To inject a little fun into the June 8 issue of Goldmine, a tribute issue to great ’50s stars and songs, we decided to enlist the help of some of our best oldies writers to come up with a list of the ?Top 10 Most Influential 1950s Songs.?
Gee, that?s not going to start an argument or anything.
Pinpointing the best songs of the ’50s is like asking who serves the best pizza in Chicago, the best ribs in Texas or who has the best legs among the Rockettes. There?s an awful lot to pick from and way too much good stuff to narrow it down to 10. But we?ll give it a shot anyway.
Click here to read our writers’ honorable mention list of ?The Best of The Rest? from the 1950s.
The list below comes from a five-person panel of guys who follow, collect and write about ’50s music. The Top 10 songs are presented in chronological order by the year they were recorded.
We?d love to hear what you think. To give us your Top 10 list, argue with ours or just go off on a rant, e-mail us at email@example.com.
1. ?Cry? ? Johnnie Ray ? 1951:
Initially released on the R&B Okeh label, with subsequent pressings made available through Columbia, Johnnie Ray made a huge impact with his first and greatest hit. Simultaneously vulnerable and emotionally provocative, Ray revolutionized pop music by incorporating naked amounts of R&B into this simple song of consolation. Running the sounds of Al Hibbler, Jimmy Scott, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Dinah Washington through his mental blender, he fashioned a bedtime ballad that both vented and empathized with deep romantic grief. The result was ?Cry? b/w ?The Little White Cloud That Cried,? which dominated the #1 and #2 spots on the national charts.
Part of the record?s success was due to the Four Lads, whose background vocals helped make Ray?s yelping emotionalism palatable to pop audiences. In 2001, this writer spoke with the group?s founding baritone Frank Busseri, who was asked if Ray had trouble recording.
?Well, yes, probably because he had a hearing problem. [Ray wore a hearing aid.] We just went straight ahead and he did his thing, but we had to stop and start sometimes because he might get a little behind because of the hearing situation. But it really wasn?t bad at all.?
Ray?s monster hit made him a star overnight and his live shows were sensational ? he dropped to his knees, slid across the stage, hysterically pounded on the piano, and threw the most beautifully executed dramatic fits in pop music history. These angst-ridden antics provoked weeping adulation from bobby-soxers but earned the scorn of critics who dubbed him ?The Cry Guy,? ?The Naibob of Sob,? and the ?Prince of Wails.?
However, label mate Tony Bennett was quoted in the liner notes of High Drama: The Real Johnny Ray (Sony Legacy, 1997) as saying, ?He smashed all the rules, standing up at the piano ? no one ever did that, everybody sat at the piano ? and it would become a great performance, a great visual performance. And I really consider Johnnie Ray to be, in that sense, the father of rock and roll.?
If Ray ever thought of himself as rock?s father, the Four Lads never heard him say so. ?I think he was just involved in his style,? Busseri told me. ?You know, they called him ?Mr. Emotion,? and that?s what he did, he emoted. I don?t think he categorized himself as a rhythm and blues singer or as pop singer. He just did his thing and it was very successful.?
Although Ray would subsequently score with several more hits, producer Mitch Miller had bled most of the rough-edged R&B from his style by rock?s boom years. Yet ?Cry? still stands as the first major crack in the pop music dam before rock ?n? roll b