Fifty years is a long time, especially in the music industry. I did not begin to buy/collect records until the mid-sixties, but quickly began accumulating older albums that appealed to me. As 2009 draws to a close I thought it would be nice to re-visit some of those lost gems and present my top ten albums of a half century ago.
1959 found Elvis in the army and Ray Charles playing out the string with the Atlantic label. It was the year of the teen idol as Ricky Nelson, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Annette Funicello and others dominated the music charts. Still there are a number of gems to be mined from 1959. So here are my top ten.
10. Hymns by Johnny Cash
Like Elvis, when Johnny Cash sang gospel he meant it. Songs such as “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “It Was Jesus,” “I Call Him” and “The Old Account” are presented reverently and sincerely. His deep baritone is in fine form and the tone is much better than his seventies and eighties work.
9. The Fabulous Little Richard
This was his third and last studio album for the Specialty label. It may not have been as strong as the first two but Little Richard in the studio was an adventure. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Kansas City,” “She Knows How To Rock,” and “Shake A Hand,” are part of his last great album release.
8. Here We Go Again by The Kingston Trio
The Kingston Trio is one of the forgotten groups of their era. They took the folk music of The Weavers and gave it a modern sound which set the stage for the folk movement of the sixties. They were one of the most commercially successful groups of their time. This album spent ten weeks in the number one position in The United States.
7. Belafonte At Carnegie Hall
At one time Harry Belafonte mattered and this album demonstrates why. Recorded live April 19 and 20, he was able to fuse rhythm & blues, folk, and calypso into one entertaining and creative mix. The old standards “Cottonfields,” “John Henry,” “Danny Boy,” and “Shenandoah” never sounded so good.
6. The Buddy Holly Story
Buddy Holly only released three studio albums prior to his death in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. His record label quickly released a greatest hits album to cash in on his legacy. While all of his best material has now been issued many times over, back in 1959 it formed a strong album. “Peggy Sue,” “Maybe Baby,” “Everyday,” “Rave On” and “That’ll Be The Day” remain as some of rock’s essential songs.
5. The Best Of The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers albums were typical of the day. They would gather a few hits and surround them with a bunch of cover songs. They were basically a singles duo and when their best material is gathered onto one album it is spectacular. Their well polished harmonies and production were ahead of its time and would prove influential in the decades to come.
4. Persuasive Percussion by Terry Snyder and The All Stars
I know this may seem an odd choice but it was a unique and influential release in 1959. It was the first album to be released with a gatefold cover. In addition the Command label bragged this was a high quality, state of the art release and the stereo mix proves them right. It is still very good even by today’s standards. The record buying public agreed as it would spend thirteen weeks as the number on album in The United States.
3. Go Bo Diddley
Bo Diddley was probably as good as he thought himself to be. He fused the blues with rock ‘n’ roll to create a unique and lasting sound. He also wrote all twelve tracks on this release. “The Clock Strikes Twice,” “Little Girl,” "Bo’s Guitar,” and “Dearest Darlin’” find him at his best and that is very good indeed.
2. Shout by The Isley Brothers
The Isley Brothers evolved into a funk group as time passed but their first release on the RCA label finds them as energetic and raw rhythm and blues artists. Their rendition of “Shout” may only have made it to number 47 on the charts but it remains a memorable song and one of the best performances of the year. That song alone is worth the price of admission but when you add a whole album of like material it is memorable indeed.
1. Gunfighter Ballads by Marty Robbins
Marty Robbins is remembered today as a country/pop artist but in 1959 he released a pop, country, and western album all rolled into one. It was filled with story songs of the old west and bridged the gap between early and modern country. It produced three huge pop chart hits as the number one “El Paso,” “The Hanging Tree,” and the brilliant “Big Iron” forms the nucleus of the best album of 1959.
Cash, Robbins, Bo Diddley, and Buddy Holly are now deceased as are members of The Isley Brothers and The Kingston Trio. So are Elvis, Rick Nelson, and Ray Charles. What they have left behind is their music and it all added up to a very good year.