Do you remember the top 1950s party songs? Legend says that the term rock-and-roll came to us from a Cleveland disc jockey named Alan Freed. He was referring to a 1951 hit called “My Baby Rocks Me with a Steady Roll.”
The song was a reworking of a 1922 blues number with a very similar title, and the term actually referred to doing the horizontal bop.
In the late Forties, people were dancing to songs like “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Wynonie Harris and “We’re Gonna Rock, We’re Gonna Roll” by Bill Moore. Singers from both blues and country backgrounds were experimenting with the new rock sound. Then the Fifites came.
In the early Fifties, Bill Haley’s backup group was called The Saddlemen, and their top hit was “Rock This Joint.” Big Mama Thornton put out “Hound Dog” long before a doe-eyed gospel singer got hold of it. Lloyd Price belted out “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”
Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” was popular on blues charts in 1956, and actually ranked higher than Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” on the pop charts. Then Elvis redid it and it climbed up charts across the country.
Teenagers today don’t truly comprehend the impact Elvis had, but we went crazy over “That’s All Right,” sung with Scotty and Bill in 1954. He cemented his title as the King of rock and roll with his remake of “Hound Dog,” his third hit of 1956, which also earned him his nickname, “Elvis the Pelvis.”
Dancing in the Fifties
Elvis wasn’t the only one moving it. Everyone in the States watched American Bandstand! It began as a local show in Philadelphia in 1952, but in 1956 it was televised each Saturday nationwide. In the Fifties, people Bopped, and people did the Swing.
Bop dance was pretty much the same as Jive or Swing, but with more tapping and without touching your partner. Swing is still popular today as a retro dance. The Cha-Cha exploded onto nightclub floors in the Fifties. And at any large gathering where the boys didn’t want to dance, girls did the Stroll—they formed in lines and advanced their lines using step patterns.
50s Party Playlist Ideas
You bet your party will be jumping if you put together a list of the top 1950s party songs!
Besides the ones mentioned already, you can’t forget these favorites…
• Bill Haley and His Comets gave us both “Rock Around the Clock” in 1955 and “Shake Rattle & Roll” in 1954.
• Chuck Berry hit the charts with “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “School Days” in the Fifties. He remained a force for decades.
• Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife,” “Splish Splash,” and also “Dream Lover”
• Mickey & Sylvia: “Love Is Strange”
• Tennessee Ernie Ford: “Sixteen Tons”
• Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)”
• Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers: “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?”
• Frankie Avalon: “Venus”
• The Chords: “Sh-Boom”
• The Coasters: “Yakety-Yak”
• Ray Charles: “What’d I Say”
• Fats Domino: “Ain’t That A Shame” and “Blueberry Hill”
• Little Richard: “Long Tall Sally”
• Jerry Lee Lewis: “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire”
• Buddy Holly: “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue” and “Oh Boy!”
• Ritchie Valens: “Donna” and “LaBamba”
• Jiles Richardson, aka The Big Bopper: “Chantilly Lace”
Holly, Valens, and Richardson died together in a plane crash in the middle of a tour. They chartered a plane because their tour bus broke down. Another singer wanted to go but there wasn’t room; there was a coin toss and he lost. This tragedy is the subject of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” referring to “the day the music died.”
You also need some slow, romantic tunes on your list of top 1950s party songs! How about:
• The Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night,”
• Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All In the Game,”
• Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe,”
• The Platters’ “The Great Pretender,”
• “Three Coins in the Fountain” done by The Four Aces as well as Frank Sinatra,
• Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy,”
• Jerry Butler’s “For Your Precious Love.”
Wikipedia about the 1950s has some great song references.
Music for a New Generation
I was a kid in the fifties, and I remember that music! The top 1950s party songs celebrated a new way of life in this country. I was too young to realize that America had just emerged from over twenty years of poverty and drama. The Depression of the Thirties followed by World War II in the Forties gave way to new growth and optimism all across the country.
People embraced the new expressionism of singers because it validated their own sense of freedom.
Looking back and knowing it was followed by the turbulence of the Sixties, it’s easy to appreciate that it was a time for vibrant but innocent music, and lots of it!
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