Discoverying 1950s Music with Spotify

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I was born in 1951 but didn’t really get into popular music until 1962. The 1950s is mostly a mysterious world of unknown music to me. As a little kid, I remember hearing some 1950s music while riding with my dad in his 1955 Pontiac. Then in 1962 when I got my first radio they played “Oldie Goldies” from the 1950s on the weekends, but those were mostly early rock and roll hits. When I discovered Bob Dylan in 1965 I jumped back into the folk music revival that started in the late 1950s. In my twenties, I got interested in jazz and dipped into the 1950s via some famous jazz albums. But for the most part, the 1950s is an undiscovered territory.

The web has become an amazing place for virtual time travelers. There are many sites devoted to identifying the most popular music of the past. The World’s Music Charts (Tsort) has collected 225 music charting services and put them all into a database that spits out wonderful reports. I particularly like this graph of theirs showing the coverage of all those charts.


As you can see the 1950s are the sprinkles before the deluge. The LP was introduced in 1948, and most of the chart tracking services started after the 1950s, so information about that decade is sparse. Discogs references 161,954 records for the 1950s. Compared to 552,784 (1960s), 952,231 (1970s) … 2,148,365 (2000s). I figure I might own/heard 25-50 albums from the 1950s, so this is a potentially rich territory to explore.

Spotify has much of this old music. You don’t know that it’s there until you know what to go looking for – that’s where all the top album lists sites come in. I recently took a list of the top jazz albums of the 1950s off the web and converted it to a Spotify playlist, Best Jazz 1950s. I’d say about 90% of the albums were there. Of the albums not there, most of the songs from the original recordings are now in compilations of the artist’s work.

Here’s the thing, when I was growing up in the 1960s I hated the music my parents listened to, and they hated the music I and my sister loved. They resonated with the 1940s and 1950s music. What I’m now trying to do is get into the music headspace of my parents. I don’t think I could have done that when I was younger. It’s taken me until my sixties to start liking that kind of music, and it’s growing on me. My parents were in their forties when I was in my teens, so I don’t know why it’s taken me to me sixties to like their kind of music. But I now find it easier to move backward in time to find new music I like than searching the present.

There are many ways to measure time besides the ticking of a clock. Some folks mark periods of their lives by the houses they have lived in, or the fashions they wore, or the television shows they loved. One way that amuses me is to measure the years by the beat of popular music. By using Best Albums Ever and Spotify I can recall a specific year in music. We hear old music today in hit song compilations albums or the radio, but it’s another thing altogether to listen to the albums those hits came from.

Now that the past is being digitized, I can pick a year and then read the books, watch the movies, listen to the music, view the television shows, and sometimes even read the newspapers and magazines from that year. Wikipedia is a fabulous tool for remembering the past, suggestion artifacts of a pop culture past to consume.

I’ve been a subscription music subscriber for years, so I no longer buy albums. I have access to millions of albums online. Creating this collection of 1950s hit lists is a way to organize my memory of music and help me to discover songs to play on Spotify.

I’m going to link to a Spotify album for each year, and if you’re a subscriber or even have a free account, you should be able to play them. Make sure you’re logged in to your Spotify account.

Each year contains a hyperlink to DiscogsBest Ever Albums, List Challenges, Top Songs, and Tsort sites for that year’s list of top album or songs. I’ve also added the Wikipedia page to read a quick history of that year in music.




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