The 1950s marked a pivotal era for country music, giving birth to timeless classics that define the genre. Country legends such as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash crafted emotive ballads and spirited tunes that echoed the heart of American life.
This decade also saw a fusion of traditional country with elements of rockabilly, honky-tonk, and the birth of the Nashville sound. These songs weren’t just melodies but narratives of love, loss, and the rural experience, resonating across generations.
Undoubtedly, the ’50s country hits set a foundation, shaping the genre’s evolution while preserving a nostalgic essence that still captivates listeners today. So, without further ado, we’re giving you the top 10 country songs of the 1950s.
1. I Walk the Line
From: Johnny Cash’s Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1956)
What started as a pledge of devotion to his then-wife, Vivian Liberto, became Johnny Cash’s most popular song. In fact, “I Walk The Line” became Cash’s first No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It even crossed the pop charts, peaking at No. 17.
In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine included the song on its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
2. It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels
From: Released as a single by Kitty Wells (1952)
Kitty Wells made history in the early 1950s when she released “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” It actually became the first single by a solo female artist to sit atop Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
The song served as an answer track to that year’s Song Of The Summer – the misogynistic tear-jerker “The Wild Side of Life” by Hank Thompson.
3. Walkin’ After Midnight
From: Patsy Cline’s Patsy Cline (1957)
Here’s a massive 1950s hit by Patsy Cline. “Walkin’ After Midnight” was Cline’s first major hit – helping catapult her to fame in the country music scene. The song garnered a solid response when Cline performed it on one episode of the variety show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.
It swiftly reached No. 2 on the Billboard country music charts and crossed over to the pop charts as well, solidifying Cline’s position as a prominent artist in the genre.
4. I’m Moving On
From: Released as a single by Hank Snow (1950)
Since its release in 1950, “I’m Moving On” has been covered by several artists, including Ray Charles, Don Gibson, and Emmylou Harris. It was Snow’s first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, where it stayed for twenty-one weeks, making a record for being one of the songs with most weeks atop the chart. Its success led Snow to join the Grand Ole Opry.
5. Hey, Good Lookin’
From: Released as a single by Hank Williams (1951)
Hank Williams’ “Hey, Good Lookin’” was a smash hit in the 1950s! It had folks tapping their toes and singing along everywhere.
The catchy tune climbed the charts, reaching the top spot on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and making waves on the pop scene too. With its catchy melody and Williams’ twangy voice, it became a classic that people still love to groove to today, keeping the good times rolling with its infectious charm.
6. Long Black Veil
From: Released as a single by Lefty Frizzell (1959)
While Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” didn’t hit the top of the charts or skyrocket in sales, its unique story of a man falsely accused of murder left a lasting mark and nestled its way into people’s hearts! It had folks nodding along to its sad, mysterious tale.
With Frizzell’s soulful voice and that eerie storyline, the song has truly become a gem in country music history.
7. Cold, Cold Heart
From: Released as a single by Hank Williams (1950)
Here’s another hit by Hank Williams that achieved massive success in the 1950s and stood the test of time. The plaintive ballad, which is Williams’ ode to his wife Audry and her cold attitude towards him, didn’t take long to become a favorite of disc jockeys and jukebox listeners – as well as a cross-genre hit after it was released. It’s even perhaps Williams’ most covered song. A version by Lucinda Williams, which earned a Grammy Award nomination.
8. Sixteen Tons
From: Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Ford Favorites (1955)
Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” enjoyed an extraordinary surge in popularity, swiftly ascending music charts and captivating audiences nationwide. With its infectious rhythm and Ford’s resounding vocals, the song made a global presence on radios, jukeboxes, and record sales.
Its resonant anthem that chronicled the plight of laborers truly transcended mere entertainment, resonating deeply with the public consciousness.
9. Singing the Blues
From: Marty Robbins’ Marty’s Greatest Hits (1956)
Marty Robbins’ “Singing the Blues” captured many hearts in the 1950s and continues to etch its place in country music history with its infectious melody and Robbins’ smooth, velvety vocals. After its release, it swiftly climbed the music charts, resonating across radios and jukeboxes. Well, the song propelling it to widespread acclaim is no surprise as its catchy tune and relatable lyrics about heartache struck a chord with listeners.
10. Heartbreak Hotel
From: Released as a Single by Elvis Presley (1956)
Of course, this list would never be complete without Elvis Presley. “Heartbreak Hotel” was the first song Presley released on his new record label RCA Victor. It quickly became a hit! In fact, it topped the Billboard Top 100 for seven weeks while reaching No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, where it remained for seventeen weeks.
This song became Presley’s first million-seller.
So, there you have it – the top 10 country songs of the 1950s that shaped the landscape of country music and left an indelible mark on the broader musical tapestry. How about you? Which song from this decade that you cherish the most?
Elvis Presley, Hank Snow, hank williams, Johnny Cash, kitty wells, Lefty Frizzell, Marty Robbin, Patsy Cline, Tennessee Ernie Ford