1. Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley
2. Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley
3. I Walk The Line – Johnny Cash
4. Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino
5. Why Do Fools Fall In Love – Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers
6. My Prayer – The Platters
7. Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins
8. Long Tall Sally – Little Richard
9. (You’ve Got) The Magic Touch – Platters
10. In The Still of the Night – the Five Satins
11. Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera) – Doris Day
12. Standing On The Corner – The Four Lads
13. See You Later, Alligator – Bill Haley & The Comets
14. Diana – Paul Anka
15. That’ll Be The Day – The Crickets
16. I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Frank Sinatra
17. The Great Pretender – the Platters
18. Singing The Blues – Guy Mitchell
19. Don’t Be Cruel – Elvis Presley
20. Wayward Wind – Gogi Grant
21. Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody – Louis Prima
22. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
23. My Blue Heaven – Fats Domino
24. Memories Are Made Of This – Dean Martin
25. Tutti Frutti – Little Richard
26. Kisses Sweeter Than Wine – Jimmie Rodgers
27. On the Street Where You Live – Vic Damone
28. Poor People Of Paris – Les Baxter
29. Roll Over Beethoven – Chuck Berry
30. Allegheny Moon – Patti Page
31. Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford
32. Rock And Roll Waltz – Kay Starr
33. I Almost Lost My Mind – Pat Boone
34. Jamaica Farewell – Harry Belefonte
35. Just Walking In The Rain – Johnny Ray
36. It’s Not For Me To Say – Johnny Mathis
37. Eddie My Love – The Chordettes
38. A Tear Fell – Teresa Brewer
39. Be-Bop-A-Lula – Gene Vincent
40. The Green Door – Jim Lowe
You may notice that the list above doesn’t quite agree with “Top 40” or other lists you’ve seen; that’s because it takes more facts into consideration, along with a few intangibles.
Most importantly, the list is weighted by lasting popularity and a particular recording’s impact on the course and future of popular song. A prime example is Kay Starr’s Rock and Roll Waltz. An excellent song to be sure, it reached the top of the charts and clearly outsold many of the songs listed above it, yet it has not had the lasting impact nor popularity of a lesser-selling Roll Over Beethoven listed above it.
Commentary…note that Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 16 Tons returned from the 1955 chart. If you took the data from the second half of 1955 and the first half of 1956, that tune would top the chart. But the real story of course is the influx of “rock and roll.” Bill Haley had broken things open, but the aging bandleader didn’t have the right look and sound to sustain. Young record buyers put Elvis on top. The King had 9 concurrent singles in the Billboard Hot 100 at one point, an achievement that stands to this day. The Mae Axton penned Heartbreak Hotel was the best selling, most-played song of the year, but time and a whole bunch of wedding receptions has put Love Me Tender on top in the memories of most pop music fans.
Looking at this list from a traditional pop music point of view, there are a lot of classics. Notably absent is Perry Como, who would roar back with a vengeance later in the decade. But don’t feel too badly for Mr. C; his Hot Diggity Dog Ziggity probably belongs on this roster of 40; it’s certainly withstood the test of time better than at least six of the tunes listed. And while many music historians point to 1956 as the year the rock and rollers took over, Como did just fine with Juke Box Baby, a song that rocks as much as any listed, and got as high as number 10 on the charts. On the other hand, the bombastic Louis Prima’s Just a Gigolo never attained even the top 10, but has proved to have such longevity through the years that it simply forces itself onto this list.
A song that arguably should be much higher is Guy Mitchell’s Singin’ the Blues. Mitchell’s soulful version did a tug-of-war with Elvis for over a month as the two flipflopped for the top spot. Another classic, but not as “influential” over time as the eight listed above it. [Note: In 2017 the editorial board determined that this song would move down even further.]
Like Elvis, we also see the first top chart appearance of his touring companion and Sun Records’ co-star Johnny Cash in 1956. Presley was viewed as a wild country boy; Cash was beyond that. Raw and hickish, he struck a nerve with I Walk the Line. The record sold like hotcakes but sort of took a backseat to catchier melodies. This was to be a pattern for Cash’s career for the next half century — only in death did he receive the credit he was due. Was Cash country? Nashville didn’t think so. Was he folk? Rock? Folk/rock? Who knows. He didn’t write the best songs ever, nor are any of his performances ranked as the best ever. But across the spectrum of American Music, no artist has been more important or influential over the last half-century as John R. Cash.
Over time the editors review each of these lists, and evaluate changes in popularity as certain songs enjoy a resurgence in popularity for whatever reason. Since the original publication of this list, two songs that have moved up are Walk The Line by Johnny Cash, and (You’ve Got) The Magic Touch by The Platters. Songs that have seen their popularity diminish over the years have moved down slightly; most notably Long Tall Sally by Little Richard, Eddie My Love by The Chordettes, and Singin’ the Blues by Guy Mitchell.