Popular Songs of 1959

Bobby Darin publicity photo

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
11. Heartaches By the Number – Guy Mitchell
12. Mr. Blue – The Fleetwoods
13. There Goes My Baby – The Drifters
14. I Only Have Eyes for You – The Flamingoes
15. High Hopes – Frank Sinatra
16. Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison
17. What I’d Say – Ray Charles
18. Put Your Head on My Shoulder – Paul Anka
19. A Fool Such as I – Elvis Presley
20. The Happy Organ – Dave “Baby” Cortez
21. Dream Lover – Bobby Darin
22. Lonely Boy – Paul Anka
23. Misty – Johnny Mathis
24. Pillow Talk – Doris Day
25. Sea of Love – Phil Phillips
26. It’s Just a Matter of Time – Brook Benton
27. Since I Don’t Have You – The Skyliners
28. Lipstick on Your Collar – Connie Francis
29. Only Sixteen – Sam Cooke
30. Lavender Blue – Sammy Turner
31. Waterloo – Stonewall Jackson
32. Never Be Anyone Else But You – Ricky Nelson
33. Oh Carol – Neil Sedaka
34. What a Difference a Day Makes – Dinah Washington
35. ‘Til I Kissed You – The Everly Brothers

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 died…at 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.

PopularSong.org, 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 virtually the 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 PopularSong.org 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 PopularSong.org 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 that…country 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.

Additional Reading

Arguably the most important voice in American Popular Song in 1959 was Bobby Darin. Although he started out as a rock and roller, his true passion was singing, and the songs he was passionate about were standards. There have been a lot of books written about Darin, but certainly none as important as Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee – by Their Son Dodd Darin. It’s something of a tell-all, but not in the vile sort of way typical of many children of celebrities. On the other hand, it was written from a loving point of view, but is certainly not so reverential that it becomes a hagiography. It’s simply Dodd Darin trying to preserve his parents’ story, and the book is excellent, perhaps one of the most important memoirs of pop music from the early 1960s.