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by Seth Colter Walls

January 16, 2014

The 50

The 50 Best Songs of 1959

by Seth Colter Walls  |  January 16, 2014

Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.

Welcome to an incredibly hip time. In 1959, The Isley Brothers gave us a "Shout" for the ages, while Ray Charles, in asking "What'd I Say," wanted to make sure we had developed a full appreciation for his soul declarations (as if we could help ourselves). Lloyd Price followed up his prior R&B hit "Stagger Lee" with the sheer force of his "Personality." And we also got the blues shouts of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf (whose first LP, a compilation of recent Chess singles, was issued this year).

And that's before we stumble onto a blindingly genius year for jazz performances. Count 'em off: Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Dave Brubeck and Bill Evans each released a career-defining LP in 1959. Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan notched some unforgettable performances, too.

Rock was in transition, after Elvis' military deployment and before the British Invasion, but that doesn't mean some of the genre's best tunes weren't joyfully thrashing around. Chuck Berry's sound is more than "Almost Grown" -- in fact, it feels fully mature -- while Bo Diddley's comic routine "Say Man" has stomp to it as well as humor.

Country achieved high spirits too, from George Jones' "White Lightnin'" to Skeeter Davis' pleading before a judge to "Set Him Free." (Kitty Wells acted a bit suspicious of rowdy times on "Your Wild Life's Gonna Get You Down," though her incomparable voice still suggests an affection for the honky-tonk life.) And we didn't forget the mellow stuff, either -- tracks like Ritchie Valens' "Donna" and Frankie Avalon's "Venus" -- so take James Brown's title "Try Me" as a motto, click play on our mix and enjoy!

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