Oldies – The Indispensable 150 – (Intro/Part 1)

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.

1955

  • 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.”

1956

  • 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.

1957

  • 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.

1958

  • 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.

21 thoughts on “Oldies – The Indispensable 150 – (Intro/Part 1)

  1. “Can we not just build a shrine to this guy and be done with it?” Yes, yes YES. John Lennon also said “before anyone did anything, Elvis did everything.” Nah… Chuck lit that fuse first, man. Keith knows it.
    GREAT list. Some real favourites here and some stuff to check out too.
    I’d bypassed/put up a mental block to Buddy Holly until fairly recently… blame the teaching of ‘Buddy’s Song’ in school for robbing it of any cool…. but what a catalogue. What a sound. I mean, for me the drums/beat at the start of Peggy Sue must, in 1957, had as ‘stand up and pay attention’ impact as the start of of Jimi’s apocolyptic retake of All Along The Watch Tower in ’68 or even Smells Like Teen Spirit.
    This is where it all started really. Very much looking forward to Part Two (please tell me it features Chuck’s Memphis, Tennesee?)

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    1. I’ll say a couple of things. 1 – The whole list makes for a hell of a party. 2 – I’ll keep you in suspense. :-0. 3 – There were so many great Chuck/Elvis/Everly/, etc. great songs that I had to choose almost surgically just so that half the list wasn’t just their stuff. I’ll have a “just missed this list” list at the end. But Memphis? Hmm.

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    2. I thought about it and in an unusual move for me, modified this list. I added in both ‘Peggy Sue’ and ‘Bye Bye Love.’ I picked (painfully) two other songs from subsequent posts to move to ‘oh-so-close’status.

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      1. Blimey. I hope it wasn’t Memphis… spent a lot of time with these songs on Spotify (a fantastic way of digging up older songs and gems) yesterday so looking froward to Pt 2.

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        1. Ha! What is it with you and Memphis? You don’t even know if it’s ON the list yet. And even if it was – and I took it off – just to reassure you, I am not God (ask my wife) and the song will still be on Spotify! : – 0

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        2. It’s the lyrics – something I don’t think Chuck gets mentioned for too much – “hurry home drops on her cheek”… I mean; c’mon!

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        3. Yes. Of “Nadine,” Springsteen said, “I’ve never seen a coffee-colored Cadillac, but I know exactly what one looks like.” No, the ones I moved to the also-ran list were songs that were (and are) excellent but in thinking about them, weren’t “indispensable.” So I’ll have a list of, I think, less than 10 on the last post that, while not necessarily indispensable, SHOULD BE HEARD .

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  2. Mr. Jim. You just put a shit eating grin on CB’s face. I want to mouth off about everyone of them. What a great place to start ‘Miss Clawdy’. ‘Sincerley’, man I love that tune. ‘Speedo’ come on man let me up for some air. Killer list Jim. Why I love this music. I’m like that Mississippi bullfrog, I don’t know which way to jump. Falda will be doing flips off the top rope.

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    1. Glad to hear that. I’ve been wanting to do this series since the first day I started this blog. But I needed more CB’s to make it worthwhile. Falda will love part II I’m sure. Get a Spotify list going, subtract a few, add some of your favorites and throw a party!

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      1. Jackie Wilson, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Everley Brothers, Sam Cooke, Little Richard and every one else on that list is invited. You have to go back to this stuff just to keep things in perspective.

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        1. There is so much good stuff. Both those tunes deserve to be on any list. After going over your list yesterday a tune popped into my head. ‘Hail Hail Rock N Roll’ by Garland Jeffreys. I love the guy and the song. It pertains to your list. I think Frankie Lymon triggered it.

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        2. So I’m saying to myself how do I know that name, Garland Jeffreys? And so, “Wild in the Streets.” Sure. I never heard the “Hail, Hail, Rock n’ Roll” song but I listened and dug it. Lymon, of course, died at 25 of a heroin overdose. Safe to assume you’ve seen the “Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll” Chuck Berry/Keith Richards movie? It’s awesome if only to see Richards get pissed off trying to deal with his cranky, pain-in-the-ass hero.

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        3. Garland is a bit of a Rock n Roll secret. Good one on ‘Wild in The Streets”. Yeah Jeffreys alludes to Frankie in the song. It’s his tribute to the greats and the music your honoring. I think we talked about that Chuck movie before. It’s a good watch. I love seeing grown men act like that. But hey he’s Chuck Berry and it’s about the music. A lot of those original guys aren’t going to win any nice guy awards but that’s not why we like them.

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  3. Fantastic list. Thanks to you, I have all of these songs on my phone that I listen to while commuting often 🙂

    My Millennial friends had their first dance to Why Do Fools Fall In Love? at their 1950’s garden wedding. Also, I discovered Roll Over Beethoven after borrowing your Chuck Berry LP and listening to the rest of his music over the course of a week.

    And of course, Little Bitty Pretty One is one of my all-time favorite songs and is one of my ringtones/alarm tones!

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    1. Yeah, I know you dig this stuff. If you stay for the entire series you’ll find that the list has evolved since I first came up with it.

      Are your friends into this stuff independently or have your been introducing it to them?

      I have a Chuck Berry LP?

      Little Bitty Pretty One is a blast.

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