Midcentury Playlist: Forgotten Hit Songs of the 1950s

I’ve got something a little bit different to share today: a music post! I recently ran across an article about Tony Bennett’s thoughts on modern pop music. The comments section of the article is peppered with “Shut up, old man” comments, but also some thought-provoking commentary on what makes a song a “classic” and which of today’s songs will stand the test of time.

As always seems to happen when I read any article that’s even remotely related to the midcentury, this one sparked my interest and made me wonder which hit songs of that time probably seemed like they’d become classics, but are now forgotten by most people.* I decided to explore this by looking at the Billboard Top 30 for each year of the 1950s. Here are some of the songs I found highly-ranked on these lists that are not regarded as classics, one selected for each year of the 1950s. I’ve listed some better-known (by modern audiences) songs and artists from the same year for comparison.

*I was familiar with some of these songs/artists prior to crafting the playlist, but only because I’m a midcentury enthusiast. If you walked up to a random person on the street, I doubt they’d know these titles unless they were alive and of a certain age in the release years.

Goodnight, Irene by Gordon Jenkins and the Weavers – Ranked #1 in 1950

over Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa” (#2) and TWO versions of the Third Man theme (#3 and #7)

(It’s No) Sin by Eddie Howard – Ranked #16 in 1951

over Perry Como’s “You’re Just in Love” (#27)

Cry by Johnnie Ray – Ranked #3 in 1952

over Rosemary Clooney’s “Half as Much” (#6). Johnnie Ray had not one, but three songs in the top 30 of the year in 1952!

You, You, You by The Ames Brothers – Ranked #5 in 1953

over Perry Como’s “No Other Love” (#8) and Tony Bennett’s “Rags to Riches” (#19)

Little Things Mean a Lot by Kitty Kallen – Ranked #1 in 1954

over The Four Ace’s “Three Coins in the Fountain” (#8), Frank Sinatra’s “Young at Heart” (#11), Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” (#16), Billy Haley’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (#26)

Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White by Perez Prado – Ranked #1 in 1955

over Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” (#2), Pat Boone’s “Ain’t That a Shame” (#9), The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman” (#18), The Platters’ “Only You”

Lisbon Antigua by Nelson Riddle – Ranked #3 in 1956

over Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera” (#7) Elvis’ “Hound Dog” (#8), The Platters’ “The Great Pretender” (#12), Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” (#18)
Unsurprisingly, Elvis held the top two Billboard spots this year with “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”

Young Love by Sonny James – Ranked #8 in 1957

over The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” (#11) and “Wake Up Little Suzie” (#19), Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” (#16), Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” (#20). Tab Hunter song of the same title at #4; Elvis “All Shook Up” was #1.

Patricia by Perez Prado – Ranked #5 in 1958

over The Champs’ “Tequila” (#8), Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” (#11), The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak” (#21)

The Three Bells by The Browns – Ranked #7 in 1959

over Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” (#12), The Platters’ “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” (#16), The Everly Brothers’ “(‘Til) I Kissed You” (#20), Dion and the Belmonts’ “A Teenager in Love” (#25), The Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby” (#29)

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