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20 Biggest Songs of the Summer: The 1950s

From mambos to the birth of rock, the best songs for hitting the drive-thru in the warmer months

20 Biggest Songs of the Summer: The 1950s

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If the postwar prosperity of Fifties America gave us the emergence of both rock & roll and teen culture itself, it serves to reason that it also gave us the summer jam – or at least pop music’s increased social significance in the months when school is out. Billboard didn’t originate the Hot 100 until 1958, so this list was compiled by tabulating length of peaks within that chart window, as well as peaks across pre-Hot 100 sales, jukebox and disc jockey charts between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, from 1950 to 1959. We’ve also taken the liberty of deleting all the ballads – so our apologies to Percy Faith, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, the Andrews Sisters and many more. By Al Shipley

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4. Sheb Wooley, “The Purple People Eater”

Shelby F. Wooley was a character actor with a long career in westerns, appearing in movies like High Noon and The Outlaw Josey Wales. But he found pop immortality in the novelty song “The Purple People Eater,” and enjoyed a string of country hits while mentoring future Nashville legend Roger Miller.

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3. Gogi Grant, “The Wayward Wind”

As was frequently the case in the Fifties, Stanley Lebowski and Herb Newman’s “The Wayward Wind” was recorded by several different artists, many of which ended up competing for the hit. Country singer Tex Ritter, British radio personality Jimmy Young and a pre-stardom Shirley Bassey all took a swing at “The Wayward Wind” in 1956, but it was Gogi Grant, recording for the tiny Era Records label, that made it one of the summer’s biggest hits.

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2. Bill Haley & His Comets, “Rock Around The Clock”

“Rock Around The Clock” didn’t top the charts until summer 1955, after its initial release a year earlier as a B-side failed to attract much notice. Thankfully, placement of the song in the hit ’55 film Blackboard Jungle helped the song rock around the calendar and ultimately become the first Number One of the rock & roll era.

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1. Elvis Presley, “Don’t Be Cruel”

1956 became the summer of Elvis, or rather the first of several, with the July release of “Don’t Be Cruel” (backed by another chart-topper, “Hound Dog”). In early September, Presley opened his first Ed Sullivan Show appearance with this hip-swiveling classic, and the rest is history.

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