The music charts in 1959 were owned by vivid storytelling, humorous conversational pieces, and tracks that came from stunning musicals. In this article, we’ll use Billboard’s year-end rankings to help us determine the 25 best songs of 1959.
1. The Battle of New Orleans – Johnny Horton
The Battle Of New Orleans tells the tale of the actual battle of New Orleans from the perspective of one of the American soldiers in the battle. It approaches it in a light, funny way, and it was incredibly popular with teenagers throughout the late 50s and early 60s.
Johnny Horton is the artist best known for performing the song, seeing his version reach the top spot of the Hot 100 in 1959 and becoming one of the best tracks in the history of the Billboard charts. The Western Writers of America chose it as one of the top 100 Western songs of all time as well.
2. Mack the Knife – Bobby Darin
Mack The Knife is a ballad telling the story of a knife-wielding criminal from the London underworld. Artists like Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong turned it into a pop standard, but it was Darin’s version that was the most successful. Not only was it a number-one single in the US and UK, but it also earned him two Grammy Awards the following year. Ella Fitzgerald released the song as a single in 1960, earning a Grammy Award for it in 1961.
3. Personality – Lloyd Price
Personality became the biggest and most popular crossover song in Lloyd Price’s repertoire. It spent three weeks at the number-two spot on the Billboard Hot 100—kept out of number one by The Battle Of New Orleans—but reached the top of the R&B charts and held that position for four weeks. Over in the UK, it broke into the top 10 when it peaked at number nine on the UK Singles chart.
4. Venus – Frankie Avalon
Venus was Frankie Avalon’s first hit single in 1959. It spent a total of five weeks in the number-one position on the Billboard Hot 100 and rose as high as number 10 on the R&B chart. It would also be the song to help revive his career nearly 20 years later, as he released a disco version of Venus that rose to number 46 on the Hot 100 in 1976.
5. Lonely Boy – Paul Anka
Paul Anka wrote and recorded Lonely Boy alongside Don Costa and his orchestra in 1958, but held off releasing it until May 1959. It was sung by Anka in the film Girls Town that year as well, but the single release was the most notable one. It spent four weeks at the top of the Hot 100 and peaked at number two on the Canadian charts. Billboard’s All-Time chart ranks it at number 235.
6. Dream Lover – Bobby Darin
Dream Lover was another big hit from Bobby Darin in 1959, becoming a multi-million seller en route to reaching the number-two spot on the Hot 100. It wasn’t kept out of number one by The Battle Of New Orleans in the UK, topping the New Musical Express chart for four weeks in July.
7. The Three Bells – The Browns
The Three Bells, also known as Jimmy Brown, was made popular by The Browns in 1959. While it originated as the French song Les Trois Cloches, this English adaptation became incredibly popular in the US. It would go on to reach number one on Billboard’s Hot C&W Sides chart and Hot 100 in 1959, cementing its place on the year-end charts within the top 10 singles of the year.
8. Come Softly to Me – The Fleetwoods
Come Softly To Me was written and recorded by The Fleetwoods in 1959. It was originally titled Come Softly but that was changed because it ventured on being a little too risque for the record label’s liking. The first tape recording was done a cappella with car keys jingling for effect, with everything else added in later. The song would top the Hot 100 and peak at number five on the Hot R&B Sides chart.
9. Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison
Kansas City was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller back in 1952, but it wouldn’t be until Wilbert Harrison recorded it in 1959 that it became a hit single. It would eventually go on to be one of the original writer’s most recorded singles, with over 300 versions being recorded over the years. Several versions would break onto the charts, but the 1959 one by Harrison rose to the best sellers of the year by topping the R&B and Hot 100 charts.
10. Mr. Blue – The Fleetwoods
Dewayne Blackwell was the original writer of Mr. Blue, but it was The Fleetwoods who would end up with a hit recording of it. Their version gave them their second number-one hit single when it rose to the pinnacle of the Hot 100 in November of 1959. It would also make it to number three on the Hot R&B Sides chart and peaked at number seven in Italy.
11. Sleepwalk – Santo & Johnny
Sleepwalk was an incredible rock instrumental from 1959 that was one of the best steel guitar features of the year. It broke into the top 40 of the Hot 100 by August 1959 and held the number-one spot for two weeks in September. It remained on the chart for a total of four months and turned into a gold record achievement for Santo & Johnny.
12. Put Your Head on My Shoulder – Paul Anka
While Lonely Boy might have been the bigger song in 1959, Put Your Head On My Shoulder had the longer legacy of these two 1959 hits from Paul Anka. Recorded just before Lonely Boy, this track would reach number two on the Hot 100 and was only held out of the number one spot by Mack The Knife. It was his third top-five hit of the year and was a huge success for the artist.
13. Stagger Lee – Lloyd Price
Stagger Lee is an American folk song that tells the story of the murder of Billy Lyons. “Stag” Lee Shelton was a pimp in the St. Louis area and, apparently, a murderer who killed Lyons for taking his hat. The track was first published in 1911, but Lloyd Price’s 1959 version of the song rose to the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100.
14. Donna – Ritchie Valens
Ritchie Valens’ Donna is one of the best examples out there of the 50s progression of chords. The song was meant as a tribute to his high school sweetheart Donna Ludwig and was his highest-charting single of 1959. It rose to number two on the Hot 100, held out of the top spot by our previous entry Stagger Lee.
15. Pink Shoe Laces – Dodie Stevens
According to sources, Pink Shoe Laces was recorded when Dodie Stevens was only 11 or 12 years old. It feels like much of the lyrics are spoken rather than sung despite the musical nature of the lines in it. The song is all about the narrator being in love and having a unique sense of style. It would rise as high as number three on the Hot 100 in 1959 and sold over one million copies that year.
16. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – The Platters
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes was a show tune that was written for the 1933 musical Roberta. While the Broadway act and earlier recordings were popular, The Platters’ version of the song in 1959 was a huge hit. It appeared on their Remember When? album and was a number-one single on the Hot 100. It also spent 20 weeks on the UK Singles chart, with one of those weeks in the top position.
17. Charlie Brown – The Coasters
Charlie Brown was the first of three top-10 hits for The Coasters in 1959. It peaked at number two on the Hot 100, held out of the number-one spot by Frankie Avalon’s Venus. It’s best known for the line “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?” remaining a relevant pop culture reference and song to this day. Despite that line and the title of the track, it had nothing to do with the Peanuts comic strip we all know and love.
18. Quiet Village – Martin Denny
Quiet Village began life as a 1951 pop instrumental by Les Baxter, but Martin Denny would turn it into an instrumental album song in 1959. He and his band often played Baxter’s music, and their released version of the track wound up being a big hit. It peaked at number four on the Hot 100 and rose as high as number 11 on the R&B charts.
19. My Heart Is an Open Book – Carl Dobkins Jr.
My Heart Is An Open Book was a massive pop song from Carl Dobkins Jr. that came from his 1959 eponymous album. A year prior, two artists had released singles of the track that failed to chart. However, Dobkins’ version of the song peaked at number three on the US pop charts and made it to number 11 on the R&B charts, earning its place at number 19 on the year-end rankings.
20. (‘Til) I Kissed You – The Everly Brothers
(‘Til) I Kissed You was written by Don Everly and the brothers released it as a single in 1959 with Chet Atkins playing the guitar on the record. It would quickly climb the charts, peaking at number four on the Hot 100. Connie Smith was the most notable country artist to cover the track, but a slew of reggae artists would pick it up over the years.
21. Sea of Love – Phil Phillips
Sea Of Love was sadly the only top-40 hit of John Phillip Baptiste’s career. While he was working as a bellboy in a hotel, he wrote it for a lady he was interested in. After a local producer heard the song, he recorded it, and it was released as a single. It topped the R&B charts in 1959, rising to number two on the Hot 100 but being held off by The Three Bells for the number one position.
22. The Happy Organ – Dave “Baby” Cortez
The Happy Organ is a famous instrumental piece that Dave “Baby” Cortez was mainly responsible for popularizing. In the US, the song reached the top of the Hot 100 in 1959 and would rank as high as number six in Canada. While it originally featured lyrics and he recorded them for the single release, he was unhappy with them and scrapped them for a purely instrumental version.
23. I’m Gonna Get Married – Lloyd Price
I’m Gonna Get Married was released by Lloyd Price in 1959 and quickly became an R&B and pop hit. The song is an argument over if he’s too young to get married, eventually seeing the narrator admit he’s not smart enough to fix his broken heart. It rose to the top of the Hot R&B Sides chart and peaked at number three on the Hot 100.
24. Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home) – The Impalas
The Impalas‘ Sorry was a big pop hit. It peaked at number two on the Hot 100 and broke into the top 30 of the UK Singles chart in 1959. By the end of the year, Billboard ranked it as the 24th best song of the year.
25. A Teenager in Love – Dion and the Belmonts
A Teenager In Love was a crazy song in 1959, as three different versions of it would break onto the charts at points. The best of these came from Dion And The Belmonts, rising to number five on the Hot 100 and number two in Canada.
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