If you want to hear all 150 songs, click on this link. You’ll need a Spotify account. But they’re free.
About a year or so ago I sat down and started listening to some ’50’s and ’60’s songs on YouTube. I’m a big fan of doo-wop and so initially focused on that. But little by little I started adding in some equally loved early rock ‘n roll, “girl groups,” and various and sundry items.
YouTube turned out to be a veritable treasure trove. I listened not only to songs I knew well but hadn’t heard in years but also great stuff I forgot about. This was such a rush and so much fun that I couldn’t get enough. To some extent, yes, this was a nostalgia thing. But as it happens, my millennial daughter loves this stuff just about as much as I do. Great music has NO expiration date.
And eventually, between that and a handful of tunes I heard on satellite radio, I came up with what I call The Indispensable 150, early rock and pop songs you just gotta have. (Well, I gotta have). The great majority of these songs are from 1952 – 1964, or mostly pre-British Invasion. (The Beatles arrived in the US in February of 1964. And while, yes, I do have a few post-Fab Four 1964 songs, to these ears they sound mostly influenced by the earlier era.)
Sure this list could be a lot longer especially if you include all the Elvis, Chuck Berry, Everly Brothers, Sam Cooke, etc. But I had to draw the line somewhere. Your ‘Indispensable 150’ will likely vary. But I maintain that there’s at least 125 in these next few posts that’ll be the core of any great early rock ‘n roll list. Throw out a few of mine and add your own if you want.
So if you want to throw a bitchin’ retro Fifties sock hop party – boom! And if these aren’t your cup of tea, then make up a Spotify playlist for your parents. Trust me. They’ll dig it. And BTW, you might, too. I consider this some of the greatest music ever made. (In chronological order) :
1952 – 1954
- Lawdy Miss Clawdy (1952). Lloyd Price – One of the very first identifiable rock n’ roll songs. (As I mentioned in my post about Sam Phillips, some think the first one was “Rocket 88.”)
- Earth Angel (1954). The Penguins. Produced by Dootsie Williams. Is that a great name or what?
- Sh-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream). (1954). The Chords – This tune really swings. Love the sax solo.
- Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite. (1954). The Spaniels.
- Bo Diddley. Bo Diddley. Who names a song after themselves? From here on in, any song using this rhythm was referred to as having the Bo Diddley beat.
- Maybellene. Chuck Berry. “Rock and roll guitar,” said Rolling Stone, “starts here.”
- The Great Pretender. The Platters.
- Ain’t That a Shame. Fats Domino.
- Rock Around the Clock. Bill Haley and the Comets. After skiffle, this song and “Heartbreak Hotel” jump-started the British rockers. To this day, a killer tough-to-play guitar solo. Honorable mention on my Top Ten solos.
- Sincerely. The Moonglows. A shot of doo-wop.
- Mystery Train. Elvis Presley. I don’t believe I heard this song till Ry Cooder covered it.
- Speedo. The Cadillacs. Paul Simon references this in his 1973 song, “Was a Sunny Day.”
- Heartbreak Hotel. Elvis Presley. “No Elvis,” said John Lennon, “no Beatles.”
- Blueberry Hill. Fats Domino. Originally recorded in the Forties by the likes of Gene Krupa and Glenn Miller, the only one anybody remembers is Fats’. That said, you really should check out the Led Zep version.
- Roll Over Beethoven. Chuck Berry.
- Blue Suede Shoes. Carl Perkins. Perkins was playing at a club and heard a dancer say, “Don’t step on my suedes.” He noticed they were blue and thought, “Good gracious, a pretty little thing like that and all he can think about is his blue suede shoes.”
- I Want You To Be Girl. Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers. Frankie Lymon was the Michael Jackson of his day. He’s about 14 years old here.
- Come Go With Me. The Del-Vikings.
- Hound Dog. Elvis Presley. Written by Lieber and Stoller, first recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952. She had a big hit with it but in those days, it was labeled a “race record,” and sold to largely black audiences.
- In The Still of the Night. The Five Satins.
- Why Do Fools Fall In Love. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
- Long Tall Sally. Little Richard. A tale about Uncle John and bald-headed Sally.
- Get a Job. The Silhouettes. The Sixties band Sha Na Na, who did Fifties music, got their name from this tune.
- Twenty Flight Rock. Eddie Cochran. On meeting John Lennon**, Paul McCartney impressed him by playing this tune perfectly.
- Peggy Sue. Buddy Holly
- Little Bitty Pretty One. Thurston Harris.
- Great Balls of Fire. Jerry Lee Lewis. The Killer
- Little Darlin’. The Diamonds.
- Young Blood. The Coasters.
- That’ll Be the Day. Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Recorded by the Beatles’ precursor, the Quarrymen in 1958. Their first recording and the first one to feature Lennon, Harrison, and McCartney.
- Words of Love. Buddy Holly.
- Maybe. The Chantels.
- Silhouettes. The Rays.
- Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On. Jerry Lee Lewis. First recorded by R&B singer Big MaybHolly
- Bye Bye Love. Everly Brothers.
- You Send Me. Sam Cooke.
- Everyday. Buddy Holly.
- The Stroll. The Diamonds. I guess they figured if the boys and girls were gonna stand on opposite sides of the room they might as well turn it into a dance.
- Good Golly Miss Molly. Little Richard
- All I Have to Do is Dream. Everly Brothers.
- Donna. Ritchie Valens.
- Johnny B. Goode. Chuck Berry. Can we not just build a shrine to this guy and be done with it?
- Maybe Baby. Buddy Holly.
- Lonely Teardrops. Jackie Wilson.
I established all the release dates by going to Wikipedia so if they’re wrong, I’m wrong.
**I haven’t (yet) read it but there’s actually a book called, “The Day John Met Paul: An Hour-by-Hour Account of How the Beatles Began.”
Coming up: 1958 – 1960. More great rock and doo-wop and the beginning of the girl groups.