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Popular Songs 1959


1. Mack The Knife - Bobby Darin
2. Battle of New Orleans - Johnny Horton
3. Venus - Frankie Avalon
4. Come Softly To Me - The Fleetwoods
5. Personality - Lloyd Price
6. Stagger Lee - Lloyd Price
7. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes - The Platters
8. The Three Bells - The Browns
9. El Paso - Marty Robbins
10. Sleep Walk - Santo & Johnny

Considering that the top 10 hits listed on the chart above were indeed, pretty much the actual top 10 of the year, the natural question is, "what happened to rock and roll?"

Well, a few things. As 1959 dawned, Elvis was in the Army, and RCA was releasing schmaltzy, second rate recordings to meet demand. Jerry Lee Lewis was tainted by a personal scandal and even more gone than Elvis. Top DJ Alan Freed was smeared by a payola scandal. Then in February, Buddy Holly, the man who was now carrying the torch for rock and roll, died in a plane crash. Ritchie Valens, who had almost matched Holly hit-for-hit, and the Big Bopper -- a star in his own right -- were also killed on the plane. And near the end of 1959, as if to add a nice coda, rocker Chuck Berry was tossed into jail for transporting a 14 year old girl across state lines for immoral purposes. As far as rock and roll was concerned, the music more or less least for now.

Artists like Bobby Darin and The Coasters were now the face of rock and roll. Unfortunately for rock and roll, neither were true rockers. And as a result, a sort of mish-mash of pop and light rock and roll would rule the charts until the British invasion. Critics have long stated that the years from 1959-1963 were sort of do-nothing years for American music, that music was in the doldrums until the Beatles came along., however, takes a different position. Examine instead the quality of the songs, rather than focusing on the supposed "blandness" of the artists, and history should judge these years as yet another golden age in the songbook of American Pop Standards.

Does it matter that Battle of New Orleans wasn't sung by Bing Crosby, or written by Irving Berlin? It certainly could've been. Continuing in the country/western mode, what if Waterloo had been sung by Frankie Laine in 1949 instead of Stonewall Jackson in 1959? It would be regarded as one of the all-time standards -- and it probably wouldn't sound much different! The point is that the definition of American Popular Song must include all pop standards that fit the sound, and not just the songs written by certain songwriters or written in a certain time or place. Think for a moment if the Mills Brothers sang Charlie Brown instead of Glow Worm in 1952. It wouldn't have as much rock and roll influence in the accompaniment, but the vocals could easily have been arranged the exact same way.

In the spirit of American Popular Song, those that are true to the format get higher ranking on this list than those that stray into rock and roll. Charlie Brown would rank number 6 on this list if it were purely based on sales and charts.

Another factor that considers is lasting popularity, whether that popularity be continuous or new. For example, if a future hit movie features Happy Organ in the soundtrack, and that song enjoys a surge in popularity, it will probably rise on this chart. With that in mind, all of these charts are reviewed by staff every 6-8 months.

Lasting popularity is another key factor to where these songs rank. Paul Anka's Lonely Boy was a much bigger hit in 1959; it reached the top spot and stayed there for a month. But over the years, Put Your Head on My Shoulder has become better known and more of a "standard," so it ranks higher on the list.

Country Influence

Interesting to note that as rock and roll swooned in 1959, country music had a remarkable surge in popularity. Check music with a popular sound had a remarkable surge. But think back to the 1940s and the early 1950s: Had White Sport Coat, Battle of New Orleans, El Paso, The Three Bells and Waterloo been released at that time, they would've quickly been covered by Bing Crosby, Dick Haymes, Frankie Laine, etc. and would be thought of as any other standard from the era. One of the key influences of the rock and roll era was that young people -- and all listeners for that matter -- were now demanding "original" recordings, regardless of how raw they might seem.