In February of 1955, Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers, was born, producer/director Steven Spielberg and former U.S. President Bill Clinton were nine, and Paul McCartney was thirteen years old.
The year 1955 represents a huge shift in popular music. With the emergence of Rockabilly and Doo Wop it is widely regarded as the dawn of the Rock & Roll Era. Shortly after, artists like Sam Cooke and James Brown would bring Soul into the mix.
Regardless of these major changes in popular music, the public appetite for love ballads thrived. A whole new generation of music consumers were beginning to express their unique tastes, finding new ways to say “I love you” in song. This list represents some of the best and most timeless love songs of that era, and that generation, and perhaps any generation.
“Only You (And You Alone)” by The Platters
Often shortened to “Only You”, this Doo-Wop ballad – which reached #5 on the Pop charts – was recorded and released in 1955 at the dawn of the Rock & Roll era and remains one of the most recognizable and nostalgic slow love songs of the 1950s, and one of the first Doo-Wop hits of its time.
“In The Still Of The Night” by The Five Satins
Sometimes known as Fred Parris and The Satins, “In The Still Of The Night”, it was Parris that both wrote the lyrics and sand lead vocal on this 1956 recording. Interestingly, this song is widely considered to be the origin of the term Doo-Wop, a term which would define its genre. You can hear the plaintive “doo wop, doo wah” refrain in the bridge. The R&B group Boyz II Men covered this tune in 1992.
“Love Me Tender” by Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley’s seventh Top 40 hit from 1956 climbed to #1 on multiple Pop charts (there were lots back then) and #3 on the R&B Top 40. It was actually adapted from the tune of a Civil war ballad titled “Aura Lee” published in 1861, avoiding any copyright infringement as “Aura Lee” was public domain.
“Oh What A Nite” by The Dells
This timeless and recognizable classic never peaked at #4 in the R&B Top 40 in 1956, but surprisingly never broke the Pop Top 40. It was re-recorded and re-released in 1969, with a more Soul oriented arrangement, but the original remains a popular favorite even today, mixing Doo-Wop and Soul styling.
“Love Is Strange” by Mickey and Sylvia
Certainly the strangest love song on this list, no pun intended. Originally charting at #11 in 1957, this tune has become a cult classic, appearing in films like Casino, Dirty Dancing and the X-rated Deep Throat, as well as countless television commercials. The music was written by Bo Diddley. A fun and playful love song, “Love is Strange” is most notable for its spoken dialogue… “How do you call your lover boy?”
“You Send Me” by Sam Cooke
“You Send Me” is credited to have been written by L.C. Cooke (Sam’s younger brother) and recorded by Sam in 1957, soaring to the #1 position on both the Pop and R&B charts. Since its release, the song has become a landmark record of the Soul genre which Sam Cooke helped create.
“All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley
Yet another number one hit from The King, Elvis Presley hit a home run with this 1957 tune. “All Shook Up” flew to #1 on the Pop and R&B charts, and peaked at #3 on the Country chart. The song also became Presley’s first UK #1 single and coincidentally, it was the same summer that two boys named Paul McCartney and John Lennon would meet for the first time.
“Sea Of Love” by Phil Phillips (and The Twilights)
Written and recorded by Phil Phillips in 1959, it charted at #1 R&B and #2 Pop, and would be the only hit Phillips would ever record. Since then it’s been recorded by numerous artist and been the theme song to a motion picture of the same name.
“Come Softly To Me” by The Fleetwoods
Although completely innocuous, the title of this song was changed from “Come Softly” to its current title because the label felt it was too risqué. The title phrase doesn’t exist in the lyrics. It was the first Top 40 hit for the trio, peaking at #1 on the Pop and #5 the R&B charts respectively.
“I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos
This tune was written in 1934 by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, and was recorded several times before The Flamingos 1959 version, which climbed to #3 on the R&B and #11 on the Pop charts respectively. Besides being the best version of this tune, The Flamingos recording may be one of the most romantic slow love songs on this list. Perfect for weddings and a nostalgic choice for a first dance.
Looking backward in time it is difficult to imagine that these songs, and the artists who recorded them, were once youthful and new. Yet as nostalgic as they may seem today they were the soundtrack of a young generation and depending on how old you are, may have been the make-out songs of your mom and dad.
Love the love…
Honorable mentions: Two songs that almost made the list were “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino and “The Ten Commandments Of Love” by The Moonglows… But heck, there may be another 50s love song list to come.
Sources: The Billboard Book of Top 40 [Pop] Hits and The Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B Hits by Joel Whitburn and Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits by Fred Bronson.