Tackling the most important albums of the 1950s is no easy feat. There were so many pivotal recordings released during the decade, particularly as rock and roll was a newly emerging genre. Pop, jazz, blues, folk, and country music were all undergoing significant shifts at the time, too.
So, in sticking to only 20, we know we omitted a lot of great, influential albums from the ’50s. Due to the limited list, we also only included one album per artist, even though many of them had multiple seminal recordings during the decade. Hopefully you won’t judge us too harshly.
Enjoy, and if you’re a fan of ’50s music, don’t miss our roundup of some great number one singles from the 1950s!
Best Albums from the ’50s
- The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert – This Benny Goodman release from 1950 made available a concert that has been described as “the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz’s ‘coming out’ party to the world of ‘respectable’ music.”
- Hank Williams Sings – Legendary country singer Hank Williams and His Drifting Cowboys released this classic in 1951.
- Anthology Of American Folk Music – Issued in 1952 by Folkways Records, this pivotal six-album compilation of various artists included 84 great tracks of American folk, blues, and country music.
- Black Coffee – Popular singer Peggy Lee’s first album was on the Decca label, issued in 1953. Though it wasn’t all that widely embraced at first, it has gone on to be cited by famed female vocalists—including Joni Mitchell—as highly influential.
- Chet Baker Sings – Iconic cool jazz musician and singer Chet Baker released his debut album in 1954 with Pacific Jazz Records. It quickly established him as an influential artist, and the recording has received a Grammy Hall of Fame award.
- Rock and Rollin’ with Fats Domino – In 1955, Fats Domino—an R&B legend and one of the founders of rock and roll—put out his landmark first album on Imperial Records.
- In the Wee Small Hours – Frank Sinatra’s ninth album came out in 1955 on the Capitol label, featuring arrangements by Nelson Riddle. The notably introspective and lonely recording was an instant hit.
- Elvis Presley – RCA Victor issued The King’s first album in 1956, creating a landmark moment in the history of the newly emerging rock and roll genre.
- Blue Train – This 1957 John Coltrane recording from Blue Note Records (and his only one as band leader for this label) established ‘Trane as a major new force in hard bop, though he would continue to evolve away from this style, even beginning with his next album.
- Here’s Little Richard – Little Richard’s debut album from 1957 included a few of his biggest hits, like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Jenny, Jenny.” This recording was a defining moment in rock and roll history, which was just getting started at the time.
- Dance Album – Issued in 1957, this was the introductory album of Carl Perkins, the so-called “King of Rockabilly.” This recording established the new genre as a major force in contemporary American music.
- Ricky – A reigning teen idol in the ’50s, Ricky Nelson’s 1957 debut from Imperial Records is a landmark in pop-rock music.
- Lady in Satin – Billie Holiday’s 1958 Columbia Records classic was the last album she released during her lifetime. While the singer definitely wasn’t at her peak, vocally speaking, when she recorded these songs, it provided a fascinating look into her troubled life.
- Bo Diddley – A compilation of Bo Diddley songs from the decade, this 1958 release was a key point in the musician’s influential career that formed a unique bridge between the blues and rock and roll music.
- Buddy Holly – This 1958 album with The Crickets compiled some of Buddy Holly’s big hits and marked another crucial moment in the development of rock and roll.
- Jerry Lee Lewis – Another 1958 album that was pivotal for rock and roll is this debut issue from legend Jerry Lee Lewis, released by Sun Records.
- The Everly Brothers – And, just to throw in another 1958 debut recording from rock and roll pioneers, there’s this eponymous album from The Everly Brothers.
- Kind of Blue – The most famous album from one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time, this iconic recording was issued by Columbia Records in 1959. It is widely credited to be the greatest jazz album ever.
- Chuck Berry Is on Top – Rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry’s third album, put out on the Chess Records label in 1959, is considered one of his best and most important.
- Ritchie Valens – Although his career was tragically cut short the day the music died, Ritchie Valens left a lasting mark on rock and roll. This was his first album, released posthumously in 1959 on Del-Fi Records.