Top Ten Oldies of 1955

These are 1955's best oldies, a Top Ten list of the greatest hits and most popular and infuential songs of that year. it represents the best the year had to offer, the music that defined that particular era of rock and roll and pop music. This list was compiled by me, your Oldies Guide at About.com, from various sources -- chart positions, sales figures from time of release to the present day, critical standing, and historical importance. Only 45 rpm singles that peaked on the pop Top 40 in 1955 are eligible; artists are only allowed one entry per year in order to give a more balanced view of the cultural landscape. (Click on "compare prices" to hear a sample of each song, compare prices on its CD, and buy it if you like!)

01
of 10
"Maybellene," Chuck Berry

recordsbymail.com
Chess 1604 (July 1955) b/w "Wee Wee Hours"
recorded 21 May 1955, Chicago, IL

Opinions differ on whether Chuck or label founder Leonard Chess had the idea to cover the country standard "Ida Red" (recently done by Bob Wills) at Berry's first session. Either way, this version, retooled with Chuck's jump-blues wit and signature obsession with cars and faithelss women, is an important milestone in rock and roll. (The title did indeed come from the cosmetics company; Berry had been a hairdresser.)

02
of 10
"(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock," Bill Haley and His Comets

Decca 9-29124 (15 May 1954) b/w "Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town)"
recorded 12 April 1954, New York, NY

It took a full year and an appearance in the hit movie "The Blackboard Jungle" to become a hit, but this country-swing version of Sonny Dae and the Knight's 1953 flop eventually kicked off the nationwide rock n' roll craze (though it's not the first rock song or even the first national rock hit). Haley doesn't get his due often as a rock pioneer, but the song speaks for itself.

03
of 10
"Tutti Frutti," Little Richard

Specialty 561 (1955) b/w "I'm Just A Lonely Guy"
recorded 14 September 1955, New Orleans, LA

When producer Bumps Blackwell, during a session break at the legendary J&M studios, heard his R&B shouter performing this song at the piano, he knew it was a hit. But the lyrics -- full of mild profanity and winking allusions to all manner of sex -- had to be cleaned up. Local songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie did just that, and the rest is rock history, a new form of jump blues that helped change the world.

04
of 10
"Speedoo," The Cadillacs

Josie 45-785 (October 1955) b/w "Let Me Explain"
recorded September 1955, New York, NY

The Cadillacs scored big with this classic slice of uptempo doo-wop -- in fact, it charted on the pop charts before it hit R&B, signaling a major change in how the recording industry looked at "race" records. Lead singer (Mr.) Earl Carroll (later of the Coasters) was indeed often called "Speedy," but was this from his speed at sweet-talking women, as in the song, or a loving slap at his slow-moving nature?

05
of 10
"The Great Pretender," The Platters

Mercury 70753 (November 1955) b/w "I'm Just A Dancing Partner"
recorded 1955, New York, NY

The first R&B vocal ballad to go #1 pop, this classic was actually written on a dare of sorts by manager/songwriter Buck Ram; he'd blurted it out as the title of the band's next single, and was stuck with it. Fortunately, the Platters' gorgeous harmonies and the record's lush arrangements put it over. The group had already hit that summer with "Only You," but this is the 45 that put them over the top.

06
of 10
"At My Front Door (Crazy Little Mama)", The El Dorados

Vee-Jay 147 (June 1955) b/w "What's Buggin' You Baby"
recorded April 1955, Chicago, IL

One of early rock and roll's greatest tales of sexual prowess, and also very nearly a catalog of breathtaking doo-wop gimmicks, this '55 model hit doesn't get thought of nearly as often as it should these days -- it did, after all, have the juice to rule the R&B charts for the entire last half of the year. Even the marketing force of Pat Boone's ridiculous cover couldn't deny it. And its genius remains.

07
of 10
"When You Dance," The Turbans

Herald 458 (July 1955) b/w "Let Me Show You (Around My Heart)"
recorded July 1955, New York, NY

Recorded in New York, yes, but still an important contribution to the burgeoning Philly music scene, because that's where the Turbans were from, after all. Written by bass singer Andrew "Chet" Jones, this golden oldie capitalized on the Latin craze of the era by featuring an atypical mambo beat (which switched to rock for the instrumental break). A romantic classic you can dance to.

08
of 10
"Ain't That A Shame," Fats Domino

Imperial 5348 (April 1955) "Ain't It A Shame" b/w "La-la"
recorded March 1955, New Orleans, LA

Antoine "Fats" Domino was known for pointing out that he'd been playing rock and roll since 1949 in New Orleans, but this single announced his true arrival as a rock artist, combining country and R&B in a way that only Chuck and Elvis could match. A gentle, loping stroll with haiku-simple lyrics, it set the stage for 35 more Top 40 hits by this Crescent City master of goodtime jump and boogie.

09
of 10
"I Hear You Knockin'," Smiley Lewis

Imperial 5356 (July 1955) b/w "Bumpity Bump"
recorded 1955, New Orleans, LA

Although rightfully revered by R&B hounds, Smiley Lewis 45s are often recognized by most folks in cover versions -- Elvis' "One Night," Fats' "Blue Monday," even Gale Storm, Fats, and Dave Edmunds' subsequent pop remakes of this, his signature song. But Smiley's worshipped for a reason, even if this pianist doesn't even play the famous solo here -- that job went to Huey "Piano" Smith ("Don't You Just Know It").

10
of 10
"Pledging My Love," Johnny Ace

Duke 136 (December 1954) b/w "No Money"
recorded 17 January 1954, Houston, TX

This song, one of early rock's most touching and haunting ballads, was technically released in the very last weeks of 1954. But by then, the golden-voiced crooner who'd recorded it a year ago, Johnny Ace, was dead -- allegedly from Russian Roulette -- and this song sat in the charts for entire first half of 1955 in solemn tribute. Backup provided by Johnny "Hand Jive" Otis and his Orchestra.