Top 10 Decade Defining Musical Acts: 1950s

Script written by Jordan Ruimy. This decade was defined by blues, country, pop, R&B and rock and roll. For our series on the Top 10 Musical Acts Per Decade, we’ve based our choices on a mix of an act’s success, popularity and overall musical legacy. This is part of a series of videos spanning the decades of music from the1950s to the 2000s. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 decade defining musical acts of the 1950s. Special thanks to our user Se7enNationArmy101 for submitting the idea on our Suggest Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script by Jordan Ruimy.

This decade was defined by blues, country, pop, R&B and rock and roll. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 musical acts of the 1950s.

For our series on the Top 10 Musical Acts Per Decade, we’ve based our choices on a mix of an act’s success, popularity and overall musical legacy. This is part of a series of videos spanning the decades of music from the1950s to the 2000s.

#10: Frank Sinatra

After his solo career began to decline at the end of the ‘40s, Ol’ Blue Eyes experienced a rebirth during the next decade. Thanks to an Oscar-winning performance in “From Here to Eternity,” the New Jersey-born musician regained the success he had lost during the previous years. Meanwhile, tracks like “Young at Heart,” “Come Fly With Me” and “Angel Eyes” helped him refine his big band jazzy style and ensured he was once again a big hit with the ladies. His sound and resurgence in popularity also contributed to his becoming one of the best-selling artists ever.

#9: Jerry Lee Lewis

The Killer officially began recording at Sun Records in the mid-‘50s. It didn’t take long for him to become an international superstar; in 1957, his cover of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” propelled him onto the world stage and into the top 3 of the Billboard pop chart. As an early pioneer of the evolving sound of rock and roll, Jerry Lee Lewis soon became known for mixing country, rockabilly, blues and gospel. By further developing his style in tunes like “Great Balls Of Fire,” Lewis would go on to shape popular music forever. Let’s not forget he wasn’t too shabby on the piano either!

#8: Miles Davis

You’ve probably heard his seminal 1959 album “Kind Of Blue” and you don’t even know it. But it’s one of most influential records of all time thanks to Miles Davis’ unparalleled musicianship. Not only did he alter the way jazz can be played, but this Illinois-born trumpet player also brought improvisation to the forefront. Dabbling in bebop, modal jazz and jazz fusion, the bandleader, composer and multi-instrumentalist reshaped the way we can and should hear music – and continued to do so years later, most notably with his ground-breaking album “Bitches Brew.”

#7: Johnny Cash

While he’s more famous for his output in country, this rebellious musician wouldn’t be as legendary as he is today without his ability to make music that spanned many genres and many decades. With his deep voice, signature rockabilly sound and relatable persona, “The Man in Black” truly became a force to be reckoned with, especially in the 1950s. And darkly themed hits like “I Walk The Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring Of Fire” proved it.

#6: The Everly Brothers

The only non-solo act on our list, this duo consisting of Don and Phil Everly was a constant presence on the 1950s pop charts. While their brotherly bond may’ve contributed to the uniqueness of their close harmony singing style, The Everly Brothers also cemented their place in music history with their simple but catchy melodies and steel-string guitar-driven sound. Thanks to such pristine pop beauties like “Wake up Little Suzie” and “Bye Bye Love,” they also went on to influence multiple artists – even The Beatles.

#5: Little Richard

By courageously and creatively mixing genres into a hybrid sound, he became one of the most important artists to lay the foundation for rock and roll in the late ‘40s and the ‘50s. He further made his mark with his electric – and eccentric – showmanship, but it was time capsule-worthy songs like “Long Tall Sally,” “Tutti Frutti” and “Lucille,” that really solidified his spot in music history – not to mention, they helped him become one of the first black artists to really gain crossover attention and success.

#4: Buddy Holly

Music lost a rock and roll giant when Buddy Holly died in a tragic plane crash in 1959. Though he was only active in the music industry for less than a decade, his influence and the body of work he left behind continues to touch us over five decades later. Along with The Crickets, Holly lay down the standard for a rock and roll band: two guitars, bass and drums. Meanwhile, hits like “That’ll Be The Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “Rave On” and “Maybe Baby” speak for themselves.

#3: Ray Charles

This soul music pioneer is also a singer-songwriter, piano-player, composer and arranger. A native of Albany, Georgia, Ray Charles tackled countless genres throughout his career, notably blues, R&B, jazz and gospel. And thanks to his many talents, he also paved the way for black artists to cross over into country and pop. Did we mention he also did all this without being able to see? That’s right; despite being blind since he was 7, Charles continues to be lauded as one of the greatest singers and artists ever, while “What’d I Say” has been hailed as one of the greatest songs of all time.

#2: Chuck Berry

Even John Lennon said, “if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” But if that’s not enough to convince you that this St. Louis-born legend deserves to be here, then maybe his on-stage presence and incredible guitar skills will. Not only did Chuck Berry set the blueprint for the attitude associated with how a rock and roller should act, he also sold millions of records and topped Billboard’s R&B chart. Smashes like “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Johnny B Goode,” and “Sweet Little Sixteen” further prove our case.

Before we unveil our pick for Top Musical Act of the 1950s, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Fats Domino
- Bo Diddley
- Sam Cooke
- Muddy Waters
- Hank Williams

#1: Elvis Presley

No list of the 1950s would be complete without “The King.” And with a nickname like that, how could he not top our list? Bringing what was then known as “black music” to the forefront of white America, Elvis Presley set the stage for a musical revolution like no other and consequently changed the face of American popular culture. While hits like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel” helped black artists like Little Richard break into the mainstream, Presley’s dance moves, emotional vocals and commercial success in multiple genres made him one of the 20th century’s best.

Do you agree with our list? Who’s your favorite musical act of the 1950s? For more Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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