Best #1 single of the year retrospective: 1959

Time for part 4 in our Hot 100 retrospective series. Doing these every other day seems to be about the right pace for the conversation to happen, so I think I’ll keep doing it at this pace for now unless we get an especially lively year going.

We’ve now reached 1959 - the year in which “the music died”, and the beginning of the period in between the first boom of rock & roll and the British Invasion. The 16 songs that topped the charts this year were a mixed bag of rock, folk, R&B, standards, and all what-else, including two songs from a band that lived right here in my adopted hometown and took their name from the local telephone exchange.

What’s your favorite?

Previous polls: 1955-56 1957 1958 2012 2013

Tough. Both Sleep Walk and* Mack the Knife* are the greatest singles of all time.

Mack the Knife whips the buttocks of all the other songs on this list.

Yeah, it really isn’t much of a competition.

They sure as heck are up there. Stagger Lee has so many versions and remains an enduring song to this day.

Those three are at the top of the pack and everything else is far distant.

Here is an absolutely *killer *version of Sleepwalk by Brian Setzer solo: Brian Setzer - Sleepwalk (Live) - YouTube

Dude can play.

Once again, I’ll rank the ones I cared about, High-to-Low, and omit the ones that were not among my faves:

Bobby Darin - “Mack the Knife” (my Vote)

The Fleetwoods: “Come Softly To Me”
Frankie Avalon: “Venus”
Santo & Johnny - “Sleep Walk”
Dave “Baby” Cortez - “The Happy Organ”

Sleep Walk, for me. This is the golden age of instrumental rock, and it might be its pinnacle.

Gotta go with “Mack the Knife”, myself.

“Sleep Walk”. It’s otherworldly. That version of “Mack the Knife” sounds like some supper club/lounge singer bleeding all the menace out of the song.

“Come Softly To Me,” by a mile.


Yeah. I might have voted for “Mack the Knife”, but, damn, it’s easy listening. Or maybe Muzak.

I have an irrational and absolutely maniacal love of songs with those “chorus of angles” female voices, so “Venus” is a song I will listen to over and over.

Realistically, though, it’s just a pleasant pop song. “Mack the Knife” is a special and totally unexpected achievement from someone once put on the same level as Frankie Avalon. Darin got the arrangement from Louis Armstrong so it can’t be considered lounge-singer.

A no-brainer: Mac the Knife.

Darrin’s song was iconic, certainly, but it was lounge music and a knockoff of Sinatra’s styling. For pure, soaring vocals, I have to go with Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (yes, The Platters again), followed by Santo and Johnny in Sleepwalk for best instrumental of the decade.

It’s a measure of the rather quick decline of rock ‘n’ roll after its initial outburst that I’ve voted for ballads in the last two polls. Ballads, certainly, that came out of the rock ‘n’ roll tradition, but still, it’s interesting that so few truly worthy rockin’ songs hit #1 in 1958 or 1959. (Well, I do dig “Kansas City” a lot, but it’s more old-school blues/R&B than rock.)

My vote this time went to “Come Softly to Me,” a remarkable achievement. The song was originally recorded a cappella by The Fleetwoods, with only the jangling of car keys to keep the rhythm. Subtle instrumentation was overdubbed after the fact.

It’s a great arrangement, with ever-shifting lead and backing vocals and wonderful harmonies. There will always be a place for music like this in the rock ‘n’ roll canon — soft and subtle but still impactful. While I can respect Tony Williams’ vocal prowess and like Platters’ songs well enough, they’re still just a little too bombastic for my tastes.

I agree with others that, while “Mack the Knife” is OK for what it is, on the other hand it’s an example of the kind of music that rock ‘n’ roll saved us from. I’m simply not gonna go there.

Darin’s version of “Mack the Knife” is fun track, and it’s the first way I heard the song, but after being exposed to the real Brecht & Weill tradition I realized that it’s not all that different in principle from what Pat Boone did with Little Richard. (The same goes for the Doors’ smoothed-out arrangement of “Alabama Song.”)

I never thought of myself as a big Platters fan, but so far I’ve voted for them twice!

Take a classic song, add Tony Williams’ voice… how can you miss?

I almost went with this one for the reasons you state, but the lyrics were just. . .blah.


I want, want you to kno-o-ow
I love, I love you so
Please hold, hold me so tight
All through, all through the night…


Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes


As much as I try to like the 50s, I just can’t other than the novelty songs and Rock Around the Clock. Can’t wait to get to the British Invasion, which to me is when pop music started to get good.

But for now, the Chipmunks song is my favorite on the list.

Off that list, I’ll go with Sleepwalk.