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Top 10 Rockabilly Songs


This Top 10 Rockabilly songs list represents the biggest and most popular rockabilly songs of all time, as determined by modern radio play, sales, and original Billboard chart rankings. These are not necessarily the best songs of this kind ever -- although they're classics all -- but they remain the most popular, the ones that have stuck with us through decades of changing trends and styles.

1. "Rock Around The Clock," Bill Haley and His Comets

Decca 9-29124 (15 May 1954) b/w "Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town)"
recorded 12 April 1954, New York, NY

It took a full year and an appearance in the hit movie The Blackboard Jungle to become a hit, but this country-swing version of Sonny Dae and the Knights' 1953 flop eventually kicked off the nationwide rock n' roll craze (though it's not the first rock song or even the first national rock hit). Haley doesn't get his due often enough as a rock pioneer, but the song speaks for itself.

2. "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On," Jerry Lee Lewis

Sun 267 (27 May 1957) b/w "It'll Be Me"
recorded 15 March 1957, Memphis, TN

Cut in one take as an afterthought, this pounding number announced The Killer's arrival on the rock and roll scene -- a parents' nightmare who learned boogie-woogie at the feet of the masters. This hillbilly stomp had roots that stretched back to the birth of the blues, but as with everything else, Jerry Lee put his own individual stamp all over it. For more on how the song was created, visit the Jerry Lee Lewis FAQ.

3. "Blue Suede Shoes," Carl Perkins

Sun 234 (January 1, 1956) b/w "Honey, Don't"
recorded 19 December 1955, Memphis, TN

Elvis stole the thunder on this one, but Carl Perkins' original recording is the one prized by rockabilly purists, and it was commercial enough for Sam Phillips to mark Carl as his next breakout star. In fact, Phillips himself suggested that the "go, man, go" of the immortal intro be changed to "go, cat, go." A hit with hillbilly cats first and then with the R&B crowd, proving rock's influence flowed both ways.

4. "Be-Bop-A-Lula," Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps

Capitol F3450 (June 2, 1956) b/w "Woman Love"
recorded 4 May 1956, Nashville, TN

"Woman Love" was actually the a-side, but "suggestive" lyrics caused DJs to flip it over, not realizing they were now promoting a song originally written about a stripper in Portsmouth, VA. Vincent bought the song from a patient at the VA hospital, and the rest is history. Obviously calculated to play off the success of Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel," this classic rockabilly slow-burner is actually the tighter song.

5. "Hello Mary Lou," Ricky Nelson

Imperial 5741 (April 1961) b/w "Travelin' Man"
recorded February 1961, Hollywood, CA
1961's best two-sided bargain found this teen idol hitting his early stride with help from the Jordanaires and the guitar of James Burton, a legend in his own right. One song is about giving your heart to lots of women, the other about losing it to just one, but Ricky's personality and talent, thoroughly underrated commodities both, pulled all the elements together. A commercial and artistic peak for rockabilly's poppier side.

6. "Baby, Let's Play House," Elvis Presley

Sun 217 (10 April 1955) b/w "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone"
recorded 1 February 1955, Memphis, TN

Featuring his most accomplished vocal to that time, this cover of an Arthur Gunter blues song may have been the most professional rockabilly Elvis ever recorded. That doesn't make it dull -- this is hot, with smoking guitar licks, and raunchy enough to mention a "pink cadillac," wink wink -- but it's also got that rockabilly spirit, which means the King can deliver a line like "I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to see you with another man" and have it come out both loose and nonthreatening.

7. "Twenty Flight Rock," Eddie Cochran

Liberty 55112 (November 1957) b/w "Cradle Baby"
recorded July 1956, Los Angeles, CA

A strange little novelty which wasn't even Cochran's biggest hit, this rockabilly standard -- featured prominently in the greatest rock film of its time, The Girl Can't Help It -- has since become enshrined in pop history. Paul McCartney auditioned for the Beatles with it, the Rolling Stones covered it often, and its rhythmic floor countdown has inspired countless rockabilly revivalists. Not bad for a song whose main backbeat comes from banging a soup carton.

8. "Ooby Dooby," Roy Orbison

Sun 242 (19 May 1956) b/w "Go! Go! Go!"
recorded June 1955, Dallas, TX

Forever destined to live in the shadow of his later, more stunning achievements, "Ooby Dooby" was nevertheless an important hit for the Big O: his first. Written by some of Roy's college classmates, this silly but rocking little number has the Sun sound down. Which is odd, since Orbison bounced all around Texas and New Mexico before Sam Phillips finally decided to release this already-recorded single. While not featuring the impressive guitar work of other Sun artists, the rhythm's thicker and tighter.

9. "Fujiyama Mama," Wanda Jackson

Capitol F3843 (9 December 1957) b/w "No Wedding Bells For Joe"
recorded September 1957, Hollywood, CA

Someone once called the vocal on this classic the best female rock vocal of all time. That's debatable, though the one they called The Sweet Girl With The Nasty Voice does push an amazing amount of force from her eighteen-year-old body, sort of like Brenda Lee's naughty older sister. She'd already been practicing the song to herself for two years before she ever got signed, and her boyfriend -- a singer by the name of Elvis Presley -- knew she had it in her.

10. "Train Kept A-Rollin'," Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio

Coral 9-61719 (13 October 1956) b/w "Honey Hush"
recorded June 1956, Nashville, TN

The world's first rock band earned the title on this single, a flop at the time but later a rite of passage for every rock band in the Sixties and Seventies. The crazy guitar distortion, the wild vocals, the torrid rhythms -- all point to the direction rock was headed. In fact, these guys were a little too hard-rocking for even rockabilly, which is why they never had a hit. But Aerosmith did, with this song. And Led Zeppelin rehearsed their very first time with it.
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