The year 1956 was when Elvis Presley became an international sensation and owned the music world as a whole, but he wasn’t the only artist putting out great music. Older names from prior years were still kicking around, and new faces emerged in the music landscape. In this article, we’ll use Billboard Magazine’s listing of the best-selling tracks of the year to determine the 35 best songs from 1956.
1. Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley
Heartbreak Hotel was the first record Elvis Presley released after joining RCA Victor. Inspired by a newspaper article about a suicide of a lonely man, it would go on to become one of the King of Rock and Roll’s biggest hits. The song spent seven weeks on top of the Top 100, six weeks atop Cashbox’s Pop Singles chart, and the Country/Western chart for 17 weeks. It was his first record to sell a million copies, and it announced to the world he was there.
2. Don’t Be Cruel – Elvis Presley
Don’t Be Cruel is one of Elvis Presley’s songs that has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Even though Heartbreak Hotel took the top spot of the year-end rankings, Don’t Be Cruel was his best-selling track of 1956 and would top all three of Billboard’s Pop, Country, and R&B charts.
3. Lisbon Antigua – Nelson Riddle
Lisbon Antigua was a famous Portuguese song that was originally written in 1937 by Raul Portela and Jose Gallardo. Nelson Riddle would be one of the artists to record the track in the 50s, with his version becoming the most popular one in the US when it topped the Billboard chart for four weeks.
4. My Prayer – The Platters
The Platters would record My Prayer and take it farther than any earlier artists had. Their doo-wop version would have such longevity it was even used in the 2008 film The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. It rose to the top of the charts in 1956 and would rank at number four on the year-end charts.
5. The Wayward Wind – Gogi Grant
Gogi Grant’s The Wayward Wind was the song that dethroned Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel at the top of the Billboard chart. It would spend five weeks atop the Cash Box charts and six weeks on top of the Billboard ones.
6. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
Hound Dog was originally released by Big Mama Thorton and would become her only hit record in 1952 by spending 14 weeks on the R&B charts. It would go on to become one of the songs that shaped rock and roll and earned a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Elvis Presley would record the track in 1956 and found one of the best-selling singles of all time with over 10 million copies sold globally. It topped the pop, country, and R&B charts at the same time in 1956 as well.
7. The Poor People of Paris (Jean’s Song) – Les Baxter
While Édith Piaf’s version of The Poor People of Paris (Jean’s Song) would become one of the best tracks of all time about Paris, it started out as an instrumental in the US in 1956. Les Baxter recorded the song in 1956, finding a number-one hit that spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard Best Sellers in Stores chart and was one of the most-played tracks of the year.
8. Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera) – Doris Day
Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera) was debuted by Doris Day in the film The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1956. Her recording of the song would be released by Columbia and peaked at number two on the Billboard chart, topping the UK Singles chart.
9. Memories Are Made of This – Dean Martin
Memories Are Made of This was written by Dean Martin’s backing band, with the song being released in late 1955. His version would reach the top of the Billboard Top 100 chart, spending five weeks in that position and on top of the Best Sellers in Stores chart.
10. Rock and Roll Waltz – Kay Starr
Rock And Roll Waltz was a mashup of the times, combining a triple meter waltz with rock and roll riffs and a bit of boogie-woogie stylings. Kay Starr’s recording of the song would reach the top of the Billboard Singles chart in 1956 and spent six weeks in that position.
11. Moonglow – Theme From Picnic – Morris Stoloff
This entry was a medley of Moonglow and Theme From Picnic that came from the film Picnic. Moonglow was written in 1933 and was used in the movie in 1955. Morris Stoloff’s version spent three weeks at the number-one spot on the Most Played by Disc Jockeys chart.
12. The Great Pretender – The Platters
The Great Pretender was written by The Platters‘ manager Buck Ram, a successful songwriter in his own right before becoming their producer. It would end up reaching the top of the Billboard charts and number five on the UK Singles chart.
13. I Almost Lost My Mind – Pat Boone
I Almost Lost My Mind was originally a number-one hit on the R&B chart by Ivory Joe Hunter in 1949. Pat Boone’s cover of the song would become the best-selling version of the track, reaching the top of the Billboard chart in 1956.
14. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You – Elvis Presley
I Want You, I Need You, I Love You was Elvis Presley’s seventh single release with RCA Victor and his second number-one single on the country music charts. It would reach as high as number three on the Top 100 and number one on the Top Sellers in Stores charts.
15. Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley ran the gamut of genres in 1956, with Love Me Tender serving as the best ballad he released that year. It would turn into a number-one single on Billboard and Cash Box charts in 1956, finding spots in other media for generations to come.
16. Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom) – Perry Como
Al Hoffman and Dick Manning wrote this one by almost completely mimicking Emmanuel Chabrier’s 1893 composition España. After it was published in 1956, Perry Como recorded it, seeing it rise to the top of the Billboard pop chart and number four in Britain.
17. Canadian Sunset – Eddie Heywood & Hugo Winterhalter
Canadian Sunset was originally produced by Eddie Heywood and Norman Gimbel. Heywood would team up with Hugo Winterhalter for an instrumental version in 1956 that made it to number two on the Billboard Top 100 chart.
18. Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins
Blue Suede Shoes is considered one of the very first rockabilly records in history. Elvis Presley would record the song in 1956, but it was the original writer who had more success on that year’s year-end charts. Carl Perkins’ version of the song spent 16 weeks on the CashBox Best Selling Singles list.
19. The Green Door – Jim Lowe
Jim Lowe was the first artist to record The Green Door. His 1956 record release would reach the top of the US Best Sellers in Stores chart and number two on the CashBox Best Selling Single chart.
20. No, Not Much – The Four Lads
No, Not Much is a fun song that sees the singer trying to deny his feelings but doing such a bad job of it that he’s really telling the woman he’s speaking to how much he loves her. It would peak on the Disc Jockey charts at number two, the Best Seller chart at number four, and the composite chart at number three.
21. Honky Tonk, Pt 1. And 2 – Bill Doggett
Bill Doggett was one of the original writers of Honky Tonk, Pt. 1 And 2, and he recorded it as a two-part single in 1956. It became his signature piece of music and would be incredibly popular with other artists over the years. His original release would spend three weeks at the number-two spot on the Top 100 and was the biggest R&B hit of the year, spending a total of 13 weeks on top of that chart.
22. Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford
Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Sixteen Tons was still incredibly popular in 1956. It was featured on our list of the best songs of 1955 as well. Merle Travis, the original writer of the song, discusses the lives of coal miners in Kentucky. It resonated with a lot of Americans, resulting in a track that would rank on the year-end charts in back-to-back years.
23. Just Walking in the Rain – Johnnie Ray
Johnnie Ray didn’t originally want to record Just Walking In The Rain, but it was a good thing he did. His version of the song would end up being one of his best-known singles and would reach number two on the US Billboard Top 100. In the UK, it would own the top spot of the UK Singles chart for seven weeks.
24. Allegheny Moon – Patti Page
Al Hoffman and Dick Manning published Allegheny Moon in 1956. The best-known recording of the song would come from Patti Page. It would peak at number two on the Disc Jockey, Juke Box, and composite charts at number two in 1956.
25. I’m in Love Again – Fats Domino
I’m In Love Again would turn into Fats Domino’s fifth number-one single on the R&B Best Sellers list, spending seven weeks on top of that chart. It would go on to crossover to the pop charts, peaking at number three and spending two weeks in that position.
26. Tonight You Belong to Me – Patience and Prudence
Patience And Prudence’s version of Tonight You Belong to Me would reach number four on the Billboard charts, giving them such a great hit that they would re-record the song in 1964.
27. Be-Bop-A-Lula – Gene Vincent
Be-Bop-A-Lula was another one of the first rockabilly songs to find mainstream success. Gene Vincent would first perform the track on a radio show, asked to do so by Capitol Records in their search to find an artist to try rivaling Elvis Presley. His recording would reach number seven on the pop charts in 1956.
28. Why Do Fools Fall in Love – Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
Why Do Fools Fall in Love was one of the earlier rock tracks to be recorded, eventually making it onto Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It took the top spot on the R&B charts and UK Singles chart, peaking at number six on the pop chart.
29. Standing on the Corner – The Four Lads
Standing On The Corner was written for the Broadway musical The Most Happy Fella. The Four Lads recorded the song in 1956 and saw it reach the number-three position on every single Billboard chart.
30. The Flying Saucer Parts 1 & 2 – Buchanan & Goodman
The Flying Saucer Parts 1 & 2 was a two-part release from Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman that started their run of break-in records. It was one of the earliest examples of mashup records as well. Using clips from 17 different hit songs, it set the stage for all sampling to come later and peaked at number three on the US Best Sellers In Stores chart.
31. Moonglow and Theme from “Picnic” – George Cates
Moonglow And Theme From “Picnic” was mentioned earlier, but this version is Geroge Cates’. The earlier version appeared in the film Picnic, starring William Holden and Kim Novak. The track would spend three weeks atop the Most Played by Disc Jockeys chart.
32. Ivory Tower – Cathy Carr
Several artists would record versions of Ivory Tower, but it was Cathy Carr who found the most success. Her 1956 cover would reach number two on the Top 100 in the US and number two in Australia.
33. See You Later Alligator – Bill Haley & The Comets
See You Later Alligator was one of the most iconic 50s rock and roll songs. It would become a Top-10 hit for Bill Haley And The Comets in 1956, peaking at number six on both the Billboard and Cash Box charts.
34. I’ll Be Home – Pat Boone
I’ll Be Home was originally written in 1955, but Pat Boone’s version in 1956 was the most successful version to be recorded. It had Tutti Frutti on its B-Side, peaking at number five on the US Billboard chart. In the UK, it was the best-selling single of the year.
35. On the Street Where You Live – Vic Damone
On The Street Where You Live was written for the Broadway musical My Fair Lady. Vic Damone recorded the song in 1956 and saw it reach as high as number four on the Billboard charts.
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