150 Best Albums of 1957/’58/’59

Norman Mailer somehow managed to get through “The White Negro,” the monumental essay he published at just over 9000 words in Dissent in the autumn of 1957, without even once mentioning Elvis Presley (whose “Don’t Be Cruel” had just topped the pop and country and r&b charts in 1956), Jack Kerouac (whose On the Road came out that same fall, six years after most of it was written), rock’n’roll period, beats or beatniks period (at least by those names — he calls them “hipsters” and “American existentialists”), or the folk music revival. When Mailer talks about music, it’s bebop: “Jazz is orgasm, it is the music of orgasm, good orgasm and bad, and so it spoke across a nation, it had the communication of art even where it was watered, perverted, corrupted, and almost killed, it spoke in no matter what laundered popular way of instantaneous existential states to which some whites could respond, it was indeed a communication by art because it said, ‘I feel this, and now you do too.'”

His stereotyped, romanticized, reductionist, crypto-racist thesis held that Black Americans had “been living on the margin of totalitarianism and democracy for two centuries,” fostering unforgivingly intense lives of violence and sexual abandon because death might come at any moment. And now in the wake of the atom bomb and concentration camps and related mid-century horrors, white hipsters were following suit. The primary catalyst, Mailer thought, was “jazz, and its knife-like entrance into culture, its subtle but so penetrating influence on an avant-garde generation—that post-war generation of adventurers who (some consciously, some by osmosis) had absorbed the lessons of disillusionment and disgust of the Twenties, the Depression, and the War.” Or as Prince put it a quarter-century later, “Everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day. But before I’ll let that happen, I’ll dance my life away.”

University of Virginia historian and American Studies professor Grace Elizabeth Hale, in her excellent 2011 cultural history A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love With Rebellion in Postwar America, castigates that Mailer “seriously describes African Americans as if the characters created by minstrelsy and blues songs have come to life.” She sees him and the hipsters he writes about play-acting a skewed perception of Black culture in the way burnt-cork minstrels starting with Jim-Crow-jumping Thomas Dartmouth Rice did in the 19th Century, the way bump-and-grinding rockabillies like Elvis did, the way bebop-besotted beats like Kerouac did (“At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I was a Negro”), the way Greenwich Village folksingers like Dave Von Ronk, resurrecting and ultimately re-commercializing rural Southern Black blues and sometimes even bluesmen of two or three decades before, would soon enough: “an unending spiral of whites copying blacks copying whites copying blacks.”

Somewhere in the middle of her long discussion of all this cross-racial appropriation, Hale tells the story of Elvis meeting the Louvin Brothers in the dressing room of Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey’s Stage Show, hearing them close-harmonize Christian hymns, telling them church was his favorite style of music, which caused one Louvin to blow up at him: “Ira lost his temper and started yelling: ‘Why you white [racial slur way more offensive than Negro], if that’s your favorite music, why don’t you do that out yonder? Why do you do that [same slur] trash out there?'” Whereupon, Charlie Louvin remembered, Ira attempted to choke Elvis’s throat. In 1959, the Louvins put out an infamous evangelical country album called Satan is Real, with hellfire and a towering devil behind them on the cover looking time-traveled from a future Slayer record. In “The Christian Life,” they complain bitterly, hatefully, even apocalyptically about how “others find pleasure in things I despise.” But in 1960 they followed it up with the much more lively Tribute to the Delmore Brothers, covering the Delmores’ pre-rockabilly country boogie imitation of Black blues songs. So maybe Ira changed his mind?

Jack Kerouac released two albums of poetry in 1959 himself — one backed by white saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, the other by white pianist Steve Allen. The latter starts with “October in the Railroad Earth,” featuring his blatantly minstrel-like dialect imitation of a Black church “pastor out front bowing to the ladies on the make you hear his great vibrant voice on the sunny Sunday afternoon sidewalk full of sexual vibratos.” California hipster, flipster and finger-poppin’ daddyo Lord Buckley, in “Black Cross” on his 1959 comedy album Way Out Humor, reciting in a gruff voice that could almost pass as a Jim Dandy Mangrum or Captain Beefheart prototype and backed by someone gently singing “Kumbayah,” mimics an impoverished but book-loving Black farmer who gets lynched for not being right kind of religious. Those wouldn’t fly today.

The late ’50s had yellowface, too: Maybe New York-born African American Muriel Smith, singing the pidgin English “Happy Talk” as the Tonkinese (as in Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin) Bloody Mary in the 1958 film adaptation of the nonetheless ostensibly racially progressive and anti-imperialist South Pacific (at 31 weeks, tied with Harry Belafonte’s also globally attuned 1956 Calypso as the longest-running #1 album of the ’50s); definitely John Cage, entering into an offensively cartoonish r-and-l-transposing Japanese accent for a minute-long “recture” in the middle of “Indeterminacy 4.”

“Why are you so sad, willow tree?,” Cage-as-Japanese-poet asks. And he was not the only person asking that question at the time. In 1957 — the year after New York doo-wop group the Willows hit big with “Church Bells May Ring” — the Five Satins sang “Weeping Willow,” the Dominoes sang (re-sang? re-released? hard to tell this early in the album game) “Weeping Willow Blues,” and Patsy Cline stopped to “see a weepin’ willow cryin’ on his pillow’ while “Walkin’ After Midnight”; In 1959, John Lee Hooker moaned “She’s Long, She’s Tall, She Weeps Like a Willow Tree” whille Nina Simone moaned “Willow Weep For Me” (also recorded by alto soul-jazz sax player David “Fathead” Newman, not to be confused with jump-blues alto sax player and shouter Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson.)

John Cage also wonders why the bird in the willow tree is so sad, interesting in light of New York jazz and cabaret singer Blossom Dearie’s 1957 “I Hear Music,” in which she claimed to hear music in the chirping of a sparrow and the percolation of coffee and the morning breeze, which is pretty much exactly what Cage asked us to do! On Tony Schwartz’s audio verité Sounds of My City, recorded on the streets of New York; in the track “Birds And Crickets; Bark-Cloth Hammering With The Voices Of Young Boys In The Background” on Pygmies of the Ituri Forest; and in the track “Birds” on Maria Sabina’s probably theoretically psychedelic if you consume the correct fungi (I didn’t) Mushroom Ceremony of the Mazatec Indians Of Mexico (all on Folkways Records, surprise surprise — as was Cage’s Indeterminacy, which coincidentally has him attending a mushroom exhibit in Paris at one point) you literally do hear birds. Charles Mingus’s 1959 “Bird Calls” was no doubt inspired by our fine feathered friends too, as were Bobby Day’s “tweedely tweedely dee”s in his #2-charting 1958 smash “Rockin’ Robin,” off an ornithologically astute album that also included “Little Turtle Dove” and “When the Swallows Come Back From Capistrano.”

“Rockin’ Robin,” it should be said, was something of a jinxed song; in 1972, Michael Jackson also just missed topping the pop chart with it by one mere ladder-rung. I’d always known Bobby Day did it first, though I’m not sure I knew he also did “Over and Over” seven years before the Dave Clark Five. (His rendition just missed the Top 40; theirs got to #1 in 1965.) Likewise, I’m pretty sure I had an inkling that the Pogues’ “Whiskey You’re the Devil” was done first by some old drunk Irish guys; I may or may not have asked “Who are the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem?” correctly if I was on Jeopardy. And I was at least vaguely aware Ritchie Valens’s “Ooh! My Head” was straight-up Led Zeppelin’s “Boogie With Stu” under a less bogus title. But until this month I definitely had no idea Joe Ely’s “Rock Me My Baby” came from the Crickets, the Fall’s “Rollin’ Dany” from Gene Vincent, Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Firecracker” from Martin Denny, or Nilsson’s “Early in the Morning” from Louis Jordan. (On the other hand, contrary to intermittent Internet scuttlebutt, The Big Bopper’s 1958 “Little Red Riding Hood” and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ 1966 “Lil Red Riding Hood” turn out to be two different lecherous songs.)

“Big Bopper’s Wedding” is a spiritual grandparent of both Stanley Holloway’s “Get Me to the Church on Time” from My Fair Lady and “Paradise By the Dashboard Light”– “gotta look at your face for the rest of my doggone life” is like Meat Loaf waiting for the end of time, and Meat’s fast parts bop the same kind of big. Even bigger, Three Tons of Joy — regulars with TV-program-turned-r&b-combo the Johnny Otis Show, led by a Greek-American white man passing as Black — were a trio of large-voiced, big-boned African-American women, and a titular antecedent to disco-era Sylvester backing duo Two Tons of Fun, eventually better known as the Weather Girls of gay-anthem “It’s Raining Men” fame.

The possible “Sixty Minute Man” answer song “30 Second Lover” by the “5” Royales (who like the “Chirpin'” Crickets could use quotation mark lessons) set a precedent for Mötley Crüe’s “Five Seconds to Love” almost as much as the Dominoes’ “Can’t Do Sixty No More” set one for the Wild Seeds’ ’80s Austin college-rock “I’m Sorry I Can’t Rock You All Night Long.” The whoop-wooh-ooh-ooh’s in Chuck Berry’s 1959 “Almost Grown” are echoed in Kenny Chesney’s 2001 “Young,” which is similarly about starting to come of age. Blossom Dearie’s repeated ooh-la-las in “Give Him the Ooh La La” anticipate Camila Cabello’s in “Señorita” by more than six decades. (And oh yeah, there was also the Everly Brothers worrying about their friends saying ooh-la-la after they woke up Little Susie and got her home so late. I still don’t get how the theater was still open at 4 a.m.! Unless she was at Phil and/or Don’s house.)

Rock subgenres that never came to be, despite being named in song titles: “Dixieland Rock” (Elvis), “El Rancho Rock” (the Champs), “Mardi Gras Rock” (Bobby Freeman), “Sake Rock” (Martin Denny.) No idea whether any of these came with their own dance steps. Wanda Jackson’s “I Wanna Waltz,” on the other hand, keeps going back and forth between hopped-up wildcat-mama rockabilly (perhaps the loudest rock on her debut album) and exactly what its title portends.

The Chantels were way ahead of the girl-group game, and Howlin’ Wolf undoubtedly helped invent hard rock. Dion and the Belmonts’ “You Better Not Do That” might be the first blatant self-conscious country-song move by an otherwise decidedly non-country urban Northern rock’n’roll act. British folksinger Shirley Collins’s interjectional “oink!”s in “The Lady and the Swine” are the sort of thing reggae dancehall toasters would do years later. A bit of money-earnin’ Mount Vernon NY doo-wop crew the Mellokings’ “Once on a Windy Day” (“I watched the children play”) wound up in Marianne Faithful via the Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By”; the Mellokings’ “Sassafras” sounds like proto-frat rock (an inspiration for Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” maybe?) And though I don’t really get Nina Simone, while listening to her “Plain Gold Ring” it occurred to me that it could make for a pretty decent goth-metal dirge. I later learned that Nick Cave (who I also don’t really get) covered it, which is close enough.

Some Kerouac poems (say maybe “Deadbelly,” “Bowery Blues” or “Goofing at the Table”) could pass for underground art-rap in a 21st Century blindfold test. “Shoe Shine – Hambone” on the Folkways compilation Music of New Orleans Volume One also suggests a kind of proto-hip-hop, as does much of Street and Gangland Rhythms: Beats and Improvisations by Six Boys in Trouble on the same record label, as does Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence’s out-of-his-mind six-minute “I’m Going to Live the Life,” also on the same label.

Prehistoric industrial: “Mechanical Motions” by Dutch electronic music pioneers Tom Dissevelt and Kid Balton; Ukranian composer Alexander Mossolov’s “Symphony of Machines” on Folkways’ Sounds of New Music. John Cage’s percussion piece “Dance,” compiled on the same album, doesn’t sound all that far from certain tracks by genetically short-statured indigenous hunter-gatherers of the Congo’s Ituri rainforest. Cage’s deliriously deadpan narrative cutups over David Tudor’s random plinks and plonks on Indeterminacy are way funnier than Bennie Green with the Stereo Mad Men’s Musically Mad, despite the latter having Alfred E. Neumann on its cover; so is the first track on Sounds of New Music, flatulently titled “Bahnfaht” but credited to nobody.

Charles Mingus’s The Clown isn’t so much a comedy record as a record about comedy, in the sense that, over what sounds like circus music crossed with bebop, its 12-minute title track actually has somebody doing what at first suggests a bad standup routine, but eventually proves be a hipster short story about a sweaty clown with greens and oranges and yellows inside and a trained ladder-climbing seal sidekick that got sick all over the stage once, playing Kiwanis and Rotary clubs and American Legion halls in all sorts of small towns until he falls flat on his face in Dubuque and bloodies his nose which cracks up all the dentists and pharmacists and postal carriers in the audience. So the clown amends his act toward more slapstick — purchases football pads and a helmet and hires a girl to drop a five-pound bag of flour on him. He starts getting booked in bigger cities — “And they were laughin’ alright — Not like Dubuque, but they were laughin’.” Especially when tragedy strikes.

Abbey Lincoln’s “Laugh, Clown, Laugh,” meanwhile, is an 11-years-before-the-fact answer song to Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” — It even mentions Pagliacci! Steve Miller’s lines in “The Joker” about “you’re the cutest thing I ever did see” and “Lovey dovey all the time” turn out to have originated in “Lovey Dovey” by Drifters and Dominoes veteran Clyde McPhatter. The guitar in “Words of Love” by Buddy Holly (who curiously does not wear glasses on the cover of his self-titled album) sounds suspiciously similar to the guitar in Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love is Strange” (which came first — also, was there a better late ’50s song title than their “Love Will Make You Fail in School”?) Guitar lines in the Everly Brothers’ “Leave My Woman Alone” later found a home in the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.” John Coltrane’s Soultrane album preceded the TV show by 13 years.

Louis Jordan’s “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” which he’d been recording and re-recording since the early ’40s (actually Arkansas bluesman Casey Bill Weldon first did it in 1936), by the late 50s must have been a timely marker of American suburbia’s post-war boom, and while not forecasting the white flight of Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” and August Darnell’s “There But For the Grace of God Go I” since Jordan wasn’t white, it might nonetheless have been heard by some as a radical threat to red-lining restrictions. That would be even sneakier than Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” which as hundreds of observers before me have pointed out is clearly code for “Brown Skinned“; the song’s most portentous line, though, comes right at the beginning, with our B.E.H.M. “arrested on charges of unemployment” — Still relevant in a country where poverty is frequently treated like a crime. Most confusing line, though, is the final verse “Two-three the count with nobody on, he hit a high fly into the stands” doesn’t make sense, since that count would mean two balls and three strikes; i.e., the batter’s already struck out!

Cold War Interlude! Not sure if calypso warbler Lord Invader did the only late ’50s song about Fidel Castro, but at least he did one. And after crediting the Volunteer State for giving the world country singers like Eddy Arnold, Carl Perkins’s “Tennessee” blindsides you by warning the planet might blow up but at least the A-bomb got built there first. Something to be proud of!

In “Let’s Get Away From It All,” Frank Sinatra journeys to Tennessee and the rest of the continental U.S.: “We’ll visit every state, I’ll repeat that ‘I love you sweet’ in all the 48.” That was 1958; a year later, when both Alaska and Hawaii attained statehood, the lyric was already outdated. But it’s not just a road trip: “Let’s take a boat to Bermuda, let’s take a plane to St. Paul, let’s take a kayak to Quincy or Nyack” — the latter two towns on the outskirts of Boston and New York City, apparently. Not your everyday song-vacation spots, whether or not they were technically kayak-accessible. The number appeared on Old Blue Eyes’ jet-set journal Come Fly With Me, which also had him heading to Vermont, Paris, London, Hawaii after all, Italy’s Isle of Capri and — most colonially, thanks to Rudyard Kipling whose daughter couldn’t stand Sinatra’s version — Mandalay. He ends the concept album with “It’s Nice to Go Trav’ling,” like for instance “very nice just to wander the camel route to Iraq” (the year of a revolutionary coup d’état no less!), but it’s nicer to come back home when the trav’ling’s done: “No more customs. Burn the passport. No more packing and unpacking [wait, did he get a job at WKRP in Cincinnati??]. Light the home fires. Get my slippers. Make a pizza.” Close the curtain!

The fact that commercial air travel really took off in the ’50s has everything to do with such globe-trotting, I’m sure — and with South Pacific and Calypso and as well. Winning another world war probably didn’t hurt. Jazz cats planted their flags all over the map: Charles Mingus’s “Haitian Fight Song,” Art Blakey’s “Night in Tunisia,” John Coltrane’s “Russian Lullaby,” Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches,” Sun Ra’s “India,” Cecil Taylor’s “African Violet,” Chico Hamilton’s “Far East.” Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Ritchie Valens, Mickey and Sylvia, the Drifters and other early rock’n’rollers regularly incorporated Latin and Caribbean syncopation. Exotica guys like Martin Denny (whose 1957 debut topped Billboard‘s album chart for five weeks in 1959) and actual Hawaii native Arthur Lyman (whose own debut went top 10 in ’58) patronizingly but at times delectably imagined tribal music of nonexistent South Sea Islands while the Ethnic Folkways Series introduced far-flung field-recorded rhythm rituals to Western hi-fis. In years when the National Geographic Society was just starting to produce its own television programming, all this fit right in.

Folkways even put out a Margaret Mead album! “We don’t just suddenly get dropped right out of the clouds among a group of cannibals,” she explains, begging the condescension question with adjectives like “primitive” and “uncivilized” even when she’s trying to dispel myths. But she also offers advice to young people who’d “like to do more than marry, and have children, and bring up their children well, and be good local citizens” — A sly swipe at ’50s nuclear-family prosperity and grey-flannel-suit organization-man conformity, doubly effective coming from a woman, and maybe even prescient with the ’60s on the way. Pass the dynamite, ’cause the fuse is lit!

Portraying his own kind of anthropologist, Norman Mailer back in his frequently incomprehensible The White Negro attempted to parse hipster slang, “a language of energy, how it is found, how it is lost.” He’s “jotted down perhaps a dozen words” (really 14) he gets the idea are both in common use and built to last: “man, go, put down, make, beat, cool, swing, with it, crazy, dig, flip, creep, hip, square.” A few of these are also defined in much more humorous fashion on Del Close & John Brent’s 1959 comedy album, How to Speak Hip; most if not all show up in the indispensable several-hundred-paged 1960 Dictionary of American Slang, edited by Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner: “put [someone or something] down To reject; to criticize; to scorn. 1956: ‘I called my dad and he hung up. My folks put me down strong….” S. Longstreet The Real Jazz Old and New, 147. 1958: ‘Not that I mean to put down the Old Masters [classical composers], but I don’t think they can talk to the musically untrained….’ John ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie, ‘The Gillespie Plan,’ Jazz World, March, 5. c. 1955; orig. beat use, now common to far out, cool, and hip people.”

But what about hip-to-be-square people? Like, the Everly Brothers maybe. Buddy Holly wearing glasses, probably. The Fleetwoods for sure. And even more so upstate-NY-via-D.C. harmonizing identical siblings the Kalin Twins, Hal and Herbie, who went top five (and eventually hit Greil Marcus’s Stranded discography) with “When” in 1958, and whose album track “Cool” is about being exactly the opposite. They totally play it up, too: “Poor me, golly gee, life is so cruel.” “Some joke, holy smoke, you snub me at school.” “And how, holy cow, still I’m a fool.” “They say you’re suave and debonaire, with your nose in the air, you call me square.” Naturally, in an age dripping grit and grease, they both sound and look squeaky clean.

“Their interest in the rock and roll of the time was minimal,” the Kalins’ This is My Story page informs — supposedly because they were born in 1932, which would make them 26 when “When” hit. But that’s the same age as Carl Perkins or Little Richard or Clyde McPhatter, six years younger than Chuck Berry, seven years younger than rewarmed Western Swing leftover Bill Haley. (“Glad rags,” as in the first verse of “Rock Around the Clock,” apparently dates back to around 1900, the slang dictionary says.) Louis Jordan was all of 49 when he made a terrific comeback album in 1957, for the most part raucously remaking his 78-RPM classics for the LP era; Duke Ellington, born in the last year of the 19th Century, was in his late ’50s, Count Basie a few years younger than that. Margaret Mead was also in her late 50s, Louis Prima (whose “Closer to the Bone” wins the funny-song-about-skinny-girlfriend trophy over Larry Williams’s “Bony Moronie” by an waistline inch) his late ’40s, John Cage mid 40s, Jack Kerouac (and Norman Mailer) mid 30s. Every last one of them was younger than I am now. Elton John and Dolly Parton in 2022 are ancient relics in comparison; Willie Nelson a coelacanth.

You know what else is getting old, though? The ’50s themselves. In fact, they’re gradually disappearing: Rolling Stone‘s latest 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, a poll I voted in, featured only 24 from the ’50s (4.8%) and just four in its Top 100, the highest being “Johnny B. Goode” at #33. That’s down from 68 (13.6%) in 2010 and 72 (14.4%) in 2004, and compared (in 2021) to 108 from the ’60s, 144 from the ’70s, 80 from the ’80s, 70 from the ’90s, 38 from the ’00s, 30 from the ’10s — all but the ’60s having increased since the last time out. This is probably inevitable, as younger tastemakers and gatekeepers take over, pre-Beatles music becomes ancient history, oldies stations turn into classic rock stations that by now include Pearl Jam, and years full of songs to compete with accumulate endlessly. But it’s still sad. And probably not quite what Chuck Berry (who may well have, once upon an early adolescence, inspired me to change my preferred first name from Charlie) meant by “Hail hail rock’n’roll, deliver me from the days of old.”

  1. The Coasters The Coasters (Atco ’57)
  2. Louis Jordan Somebody Up There Digs Me (Mercury ’57)
  3. Chuck Berry Berry is on Top (Chess ’59)
  4. Charles Mingus Mingus Ah Um (Columbia ’59)
  5. Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns Having a Good Time (Ace ’59)
  6. Ornette Coleman The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic ’59)
  7. Little Richard Here’s Little Richard (Specialty ’57)
  8. John Cage/David Tudor Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music (Folkways ’59)
  9. Thelonious Monk Septet Monk’s Music (Riverside ’57)
  10. Bo Diddley Bo Diddley (Chess ’58)
  11. The El Dorados with Guest Artists the Magnificents Crazy Little Mama (Vee Jay ’57)
  12. Chuck Berry After School Session (Chess ’57)
  13. Little Richard Little Richard (Specialty ’58)
  14. Sonny Rollins Saxophone Colossus (Prestige ’57)
  15. Street and Gangland Rhythms: Beats and Improvisations by Six Boys in Trouble (Folkways ’59)
  16. Tom Lehrer An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer/More Of Tom Lehrer (Lehrer/Decca ’59)
  17. Miles Davis Round About Midnight (Columbia ’57)
  18. Hank Thompson Songs for Rounders (Capitol ’59)
  19. The Cadets Rockin’ N’ Reelin’ (Crown ’57)
  20. Louis Prima with Keely Smith Breaking It Up (Capitol ’58)
  21. The Kingston Trio The Kingston Trio (Capitol ’58)
  22. Ronnie Hawkins Ronnie Hawkins (Roulette ’59)
  23. The Cadillacs The Fabulous Cadillacs (Jubilee ’57)
  24. Miles Davis Milestones (Columbia ’58)
  25. Bobby Day Rockin’ With Robin (Class ’59)
  26. Kiss Me Kate (RCA Victor ’59)
  27. Sonny Rollins Vol. 2 (Blue Note ’57)
  28. Clyde McPhatter with Billy Ward and the Dominoes Clyde McPhatter with Billy Ward and the Dominoes (King ’57)
  29. Dion and the Belmonts Presenting Dion and the Belmonts (Laurie ’59)
  30. Miles Davis Kind of Blue (Columbia ’59)
  31. The Swan Silvertones The Swan Silvertones (Vee Jay ’59)
  32. The Kingston Trio …From the ‘Hungry I’ (Capitol ’59)
  33. Charles Mingus The Clown (Atlantic ’57)
  34. The Pygmies of the Ituri Forest (Folkways ’58)
  35. The Crickets The “Chirping” Crickets (Brunswick ’58)
  36. The Miles Davis Quintet Cookin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet (Columbia ’57)
  37. Chuck Berry One Dozen Berrys (Chess ’58)
  38. The “5” Royales Dedicated to You (King ’57)
  39. Louis Prima, Keely Smith with Sam Butera and the Witnesses The Call of the Wildest (Capitol ’57)
  40. The New Lost City Ramblers Songs From the Depression (Folkways ’59)
  41. Thelonious Monk Brilliant Corners (Riverside ’57)
  42. Sun Ra and his Arkestra Super-Sonic Jazz (El Saturn ’57)
  43. Lloyd Price The Exciting Lloyd Price (ABC-Paramount ’59)
  44. Carl Perkins Dance Album of Carl Perkins (Sun ’57)
  45. Fats Domino Let’s Play Fats Domino (Imperial ’59)
  46. Mose Allison Autumn Song (Prestige ’59)
  47. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers/Moanin’ (Blue Note ’58)
  48. Anita O’Day Anita Sings the Most (Verve ’57)
  49. Jerry Lee Lewis Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun ’57)
  50. Tony Schwartz Sounds of My City (Folkways ’59)
  51. Ahmed Abdul-Malik Jazz Sahara (Riverside ’58)
  52. Cecil Taylor Trio and Quartet Love for Sale (United Artists ’59)
  53. Louis Prima and Keely Smith with Sam Butera and the Witnesses Las Vegas Prima Style (Capitol ’58)
  54. Mickey and Sylvia New Sounds (Vik ’57)
  55. The 5 Satins The 5 Satins Sing (Ember ’57)
  56. John Coltrane Blue Trane (Blue Note ’57)
  57. Sounds of New Music (Folkways ’57)
  58. Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson Cleanhead’s Back in Town: Eddie Vinson Sings (Bethlehem ’57)
  59. Frankie Ford Let’s Take a Sea Cruise with Frankie Ford (Ace ’59)
  60. Buddy Holly Buddy Holly (Coral ’58)
  61. Thelonious Monk Quintet 5 By Monk By 5 (Riverside ’59)
  62. Sun Ra Jazz in Silhouette (El Saturn ’59)
  63. Voices of the Satellites (Folkways ’58)
  64. Ornette Coleman Something Else!!!! (Contemporary ’59)
  65. Jack Kerouac & Steve Allen Poetry for the Beat Generation (Hanover ’59)
  66. John Coltrane Soultrane (Prestige ’58)
  67. Sonny Rollins Freedom Suite (Riverside ’58)
  68. Cecil Taylor Jazz Advance (Transition ’57)
  69. The Dixie Hummingbirds A Christian Testimonial (Peacock ’59)
  70. Bobby Freeman Do You Wanna Dance (Jubilee ’58)
  71. Ornette Coleman Tomorrow is the Question! The New Music of Ornette Coleman! (Contemporary ’59)
  72. Sarah Vaughan No Count Sarah (Mercury ’59)
  73. The Drifters Rockin’ and Driftin’ (Atlantic ’58)
  74. Anita O’Day Sings the Winners (Verve ’58)
  75. Margaret Mead Interview with Dr. Margaret Mead, Anthropologist (Folkways ’59)
  76. Big Bopper Chantilly Lace (Mercury ’58)
  77. Duke Ellington and his Orchestra Ellington Jazz Party (Columbia ’59)
  78. Ary Lobo Forró Com Ary Lobo (RCA Victor/BMG Brazil ’59)
  79. Louis Prima & Keely Smith On Broadway (Coronet ’59)
  80. The Everly Brothers The Everly Brothers/They’re Off and Rolling (Candence ’58)
  81. The Diamonds America’s Favorite Song Stylists (Wing ’59)
  82. Chuck Willis King of the Stroll (Atlantic ’58)
  83. Keely Smith Swingin’ Pretty (Capitol ’59)
  84. Count Basie Chairman of the Board (Roulette ’59)
  85. Cecil Taylor Quartet Looking Ahead! (Contemporary ’59)
  86. Bo Diddley Go Bo Diddley (Checker ’59)
  87. The Fleetwoods Mr. Blue (Dolton ’59)
  88. Kid Balton and Tom Dissevelt The Fascinating World of Electronic Music (Philips Netherlands ’59)
  89. LaVern Baker Sings Bessie Smith (Atlantic ’58)
  90. Duke Ellington and his Orchestra Ellington Indigos (Columbia ’58)
  91. The Dave Brubeck Quartet Time Out (Columbia ’59)
  92. Ritchie Valens Ritchie Valens (Del-Fi ’59)
  93. Dinah Washington The Swingin’ Miss “D” (EmArcy ’57)
  94. Mort Sahl 1960 or Look Forward in Anger (Verve ’59)
  95. Les Troubadours Du Roi Baudouin Missa Luba (Philips Netherlands ’58)
  96. The Chantels We are the Chantels (End ’58)
  97. Miles Davis Porgy and Bess (Columbia ’59)
  98. The Kalin Twins The Kalin Twins (Decca ’58)
  99. Sabu and his Percussion Ensemble Sorcery! (Columbia ’58)
  100. Ray Charles The Genius of Ray Charles (Atlantic ’59)
  101. Sun Ra Jazz by Sun Ra, Vol. 1 (Transition ’57)
  102. Highlights of Vortex (Folkways ’59)
  103. Larry Williams Here’s Larry Williams (Specialty ’59)
  104. The Johnny Otis Show The Johnny Otis Show (Capitol ’58)
  105. Karl Kubat and his Brass Folk Dance Band Folk Dances of Austria, Vol. 1 (Folkways ’59)
  106. Martin Denny Quiet Village: The Exotic Sounds of Martin Denny (Liberty ’59)
  107. Marty Robbins Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (Columbia ’59)
  108. Mort Sahl The Future Lies Ahead (Verve ’58)
  109. The New Lost City Ramblers Old Timey Songs for Children (Folkways ’59)
  110. Mose Allison Back Country Suite (Prestige ’57)
  111. Clyde McPhatter Clyde (Atlantic ’59)
  112. Elvis Presley King Creole (RCA Victor ’58)
  113. Dinah Washington What a Difference a Day Makes! (Mercury ’59)
  114. The Isley Brothers Shout! (RCA Victor ’59)
  115. Lotte Lenya Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins/Die 7 Todsünden (Columbia Masterworks/Philips Germany ’57)
  116. Howlin’ Wolf Moanin’ in the Moonlight (Chess ’58)
  117. Arthur Lyman Taboo: The Exotic Sounds of Arthur Lyman  (HiFi ’58)
  118. Hank Ballard and the Midnighters Singin’ and Swingin’ (King ’59)
  119. Shirley Collins Sweet England (Argo UK ’59)
  120. Wanda Jackson Wanda Jackson (Capitol ’58)
  121. Dinah Washington Sings Fats Waller (EmArcy/Mercury ’58)
  122. The Chico Hamilton Quartet Gongs East! (Warner Bros. ’59)
  123. Abbey Lincoln with the Riverside Jazz All Stars That’s Him! (Riverside ’57) 
  124. Little Richard The Fabulous Little Richard (Specialty ’59)
  125. Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar (Sun ’57)
  126. Joseph Spence Bahaman Folk Guitar (Folkways ’59)
  127. Dave Von Ronk Sings Ballads, Blues & a Spiritual (Folkways ’59)
  128. Gene Vincent Rocks! And the Blue Caps Roll! (Capitol ’58)
  129. Luening/Ussachevsky/William Bergsma A Poem in Cycles and Bells & Other Music for Tape Recorder (Composers Recording Inc. ’57)
  130. Ruth Brown Rock & Roll (Atlantic ’57)
  131. Sarah Vaughan Vaughan and Violins (Mercury ’58)
  132. Robert Craft Boulez: Le Marteau Sans Maître/Stockhausen: Nr. 5 Zeitmasse for Five Woodwinds (Columbia Masterworks ’58)
  133. Jackie Wilson He’s So Fine (Brunswick ’58
  134. Jack Kerouac featuring Al Cohn and Zoot Sims Blues and Haikus (Hanover ’59)
  135. Frank Sinatra Come Fly With Me (Capitol ’58)
  136. Abbey Lincoln Abbey is Blue (Riverside ’59)
  137. Blossom Dearie Blossom Dearie (Verve ’57)
  138. West Side Story (Columbia Masterworks ’57)
  139. Tito Puente Mucho Cha Cha (RCA Victor ’59)
  140. Del Close & John Brent How to Speak Hip (Mercury ’59)
  141. Elder Charles D. Beck Urban Holiness Service (Folkways ’57)
  142. Patsy Cline Patsy Cline (Decca ’57)
  143. Don Gibson Oh Lonesome Me (RCA Victor ’58)
  144. Cri-Cri Homenaje a Cri-Cri (RCA Victor Mexico ’59)
  145. Gene Vincent And the Blue Caps (Capitol ’57)
  146. The Flamingos Flamingo Serenade (End ’59)
  147. Lord Buckley Way Out Humor (World Pacific ’59)
  148. The Music of New Orleans Volume One (Folkways ’59)
  149. Chet Baker Chet (Riverside ’59)
  150. The Mellowkings Tonight-Tonight (Herald ’59)


  1. Finding a connection between John Cage and Blossom Dearie is inspired, fun stuff, Chuck. Probably owing to the relative infancy of the album here, and compressing three years into one list, but I’ve definitely heard or know by reputation more titles here than your later album lists. And all the songs mentioned in your writeup would make a great playlist to shuffle.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. via facebook:

    Steve Pick
    I already know that Chuck Berry said the count was 2 and 3, which, I don’t know, maybe that’s how they would say it if they played baseball in England.

    Steve Pick
    Fun thing to read. The list is filled with magnificent stuff – can’t argue with any of the jazz titles you put in there, and there are probably a couple dozen more that could sneak in, including what may be my second favorite jazz record of 1959, Mingus Ah Um. Ah, the days when my friends and I would dance to that record out on the quirky pseudo-Bohemian Euclid Avenue in St. Louis circa 1981.

    Chuck Eddy
    Steve, you scared me there for a second — Mingus Ah Um is already at #4, the highest jazz album on the list. (But wait, what’s your first favorite??)

    Steve Pick
    Shit – I seriously missed that. That’s the problem with lists – you read 150 titles, and you forget the ones at the top, especially after The Clown got a paragraph in the essay while Ah Um didn’t even get a mention. Sorry. Kind of Blue is my fave – a record that truly deserves all the accolades it’s received, and which still delivers surprises and delights after decades of frequent listens.

    Steve Pick
    My first popular culture obsession, the Music Man, original Broadway cast, released in 1958, should be in the list somewhere, too. “(Ya Got) Trouble” has to be at least a proto-rap record for white people. And the guy who says, “Whadya talk?” in “Rock Island” is a distant predecessor to Flava Flav. Not to mention that every song on that record is wonderful in some way or another.

    Chuck Eddy
    I considered Music Man (the 1962 film soundtrack) for my 1960-’62 list; ultimately decided it was too spotty (i.e., parts I couldn’t stand outweighed the couple songs I like a lot), but I did mention a couple times in that list’s writeup (and looks like you mentioned it in the comments, as well!)

    Chuck Eddy
    (My same issue with South Pacific this time around, for what it’s worth.)

    Steve Pick
    True, I did mention it then, but it was technically the 1958 version that was the first album I remember playing over and over again.

    Steve Pick
    I may have told you before that “Rollin Danny” is the only Fall song I ever liked, but I can’t believe I didn’t remember the original is by Gene Vincent, and I can’t believe I don’t think I’ve ever investigated the original, either.

    Chuck Eddy
    Wait, you don’t even like their version of “Victoria”??

    Steve Pick
    Hah! Nope!

    Steve Pick
    As usual, I marvel at your ability to make connections across a large swath of genres which rarely communicate to each other. All those willow references in a short period of time. I know there was a weeping willow on the playground at my grade school, so maybe I was paying closer attention because of that, but it does seem to me that before my teenage years, that was a much more common reference point than it has ever been since.

    Chuck Eddy
    I wonder if there were actually more willows then? Or just more metaphors…

    Steve Pick
    It’s always nice to see Norman Mailer’s bullshit called out, and that made for a strong opening set of paragraphs here. To make such sweeping cultural claims while missing completely the cultural zeitgeist! It just boggles the ol’ noggin. (Could you look up in the slang dictionary when “noggin” came into use? That’s one you don’t hear much any more, isn’t it?)

    Chuck Eddy
    “Since c1890; colloq. Until c1925 primarily = the head as an object for hitting, since then also = the head as containing the brain for thinking.”

    Steve Pick
    A useful word in both uses. As my father was born in 1925, perhaps he passed that usage into my brainpan. (That one has to be much later.)

    Steve Pick
    It’s an interesting challenge to investigate the albums of the late fifties at a time when jazz, show tunes, Frank Sinatra, and classical aside – hey, where’s Van Cliburn? – albums were afterthoughts to singles 95% of the time. Those Folkways records can be extraordinary documents, if not always highly entertaining. Culturally, they were way down the list of making an impact, but your knowledge of them makes the times seem even more interesting than they were to most people living then.

    Chuck Eddy
    Commercially marginal for sure. Van Cliburn, so far, may be beyond my ken.

    Steve Pick
    Actually, I’ve never heard Van Cliburn either, though I saw him appear on several episodes of What’s My Line when I went through my obsession with seeing every single one extant (which is a very large number of them). I have only ever dabbled in the classical realm. I did see a wonderful performance of John Cage music once, by pianist Margaret Leng Tan, who had to pause between pieces as she prepared the piano differently for each. My girlfriend and I, along with the classical critic of the Post-Dispatch who later played bass in our band for the paper’s Christmas parties, the Post Adolescents, were the entire audience in an auditorium designed for 300 or more people. She did 4′ 33″ live, and that is one helluva trip to experience. (I may have mentioned this before – like the Music Man reference. I would hate to think I’m running out of life anecdotes.)


  3. via facebook:

    Kevin Bozelka
    OMG! I want to lick every one of these! This is the album era I want to dive into at this point in my music geekdom, not just to mine the gems but to root around the mulch. (i’m not 100% certain what mulch actually is. I just know that it smells awful and it presumably allows things to grow.) 

    Chuck Eddy
    “Without the scent of rain or moss or bark mulch, my world seems blank.”

    Smells Like Teen Nothing #2

    Kevin Bozelka
    mulch smells like…sweet poo, maybe with a touch of cedar, kind of like how I imagine the War on Drugs sounds.

    Chuck Eddy
    I did not know (or want to?) that “sweet poo” is even a thing!

    Peter Feldstein
    Mulch is the top layer of decaying vegetation in an ecosystem; smells like a walk in the woods, no more no less. While not eminently lickable, it is a crucial component of sustainable agriculture designed to feed the soil and retain moisture. Deliberately cultivated by organic farmers. See also “cover cropping.” #mulchislife

    Peter Feldstein
    Now, if you want to claim the War on Drugs sounds like manure, we might have a workable analogy.

    Chuck Eddy
    Of course, despite taking walks in the woods a few times a week (I’m about to go right now in fact), I have no idea what one smells like.

    Peter Feldstein

    Clifford Ocheltree
    I’d been working on a late 50s playlist for my next cycle so my thanks for the suggestions. But, as usual, may I suggest a few additions? A bit more jazz oriented.
    Ahmad Jamal : At the Pershing: But Not for Me
    Art Blakey : Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk
    Art Pepper : Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section
    Art Tatum – Ben Webster Quartet : The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 8
    B.B. King : Singin’ the Blues
    Billie Holiday : Songs for Distingué Lovers
    Billie Holiday : Lady in Satin
    Cannonball Adderley : Somethin’ Else
    Champion Jack Dupree : Blues from the Gutter
    Coleman Hawkins & Ben Webster : Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster
    Count Basie : The Atomic Mr. Basie
    Count Basie : April in Paris
    Count Basie : At Newport
    Duke Ellington : Such Sweet Thunder
    Duke Ellington : Anatomy of a Murder
    Ella Fitzgerald : Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook
    Ella Fitzgerald : Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook
    Ella Fitzgerald / Louis Armstrong : Porgy & Bess
    Elvis Presley : Loving You
    Everly Brothers : Songs Our Daddy Taught Us
    Frank Sinatra : Sings for Only the Lonely
    Frank Sinatra : Come Dance with Me!
    George Russell : The Jazz Workshop
    George Russell : New York N.Y.
    Harry Belafonte : Belafonte at Carnegie Hall
    Henry Mancini : The Music from Peter Gunn
    Horace Silver : Blowin’ the Blues Away
    Jimmy Giuffre : Jimmy Giuffre 3
    Jimmy Smith : The Sermon!
    João Gilberto : Chega De Saudade
    Lambert, Hendricks & Ross : Sing a Song of Basie
    Lambert, Hendricks & Ross : The Hottest New Group in Jazz
    Lester Young – Teddy Wilson Quartet : Pres and Teddy
    Lightnin’ Hopkins : The Roots of Lightnin’ Hopkins
    Mahalia Jackson : Newport 1958
    Miles Davis : Relaxin’ with The Miles Davis Quintet
    Miles Davis : Ascenseur pour l’échafaud
    Miles Davis : Miles Ahead
    Nat King Cole : After Midnight
    Ray Charles : Ray Charles at Newport
    Ricky Nelson : Ricky Sings Again
    Sonnyboy Williamson : Down and Out Blues
    Sonny Clark : Cool Struttin’
    Sonny Rollins : A Night at the “Village Vanguard”
    Sonny Rollins : Way Out West
    Steve Lacy : Reflections
    The Weavers : The Weavers at Carnegie Hall
    Thelonious Monk : Thelonious Himself
    Tito Puente : Dance Mania
    Wynton Kelly : Kelly Blue

    Chuck Eddy
    Yeah, thanks Clifford, but pretty sure I won’t be adding all those (a few of which I actually listened to this month, and a couple of them came close.)

    Clifford Ocheltree
    You do get some points for including Shirley Collins and Hank Thompson.

    Chuck Eddy
    Wow….Two Whole Points!!

    Clifford Ocheltree
    well, picky as I am…. for Collins I would have gone with False True Lovers also from ’59. The Thompson is ideal though my brain always goes to At The Golden Nugget. Until I checked and saw it was outside your time frame.

    Chuck Eddy
    False True Lovers just missed! Close call. And what a weird album title.

    Patrick Hould
    First reaction: holy shit, this is a treasure, I’m thrilled that you’re reaching back that far! I don’t know that anyone has ever done anything like this for albums of that time period, except maybe some nutjobs on rateyourmusic. Do you actually own a lot of those albums?

    Barrett Whitener
    This is a goldmine and I’ll dive deeper into it this weekend. Incidentally, I’m currently enjoying –actually, loving — “Terminated for Reasons of Taste.”

    Peter Feldstein
    Most interesting one to me so far.

    Chuck Eddy
    I think the timing of my post might have been a little off with this one. (Still haven’t figured that math out.) And Patrick, let’s just say I own….some. On LPs and reissue-CDs. But definitely fewer than on any of the other lists I’ve made. So I streamed way more.

    Patrick Hould
    It’s never a bad time for a new top 150 list! I’m kind of excited to see how far into the past and present you’re going to go.

    Peter Feldstein
    Who knew there were that many good albums back then? Partly facetious, partly genuine

    Chuck Eddy
    by “partly facetious” do you mean my writeup? (If so, no argument.)

    Peter Feldstein
    No, I meant my response; the conventional wisdom that albums in the 50s (outside of jazz, and actually, all the way up through Sergeant Pepper) were hits plus filler still has some sway over me.

    Chuck Eddy
    Well, most sort of WERE. But that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. (& really, most post-Pepper LPs were too! Just more pretentious about it.)

    Tom Lane
    Another great write up. A bunch of these albums from Berry, Little Richard, Coasters, Huey Smith, Drifters, others are compilations. That’s just how it was with many non-Jazz titles in the 50’s. With that in mind I would have added 2 Elvis titles from ’59 that fit that description. Lots of non-Rock/R&B albums that I need to hear on this list.

    Chuck Eddy
    Tom, compilations in the sense that most of the tracks on them had been on previous albums (in which case I should probably remove them) or in the sense that they collected previously un-collected singles? If the former, I’d love to know which ones. I know tracks by, say, the Dominoes and Hank Ballard date back several years. The Louis Jordan LP, though it’s most if not all older songs, was “recorded in NYC, October 22 & 23, 1956” according to discogs — which treats the albums on the list I checked there (which is most of them) as regular albums, not comps. Still, the ’50s are confusing!

    Tom Lane
    Here’s Little Richard has some past hits with b-sides. Most Rock albums were like that. Singles ruled. I wouldn’t change anything. That’s the 50’s for you.

    Patrick Hould
    One thing that struck me about this list is that nearly all the albums I looked up were available on streaming services (big exception: Louis Jordan’s Somebody Up There Digs Me). This is in contrast to your 90s lists, where many of the albums had fallen off the edge of the earth. I guess most of that is attributable to the dramatically larger number of albums that came out in the 90s. The 50s equivalents of Midi Maxi & Efti or Sensation would probably never have gotten around to putting out a full album, and the equivalents of FSK or Uz Jsme Doma probably would have remained unheard outside their own country (not that they were US talk show regulars during their actual time period).

    Chuck Eddy
    The Jordan album is on Napster! His subsequent album, Man We’re Wailin’ from 1958, wasn’t when I checked, but it was on youtube (and was also nowhere near as good — didn’t even make the 150.) Another thing to note is that, because I own so few of these in physical form to begin with (at least compared to subsequent decades), if they aren’t on streaming services, there’s a way better chance I haven’t heard them at all. On the other hand, I don’t think there were any albums I looked for that I couldn’t at least find on youtube (though I may have had to stream a couple there piecemeal — track by track, in other words, rather than as a whole.) And I’m pretty sure *that* hasn’t been the case in any later year. So maybe you’re right after all.

    Patrick Hould
    I did end up finding the Jordan album on YouTube. From the tracks I sampled, it really does fart kerosene. The rendition of “Beware Brother Beware” is so speeded-up that the call-and-response becomes indecipherable and ends up feeling like sound effects. Also, fun fact: the arrangements are by Quincy Jones!

    Patrick Hould
    Another surprising thing is that 50s albums seem to have been less affected by the skyrocketing prices of used vinyl. I guess that could be different for folks looking for first pressings, but I am neither rich nor insane.

    Kevin Bozelka
    have they receded too far in the past now? Not Albumy enough?

    Patrick Hould
    Yeah, I think YouTube album reviewers are mostly leaving Louis Prima alone.

    Chuck Eddy
    Oddly, I DO own all but one Prima LP on the list in physical form. (Or maybe *not* oddly, since his albums can be so easy to find in dollar bins.)

    Patrick Hould
    I got the Digs Keely Smith LP for real cheap, at least by Discogs standards, but when I tried to find a vinyl rip for my mp3 library, I came out completely empty-handed. That hardly ever happens, except maybe with pre-CD era compilations (The Great Glam Rock Explosion from Stairway To Hell is one).

    Clifford Ocheltree
    Keep an eye on folks like Jasmine and Real Gone. They do and have done quite of bit of surprising 50s reissues. BUT they rarely show in a basic Amazon search. Quite often you need to look at their website(s).


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