B charts at the time.
The “5” Royales
This R&B group and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members had a string of hits throughout the 1950s. The group scored seven straight charting single hits from 1952 to 1954.
Despite a change from Apollo Records to King Records, the group scored several more hits until the decade's end. The group's versions of “Think” and “Dedicated to the One I Love” are still considered classics.
Their soulful tunes are filled with elements from multiple genres, including doo wop and blues.
Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers
Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers are considered one of the earliest rock and roll success stories thanks to the hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” The first youth rock and roll group also hit big with “I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent” and “The ABCs of Love.”
However, success was dangerous for Lymon, who developed a heroin addiction at age 15 and died at 25 because of the drug. The Teenagers continued to perform without Lymon and received induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
In 1987, this group became the first vocal group to get inducted into the famous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the legacy of The Coasters was worth their entry. The name derives from how they traveled from the west coast to the east coast.
The biggest hit for the band, “Yakety Yak,” is still considered one of the most electric rock and roll songs and doo-wop hits ever recorded. Their upbeat sounds and beautiful instrumental melodies cement them as one of the best 50s rock bands.
Top 50s Rock Bands, Final Thoughts
The 1950s saw the rise of rock and roll. While many rock legends were solo artists, many would not be who they are without backup musicians.
With so many artists of influence coming from this decade, rock was set up with a firm foundation that has lasted for 70 years. Let us know if we missed any of your favorite 50s rock bands!