Best Songs From 1950

Every year of pop music gives us insight into the artistic tastes of history. The mid-century was a pivotal era, full of genres that interconnected to bring together many styles and cultures.

How many songs from this year can you recall? Below we’ll take a nostalgic trip backward in time for the best songs from 1950.

“Tennessee Waltz” By Patti Page

Song Year: 1950

This gorgeous melody has been done many times over the years, including an upbeat version by Sam Cooke. But the original recording that shot it to fame was from Patti Page, with her wistful tone and lush vibrato.

With accents from piano and muted trumpet, the song tells of a lover that was lost to a friend during a night of dancing. This slow and romantic tune has proven itself to be a timeless classic.

“Goodnight Irene” By Gordon Jenkins & The Weavers

Song Year: 1950

Blues guitarist Huddie “Lead Belly,” Ledbetter wrote and recorded this song in 1933, but due to the lack of available technology, it didn’t come to prominence until many years later.

The traditional folk-song format tells of a despondent lover who’s frustrated with his sweetheart. He considers suicide, but it’s unclear in the lyrics whether he follows through.

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” By Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs

Song Year: 1950

This zany and energetic ride is a favorite among bluegrass fans as well as players. A banjo takes the lead, with fiddle joining in later. The melody goes at blistering speed but is somehow still catchy to the ear.

Flatt and Scruggs put out the most well-known version of “Breakdown.” Throughout the years to follow, there would be many more. It was later used in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde as the soundtrack to car chase scenes.

“Mona Lisa” By Nat King Cole

Song Year: 1950

And the Oscar winner goes to… “Mona Lisa!” Best Original Song went to this iconic tune featured in the film Captain Carey, U.S.A.

The sparse instrumental texture of only piano and jazz guitar lets Cole shine in his natural environment. The smooth-as-butter voice sings of the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci and ponders about its intrigue over centuries of art appreciation.

“Long Gone Lonesome Blues” By Hank Williams

Song Year: 1950

His first of many hits in the year 1950, this tune is what comes to mind when Williams fans think of his musical output. The chorus incorporates yodeling that serves as a nod to his country & western roots.

As with so much music called the blues, the narrator sings lyrics about a girlfriend who left him lonely, though the jaunty rhythm would make you think twice about how sad he is.

“Please Send Me Someone To Love” By Percy Mayfield

Song Year: 1950

Percy Mayfield was a smooth R&B singer in his own right, but he made a significant portion of his career as a songwriter. Many musicians know his tune “Hit the Road Jack,” which Ray Charles first recorded and made famous.

“Please Send Me” is a crooning ballad, sultry and evocative of a dimly-lit jazz bar. The blues tradition of feeling low is there, but in the message is a tinge of hope: perhaps someone will arrive to share feelings with him.

“The Fat Man” By Fats Domino

Song Year: 1950

A few early American styles combine here, including jazz, rock n’ roll, and boogie-woogie. The piano accents this genre-bending flavor with rollicking chords and a recognizable blues pattern.

Antoine Dominique “Fats” Domino Jr., a New Orleans native, was the father of early rock n’ roll. His vocal, piano and songwriting skills went far in the world of pop music, eventually influencing both The Beatles and Elvis Presley.

“Rollin’ Stone (Catfish Blues)” By Muddy Waters

Song Year: 1950

Another influential early figure in the development of rock, as well as blues and jazz, was McKinley Morganfield, who went by Muddy Waters. His guitar and vocals pioneered the Chicago blues style, formative in the genre decades prior to blues standardization.

“Rollin’ Stone” uses the metaphor of a catfish to describe the narrator’s yearning for someone to love. He imagines he lives in the river and women are out fishing in an attempt to catch him.

“Teardrops from My Eyes” By Ruth Brown

Song Year: 1950

This fast-paced and sassy tune established Brown’s prolific career, earning her the nickname “Miss Rhythm.” It sat on the Billboard charts for 11 weeks in 1950 and continues to be one of the most well-known tunes of the era.

The lyrical structure uses the imagery of rain and clouds to describe the sadness of a girl as she mourns the loss of her sweetheart. The artistry in the text is unusual for the time, which typically relied heavily on instrumental interest.

“Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” By Red Foley

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6QaW0a7DeM

Song Year: 1950

“Chattanoogie” was a popular song for many artists, including Frank Sinatra, Phil Harris, and Bing Crosby. However, Foley’s recording was the first and saw it peak at #1 on the charts.

Layers of varying timbres come together to make this tune catchy and memorable. A twangy guitar, stride piano, and hand slaps give it character, with Foley’s syncopated vocals the icing on this playful cake.

“Music! Music! Music! (Put Another Nickel In)” By Teresa Brewer

Song Year: 1950

This song was released as a B-side to “Copenhagen” but quickly usurped its popularity. Brewer helped the tune climb the charts after the original recording by Etienne Paree one year prior. Both were peppy and catchy, making it a natural jukebox favorite.

The carefree lyrics are of a young lady who tells her love interest that all she needs to be happy are his company, some music, and a night of dancing. 

“I’m Movin’ On” By Hank Snow

Song Year: 1950

This classic tune joins “Orange Blossom Special” in sounds that successfully evoke a train. The perpetual-motion feel of the beat, combined with a busy fiddle line, creates the aural atmosphere of a locomotive.

Telling his listener that he can’t stand still, the singer hitches a ride and doesn’t plan to come back. He even hints that he has a lover in Tennessee, putting the nail in the coffin of any hope of his possible return.

“Pink Champagne” By Joe Liggins and His Honeydrippers

Song Year: 1950

This multi-textured slow jazz melody incorporates a saxophone duet, vocal trio, and a plodding piano bassline to form its enticing musical landscape. The many instrumental timbres trade off licks throughout the song for an endlessly interesting listen.

Blues emotions peek through the thick texture as the lyrics describe a sophisticated lover who swept in to steal the narrator’s girl and compares him to a classy and irresistible beverage. 

“Sam’s Song” By Bing Crosby

Song Year: 1950

Like much music of this era, “Sam’s Song” was recorded by many artists in a twenty-year span. Bing Crosby’s version was arguably the most notable, though Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. would go toe-to-toe with it one decade later.

Happy-go-lucky lyrics start as a solo but soon join a second voice, belonging to Bing’s brother Gary. They performed this duet on Gary’s radio show a few years after its release.

“I’ll Never Be Free” By Dinah Washington

Song Year: 1950

This track uses old-school glamor for full effect, including a jazz big band and swingin’ piano underscoring. The moderate tempo is reminiscent of a smoky speakeasy late at night.

Washington’s vocals pierce the high register with passion and longing. She sings of the spell a lover has placed on her, including how he thrills her with his smile and a special look in his eyes. 

“Third Man Theme” By Anton Karas

“Third Man Theme” By Anton Karas

Song Year: 1950

There’s no lyrics to this incidental music, which first appeared in the 1949 movie The Third Man. The unique sound of a zither trips along with a cutesy melody, capturing the feeling of post-war Austria.

Anton Karas was a street performer when Orson Welles discovered his skill and hired him to compose and record the theme of the film.

“Mardi Gras in New Orleans” By Professor Longhair

Song Year: 1950

Fun and celebratory, this bubbly tune has all of the Mardi Gras flavors you could want in two and a half minutes of music. The blaring brass, whistling, and boogie-woogie piano illustrate a picture of partying on the streets until sunrise.

There’s no better performer to present this style than Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd, sometimes called “Fess” for his nickname of “Professor Longhair.” He was pivotal in the formation of New Orleans blues, working in elements of rumba and calypso, and inspired countless blues players after his time.

“The Thing” By Phil Harris

Song Year: 1950

Harris was more than a singer, fortunately for American culture. His illustrious career in comedy, radio, and film encompassed four decades, though he’s perhaps best known today for his voice acting in Disney movies such as The Jungle Book (where he played Baloo).

“The Thing” is a prime example of Harris’ talent for entertaining. Humorous and borderline bawdy, it encourages listeners to join in on the call-and-response format.

“Harbor Lights” By Sammy Kaye

Song Year: 1950

It doesn’t get much more sentimental than this. Kaye and his orchestra float along on a serenade suggestive of gentle ocean waves.

Lush female harmonies and steel guitar hint at an island atmosphere as the lyrics tell of a lover separated from his girl. He hopes the harbor lights will bring her back in his direction so he can experience romance with her again.

“Moanin’ The Blues” By Hank Williams

Song Year: 1950

Western-style guitar, fiddle, and hillbilly singing are the quintessential sound of Williams. This is the second of four big hits for him within one year, cementing his reputation as one of the biggest voices of his time.

The honky-tonk musical style supports a bluesy message of loneliness and nostalgia as the narrator regrets a past love interest who left him.

“Sentimental Me” By Ames Brothers

Song Year: 1950

Old-fashioned and syrupy sweet, the lush vocal parts take center stage on “Sentimental Me.” A jazz organ and slow beat support the pace, which begs a pair of dancers to sway gently in each others’ arms.

This is the most popular version of this tune, though there were also two others recorded in 1950 by Ray Anthony and the Russ Morgan Orchestra. 

“Bad, Bad Whiskey” By Amos Milburn

Song Year: 1950

As you might guess from this song’s title, “Bad, Bad Whiskey” details how alcohol makes the singer lose his faculties of reason and make some dumb decisions. It’s one of the most famous examples of a jazz subgenre nicknamed “blues in a bottle.”

Maxwell Davis is the composer, though Milburn’s performance catapulted it to the top of the charts. Later, Bob Dylan gave it a shot on his radio program.

“My Foolish Heart” By The Gordon Jenkins Orchestra

Song Year: 1950

Though critics thought it too sappy, “My Foolish Heart” was a ballad that quickly became a jazz standard. It was featured in the film by the same name, which helped drive its rise to prominence.

Besides Gordon Jenkins, Billy Eckstine’s version also spent 19 weeks on the Billboard charts that same year. 

“Go Back To the One You Love” By T-Bone Walker

Song Year: 1950

Though many songs in 1950 were a mixture of genres, “Go Back To the One You Love” is pure bluesy goodness. The instrumental track lets jazz guitar play with piano and bass for a simple but enduring tune.

T-Bone Walker was a foundational figure in more than one blues style, including West Coast and electric blues. His strong voice layers over the instrumental timbres as he tells a woman who cheated on him to follow her heart and leave him alone in his misery.  

“Oh Babe!” By Louis Prima and Keely Smith

Song Year: 1950

Big band jazz was the height of 1940s and ‘50s energy. “Oh Babe!” is no exception, letting each instrument have its chance at a cheeky solo with some call-and-response in the brass.

The lyrics describe the narrator’s object of his affection catching his attention every time she calls out to him. This one is both danceable and singable in the best way. 

“Rollin’ and Tumblin’” By Muddy Waters

Song Year: 1950

This classic of the Delta blues was already a jazz standard over two decades before Muddy Waters made it a hit in 1950. In the 1960s, Cream covered it with a rock twist, giving it a harder edge and introducing the tune to new audiences.

In keeping with the blues tradition, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” laments the absence of a romantic interest. The twangy guitar sound that Waters gave his version makes it sound more upbeat than the lovelorn lyrics would suggest.

“I Wanna Be Loved” By The Andrews Sisters and The Gordon Jenkins Orchestra

Song Year: 1950

This ballad’s message is that of a mature woman wishing that someone would woo, thrill, and cherish her. The solo voice on the first verse segues to a texture of rich harmonies later in the song, punctuated by strings.

Though the Andrews Sisters made “I Wanna Be Loved” a #1 hit on the charts in 1950, it was a standard that many other artists recorded. Dinah Washington’s was another notable version about a decade later, backed by Quincy Jones’ orchestra.

“Count Every Star” By The Ravens

Song Year: 1950

R&B vocal group The Ravens formed in 1945 and was the first of its kind to feature a bass voice as lead melody. It’s a slow serenade that makes plenty of room for background vocals and a two-count rhythm.

Dick Haymes and Artie Shaw also released a recording of “Count Every Star” in 1950, which reached #10 on the U.S. pop charts. 

“Bon Ton Roula” By Clarence Garlow

Song Year: 1950

Though there was plenty of blues music that climbed the charts in 1950, this one utilizes elements of rhumba and zydeco for a unique flavor that sounds like it’s right out of New Orleans. The Cajun style was so popular that other artists copied this song in subsequent decades of the pop and jazz music industries.

“Bon Ton Roula” loosely translates to “let the good times roll,” using Louisiana Creole and traditional folk dialects in the lyrics.

Top Songs From 1950, Final Thoughts

Those were the best songs from 1950. Though the blues reigned supreme, there was also significant influence from the country and western genre as well as big band jazz. Various cultures came together on the mainstream pop charts, creating a melting pot of sounds that would become more homogenous further into the decade.

There’s no doubt that 1950 was an enriching time for the industry. Whether you’re familiar with the music from this year or just now discovering its appeal, we hope you found some new favorite tunes on our list. Happy listening! 

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