33 Best 50s Rock Songs

Best 50s Rock Songs

The 50s was a time of significant cultural change in terms of civil rights, social norms, and music. Rock and roll became popular with people who were looking for something new. The rebellious feel of this music seemed different from what they’d previously heard on the radio. This list of the best 50s rock songs bridges the gap from older music to what’s out today.

“The Tennessee Waltz” By Patti Page

Song Year: 1950

The title might make you wonder how this sound qualifies as rock and roll. It’s not a traditional waltz, but the lyrics refer to a friend waltzing away with your sweetheart after they’re introduced to each other. Another artist previously released it as a country single in 1948, inspiring Page to reimagine the song her own way to make it one of the first rock songs of the 1950s.

“Blue Suede Shoes” By Carl Perkins

Song Year: 1955

Most people know Elvis Presley’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes,” but Carl Perkins wrote the song. He also recorded it first at Sun Studios, a year before Elvis released his version.

Johnny Cash gave Perkins the idea of writing about blue suede shoes, which referred to military airmen’s shoes. Perkins didn’t know how to make shoes interesting, but after so many artists recorded this song and made it a hit, he clearly did something right. It’s one of the catchiest, most recognizable rock songs of the 1950s.

“Hound Dog” By Elvis Presley

Song Year: 1956

You can’t have a list of rock songs without mentioning Elvis Presley. While he wasn’t the first musician to record a rock and roll track, he made the genre popular. Elvis also wasn’t the first artist to record “Hound Dog.” It was a blues song recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952.

Elvis heard Freddie Bell and the Bellboys perform it in Las Vegas and knew he wanted to release his own version. He started performing it live with a slower tempo but sped it up in the studio to give it a signature rock and roll feel.

“Rock Around the Clock” By Bill Haley and His Comets

Song Year: 1954

The repetitive lyrics documenting the passing hours make this song easy to learn. The band recorded it as a B-side to a single, using only 30 minutes of studio time to perform it. The single didn’t even chart, but the B-side took the world by storm. It brought rock and roll into the public eye and joined the National Recording Registry in 2018.

“Please, Please, Please” By James Brown and the Famous Flames

Song Year: 1958

James Brown’s single reached number six on the R&B charts, but it’s more important as a rock song. Ike and Tina Turner recorded their own rock-influenced version, followed by The Who in the 1960s. The lyrics are relatable, with the singer pleading with his love to stay with him, professing his love even though she broke his heart by leaving him once before.

“Tutti Frutti” By Little Richard

Song Year: 1955

This single is Little Richard’s first hit. The nonsensical lyrics make it fun to sing along, and you can’t resist moving to the music. “Tutti Frutti” exemplified the hallmark of rock and roll songs with a loud volume, pounding beat, and impressive vocals. The Beatles and Elvis Presley went on to record their own versions of this song.

“Earth Angel” By The Penguins

Song Year: 1954

As with many monumental rock songs, you most likely know this song as performed by another group. Countless white artists have covered it, including a fictional band in the movie “Back to the Future.” However, the original band is a Black doo-wop group, and their version is the one added to the National Recording Registry.

“I Put a Spell on You” By Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Song Year: 1956

This song is one that shaped rock and roll because of how it bridged the gap between blues and rock. Jay Hawkins was known for blues tracks, but he changed his voice to a scream for this single. It was a surprise hit that inspired the artist to take on a wild stage persona. Several rock artists have covered this song over the years.

“Only You” By The Platters

Song Year: 1955

The Platters recorded “Only You” in 1954 but never released the track. They recorded it again in 1955, struggling to get the song just right. They finally chose a version where the singer’s voice broke in the chorus, and the song blew up the charts. The band re-recorded a longer version in 1966, which also broke Billboard records.

“Money Honey” By The Drifters

Song Year: 1956

Like many rock songs of the 50s, this track started out on the R&B chart before rock acts adopted it as their own. Major names in rock and roll went on to record covers of this song, including Elvis Presley, The Coasters, and 38 Special. The lyrics address a man down on his luck, asking his lover for rent money before she leaves him for a richer man.

“Who Do You Love” By Bo Diddley

Song Year: 1956

Bo Diddley’s most popular song uses elements of hoodoo and spooky visuals to give the listener a feeling of suspense. The song itself has an upbeat rhythm with a shuffle beat. Modern rock guitarists often cite the guitar work on the track as revolutionary.

“Peggy Sue” By Buddy Holly

Song Year: 1957

Buddy Holly wrote the song for his niece, Cindy Lou, but changed the title for his drummer’s wife. Listeners loved the song, sending it to number three on the Billboard charts. Music critics often claim this is one of the songs that shaped the future of rock and roll, and countless musicians recorded covers over the years.

“Great Balls of Fire” By Jerry Lee Lewis

Song Year: 1956

Jerry Lee Lewis was a rock and roll musician who recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis, along with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and other notable names. The single sold one million copies in its first week, making it one of the best-selling songs of the time.

“Tequila” By The Champs

Song Year: 1957

The song isn’t deep, with the title also functioning as the lyrics, but it’s a catchy song. It’s commonly categorized as a surf instrumental, paving the way for rock acts like the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.

“La Bamba” By Ritchie Valens

Song Year: 1958

“La Bamba” is a Mexican folk song that Ritchie Valens recorded with a rock spin. It was the B-side of the single “Donna” but got just as much airplay as that hit. Critics call it one of the most influential songs for rock and roll, earning it many honors.

“Wake Up Little Susie” By The Everly Brothers

“Wake Up Little Susie” By The Everly Brothers

Song Year: 1957

This song hit number one on the Billboard charts, despite many radio stations banning it for inappropriate content. The lyrics suggest that the singer and his girlfriend slept together—literally—but have ruined their reputations because everyone will think the worst.

“Dream Lover” By Bobby Darin

Song Year: 1959

You wouldn’t think that songs about sleeping would be so popular, but in 1959, Bobby Darin proved everyone wrong. His single about having a lover dream right alongside him became a hit. It’s a catchy song with a sweet meaning that’ll make you appreciate your partner even when they hog the covers.

“Johnny B. Goode” By Chuck Berry

Song Year: 1958

“Johnny B. Goode” was an instant hit, reaching number two on the R&B charts and number eight on the Hot 100. It’s known as the first rock song about a rock star. This track has a signature guitar riff that many current rock guitarists cite as an inspiration.

“Yakety Yak” By The Coasters

Song Year: 1958

This catchy rock song is a crossover hit, reaching number one on both the R&B charts and the Top 100. Teenagers loved how the Coasters captured the frustration they felt with their everyday lives, including this song about doing chores.

“Shout” By The Isley Brothers

Song Year: 1959

The Isley Brothers used to end their live shows by yelling a call and response to the audience, making them yell, “Shout!” Their producers loved the energy from this part of the concert and asked them to extend it into a song. It was the band’s first Billboard hit.

“I Got a Woman” By Ray Charles

Song Year: 1957

Ray Charles released many songs in the 1950s that hit big on the R&B and rock and roll charts. This track is one of the most popular, inspiring artists like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Ricky Nelson to cover it. You can also hear samples of the song in Kayne West’s hit “Gold Digger.”

“Maybe” By The Chantels

Song Year: 1958

“Maybe” is often credited as the beginning of the girl group sound that took the 1960s by storm. Members of the Chantels wrote the song with producers, though they didn’t receive credit until decades later. Female musicians have covered this song over the years, including Janis Joplin, the Shangri-Las, and Miley Cyrus.

“Summertime Blues” By Eddie Cochran

Song Year: 1958

Like many songs on this list, “Summertime Blues” was a B-side that grew more popular than the single. Artists such as The Beach Boys, T. Rex, and the Who covered the song. Alan Jackson covered it as a country music crossover.

“Let’s Have a Party” By Wanda Jackson

Song Year: 1958

Elvis Presley recorded this song for a movie soundtrack in 1957, but a year later, Wanda Jackson gave it a unique spin with her stunning voice. The lyrics are silly but catchy, with the singer saying that everyone can get along at the party by dancing to the rock and roll music.

“Shake, Rattle and Roll” By Big Joe Turner

Song Year: 1954

Big Joe Turner was a blues singer when producer Ahmet Ertegun brought him this upbeat rock song. Despite his blues background, Turner’s single hit number one on the R&B charts and number 22 on the Top 100. Bill Haley and His Comets recorded a cover the same year, performing better than the original.

“Why Do Fools Fall In Love” By Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

Song Year: 1956

This song hit number six on the Top 100 but soared to number one on the R&B charts and in the UK. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers released the first recording, but it was a hit cover for other artists, including Diana Ross and the Beach Boys.

“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” By Lloyd Price

Song Year: 1952

Lloyd Price grew up in New Orleans and added a bit of jazz to his hit “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” He worked for a local radio station while in high school, developing the titular phrase to sell ads on the air. Listeners loved the phrase so much that he wrote a song using it.

“I Only Have Eyes For You” By The Flamingos

Song Year: 1959

This romantic song appeared in the 1934 movie “Dames” and became a hit when The Flamingos re-recorded it 25 years later. While it’s technically a doo-wop song, it charted on both the R&B and pop charts. Countless rock and roll bands went on to cover the hit.

“The Rock and Roll Waltz” By Kay Starr

Song Year: 1955

This song is technically a novelty track, but it has a strong bass line and rock and roll guitar riffs that made it an instant hit. The lyrics jokingly document a teenager coming home and finding her parents trying to dance to her records. Instead of letting their bodies feel the rock and roll rhythm, they do a traditional waltz.

“Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” By Huey “Piano” Smith

Song Year: 1957

This song takes a humorous angle on how to talk to women in clubs. The singer sees a woman he really wants to talk to, but his musical disease prevents him from having the ability. Johnny Rivers, Grateful Dead, Deep Purple, and Aerosmith have all recorded versions of this hit.

“You Send Me” By Sam Cooke

Song Year: 1957

Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” was his first single that wasn’t a gospel song. It was actually the B-side to a song called “Summertime,” but radio DJs overlooked the single and started playing “You Send Me” instead. The song charted on both the R&B and pop charts.

“Walkin’ After Midnight” By Patsy Cline

Song Year: 1957

Patsy Cline was a country music star, but it crossed over to the pop charts and influenced a lot of female rock musicians over the years. Cline originally rejected the song and only agreed to record it because her label let her record another song she felt passionately about.

“I Walk the Line” By Johnny Cash

Song Year: 1956

This song was Johnny Cash’s first number one hit, staying on the charts for 43 weeks. Cash wrote the song just a short time after he married his wife and penned the lyrics as a sign of devotion to her. He wanted it to be a ballad, but Sam Phillips, his producer at Sun Studios, wanted to increase the pace to make it a rock song.

Top 50s Rock Songs, Final Thoughts

You’ve heard some of the best 50s rock songs and now understand how these artists made such a big impact on music culture. You can hear elements of doo-wop, blues, and country in the rock songs of the 50s as the artists used the familiar to create something new. Now when you listen to modern rock, you’ll most likely hear the influence of historical musicians from this list.

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