We are in the middle of the century: Walt Disney has just come out Cinderellamillions of people watched the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the United States Supreme Court ruled on the historic case Brown v. Board of Education. But what about the world of music? Where was he going? We’re glad you asked.
The music world was hurtling along a path of innovation in the 1950s, evolving at a pace not unlike the population explosion felt in the United States. So, in order to recapture some of the sound of that era, we’ve rounded up five of the best rock songs of the 50s. Check out those tracks below.
1. Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley (1957)
What better way to start than with a famous track from the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll? The Presley-recorded song “Jailhouse Rock” was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for the movie of the same name. Presley’s subsequent vocal and dance performance of the song has long been hailed as one of King’s finest, and the song itself includes lyrics that could be interpreted as sly references to same-sex relationships. He was, without a doubt, ahead of his time.
2. “Wake Up Little Susie” by The Everly Brothers (1957)
The husband-and-wife songwriting team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote the Everly Brothers song “Wake Up Little Susie” about an innocent outing with outrageous implications. In the song, a young couple go out to see a movie (probably at a drive-in) and they both fall asleep. The movie wasn’t that hot / There wasn’t much plotsaid the male figure, We fell asleep, our goose is cooked / Our reputation is shot.
“Wake Up Little Susie” became the Everly Brothers’ number one hit, but we still don’t know what happened to Little Susie once she finally returned home.
3. “Tutti Frutti” by Petit Richard (1955)
Just as Presley was dubbed the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Little Richard was known as the Architect of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He helped define and challenge the new style of rock music that was emerging in the 50s. Richard, born Richard Penniman, wrote “Tutti Frutti” with Dorothy LaBostrie and it became his first big hit.
4. “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis (1957)
Noting a slight resurgence after its appearance in Top Gun: Maverick“Great Balls of Fire” is one of Jerry Lee Lewis’ most recognizable rock ‘n’ roll hits.
You shake my nerves and you shake my brain
Too much love drives a man crazy
You broke my will
But what a thrill
Goodness, big balls of fire!
5. “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Big Joe Turner (1954)
Jesse Stone, also known by his pseudonym Charles F. Calhoun, wrote “Shake, Rattle and Roll” for Big Joe Turner in 1954. It’s a rhythmic song that Turner recorded in New York with a screaming chorus backing his vocals. “Shake, Rattle and Roll” also includes sexual innuendo that was considered exceptionally outrageous for its time. We assume that the baby boom had a bigger effect on the United States than just the size of its population…
Photo of Elvis by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images