Born in 1947, I was too young to have experienced much of country music in the 1950’s. One of the earliest I can actually remember hearing on the radio / television was “Sixteen Tons.” My sister liked it, but my parents didn’t – they took exception to one of Ford’s favorite expressions: “Well I’ll be a dirty bird.” I remember I especially liked the lyric, “If the left one don’t get you then the right one will.” By the end of the decade I was listening to top forty radio stations and remember cross-over hits such as “The Battle of New Orleans” and “The Three Bells.” Most of my exposure came in later life, either through movies such as 1964’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart” or 1985’s “Sweet Dreams,” or the 1969 – 1971 television show, “The Johnny Cash Show.”
I have selected 25 songs as my favorites from the 1950’s. Maybe “selected” is not the proper term. For the other decades, I had to make choices; for the 1950’s it was more like looking for songs to include. As noted before, my personal exposure to country music in the 1950’s was somewhat limited. Of the 36 songs in the 1950’s collection, 27 were #1’s, such as Webb Pierce’s “There Stands the Glass” which was #1 for 12 weeks in 1953. Of those that didn’t reach the top of the country chart, “Folsom Prison Blues” (#4) which was recorded by Johnny Cash and initially released in 1955, did reach the top in 1968 when Cash recorded a live version in for his album, “At Folsom Prison” and it did reach #1.
Several of the songs on the list were major cross-over successes. “My Special Angel” (#7), “Oh Lonesome Me” (#7), “Gone” (#4), and “A White Sport Coat” (#2) all made the pop chart top ten. “Young Love,” “The Battle of New Orleans,” “Sixteen Tons,” and “The Three Bells” were all pop chart #1’s.
None of Elvis Presley’s RCA recordings were considered for the list as I categorize them rock and roll songs that crossed over to the country chart. The same is true for Jerry Lee Lewis, and The Everly Brothers. On the other hand, three Johnny Cash songs are included as I view them as country songs that crossed over to rock and roll. Elvis Presley’s “Mystery Train” is listed as being a product of Sun record. It initially appeared on the country chart.
Hank Williams and Johnny Cash are my two favorite country artists of the decade. Williams has four songs on my list, while Cash has three. Williams’ highest ranked is his signature song, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” which was released posthumously and was a #1 hit. Johnny Cash’s signature song, “I Walk the Line” was a #1 song that crossed over to reach #17 on the pop chart.
The ranking of the songs is somewhat arbitrary and on any given day you might get a slightly different response. And there might be a song or two I’ve inadvertently left off. It’s possible that one or two songs from Cash (“Big River,” “Cry, Cry, Cry”) and Williams (“Hey Good Lookin’,” “Take These Chains From My Heart”) should have been included, but I felt I should have other artists represented. Whatever the case, I can live with these 25 as my “1950’s Country Playlist.” If you have a suggestion for one I should consider or one that definitely doesn’t belong, you can let me know ….. but remember, this is my list.