The ’50s was a pivotal era in American music. Of many notable changes during the decade, undoubtedly the most significant was the emergence of rock and roll on the popular music scene. In looking over Billboard‘s number one singles from the 1950s, you see crooners dominating in the early part of the decade but becoming largely eclipsed in the latter half by rock, doo-wop, and R&B performers.
Even with that overarching trend though, the biggest hits of the ’50s remained a fairly mixed bag throughout. These years gave us so many hits that are still known and loved today. We’ve left a lot of the number one singles from the 1950s off the list, lest it run far too long, but tried to include a representative mix from each year, and many of the most iconic and enduring songs from the era.
And, for your listening pleasure, each song is linked to a YouTube video so you can enjoy hearing it.
Number One Singles of the ’50s
- “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” was written in 1937 by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal. Though a number of versions exist, the one recorded in 1949 by The Andrews Sisters is the best known, and it was the number one single kicking off the decade in January of 1950.
- “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” was covered by many of the era’s biggest-name crooners, but Red Foley scored the most successful hit covering it, peaking at Billboard’s number one single slot in February 1950.
- “Mona Lisa,” created for the 1950 film Captain Carey, USA, was covered by Nat King Cole, with Nelson Riddle handling the arrangement. It stayed in the number one position for eight weeks in July and August 1950.
- “The Tennesse Waltz” by Patti Page made our list of influential songs from the ’50s, and it was the final number one single of the first year of the decade.
- “Be My Love” was sung by Mario Lanza and spent several weeks in the number one spot, starting in early March 1951. He recorded it with Kathryn Grayson for the 1950 movie The Toast of New Orleans, and it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, but lost to the film version of “Mona Lisa.”
- “Because of You” was Tony Bennet’s first major hit, and it was a Billboard number one single for 10 weeks in a row starting in early September 1951.
- “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” is a German song heard by Vera Lynn while she was in Switzerland. The English singer recorded it, and with it became the first foreign artist to reach the number one single slot on the US Billboard charts; it stayed there for nine weeks, starting in July 1952.
- “Why Don’t You Believe Me” was a number one hit for Joni James in late November 1952. The song has also performed well for Patti Page, Margaret Whiting, and others, but James’ version fared the best.
- “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes,” as recorded by Perry Como, was the first number one single of 1953.
- “That Doggie in the Window” is a catchy novelty song that endures to this day. The first recorded version by Patti Page is the most famous, and it spent many weeks at number one in the spring of 1953.
- “Rags to Riches” by Tony Bennet with the Percy Faith Orchestra spent weeks at Billboard‘s number one position at the end of 1953, and remains the best-known version of the song to this day.
- “Secret Love” was written for the film Calamity Jane and sung by its star, Doris Day, one of our iconic actresses of the ’50s. The recording became the top single in February 1954.
- “This Ole House” by Rosemary Clooney reached number one in November 1954. The song also became a top performer on the UK charts.
- “Mr. Sandman” is an undisputed classic from the fifties, written by Pat Ballard. The Chordettes sang it and scored the number one single to close out 1954.
- “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” spent 10 weeks at number one in the US starting in April 1955. This successful version is an instrumental released by Perez Prado.
- “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets is a famous early example of applying the 12-bar blues format to rock and roll songs. It enjoyed a lengthy stay at the number one single slot starting in July 1955.
- “Sixteen Tons” is a famous song about a coal miner that was recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford and that spent several weeks as the top single at the end of 1955.
- “Memories Are Made of This” was Dean Martin’s first number one hit of the 1950s, opening up 1956 as the first top single.
- “Heartbreak Hotel” is one of Elvis Presley’s best-known songs and his first single to sell a million copies. In 1956, it spent seven weeks atop Billboard‘s list, six weeks as the leading Cashbox single, 17 weeks as the number one Billboard Country and Western hit, and it peaked at number 3 on the R&B charts. The King went on to have three more number one singles in 1956 alone: “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” “Hound Dog,” and “Love Me Tender.”
- “All Shook Up” is another Elvis classic, and his first of three number one singles in 1957. The others to follow in this year included “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” and “Jailhouse Rock.”
- “Tammy” was written for the film Tammy and the Bachelor. Debbie Reynolds scored a number one hit with her version in August of 1957.
- “Diana” was made famous by Paul Anka with his top-selling version that peaked on the charts starting in September 1957.
- “That’ll Be the Day” by Buddy Holly and the Crickets is an iconic rock tune of the decade, and in September 1957, it climbed to the number one single spot.
- “Wake Up Little Suzie” is an Everly Brother’s classic that peaked at number one in October 1957. And that was in spite of having been banned by radio stations in Boston for what some perceived to be overly suggestive lyrics.
- “You Send Me” topped the charts in December 1957, a big hit for one of the greatest soul and R&B singers of all time, Sam Cooke.
- “At the Hop” is a rock and roll and doo-wop hit that really captured the times. Recorded by Danny and the Juniors, it was the first number one single of 1958. It performed well on R&B charts as well, and, oddly, on some country charts too.
- “Tequila” by The Champs is an enduring Latin-flavored instrumental (well, excluding that one-word lyric) that topped the charts in March and April of 1958.
- “All I Have to Do Is Dream” is another huge Everly Brothers hit from the decade. It reached number one in May 1958.
- “Kansas City” is a beloved composition written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952. With more than 300 versions recorded, it’s their most-covered tune; Wilbert Harrison’s version, which topped the charts in May 1959, is one of the best known and most successful.
- “Mack the Knife,” written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, hit the number one single slot twice in 1959 for Bobby Darin—through most of October and again in November into December, with a brief interruption by The Fleetwoods’ “Mr. Blue.”