Before and After Rock and Roll

Nat King Cole singing Unforgettable the No.1 song on the 1952 Billboard charts five years later on his television show.

Frank Sinatra singing Young At Heart on a scratchy 78RPM record album.

Joni James singing her No.1 hit of 1952 Why Don’t You Believe Me.

Why Don’t You Believe Me was the only No.1 hit for Joni James who changed her birth name of Giovanna Carmelo Babbo to the simpler name of Joni James. Her version of Your Cheatin’ Heart went to No.2 in 1953.

She has a mesmerizing voice that I noticed when listening to clips of various singers at and have a couple of her albums in my collection. Joni James will be 80 next month and according to her website hasn’t had a concert since 2006.

Her versions of But Not For Me and Someone To Watch Over Me stand out in her In the Still of the Night album.

Before  Bill Haley and Elvis Presley hit the music scene in 1954 the popular music of the time was sung by singers like Doris Day, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett and groups like the Four Aces and the Ames Brothers.

It was not uncommon to see songs recorded by orchestras like the Sammy Kaye Orchestra which took Harbor Lights to No.8 in 1950 be listed in Top 10 lists.

Everything changed in 1954 when Bill Haley and the Comets scored the No.1 hit of the year with Shake Rattle and Roll and then in 1955 Rock Around the Clock went to No.3 on the charts. He was the only rock and roller to have a Top 10 song in those two years.

Then Elvis Presley hit the charts in a big way in 1956 when he took Don’t Be Cruel and Hound Dog to No.1 and No.2 respectively and also had the No.5 song Heartbreak Hotel and No.9 song Love Me Tender.

Elvis returned to the 1957 charts taking three of the top four spots with No.1 All Shook Up, No.3 Jailhouse Rock and No.4 Teddy Bear.

Bill Haley and Elvis Presley were still the only two rock and rollers to hit the charts in the first four years rock and roll was on the charts unless the Everly Brothers could be considered as rock and rollers when they placed Wake Up Little Suzie No.9 on the charts in 1957.

With Elvis going into the Army in 1958 he only had one song to reach the Top 10 that year with No.6 Don’t. Even though it was the fifth year of the rock and roll era only Danny and the Juniors who recorded the No.1 hit of the year with At the Hop had a traditional rock and roll song.

Novelty songs were big in 1958 with The Purple People Eater charting No.3 and The Chipmonk No.10 for the year. Tommy Edwards recorded the ballad It’s All in the Game which went to No.2 in the charts.

The decade closed in 1959 with Elvis not making the Top 10 after having recorded eight Top 10 songs from 1956-1958.

1959 was the year of the ballad as this list at Associated Content shows:

Billboard Top 10 Songs of 1959
1. Mack The Knife – Bobby Darin
2. The Battle Of New Orleans – Johnny Horton
3. Venus – Frankie Avalon
4. Stagger Lee – Lloyd Price
5. The Three Bells – The Browns
6. Lonely Boy – Paul Anka
7. Come Softly To Me – the Fleetwoods
8. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – the Platters
9. Heartaches By The Number – Guy Mitchell
10. Sleep Walk – Santo & Johnny

Only Mack the Knife and Stagger Lee could be regarded as rock and roll songs among the Top 10 of 1959 and I am not so sure of Mack the Knife since it was first sung in German in 1928 in Three Penny Opera and was translated into English until 1954.

The 50’s would give way to the 60’s which see the Beatles change music in America and the appearance of those who sang it.

The United States would enter the Vietnam War in the 60’s and the resulting protests by students at some universities spawned protest music and the decade ended in 1969 with the best known music festival in our history known as Woodstock.

The 50’s ended in peace although the cold war between Russia and United States was going strong.


Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

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