Frankie Avalon. Kingston Trio. Lloyd Price. 'Mack The Knife.'
Early chart-topping hits on the Billboard Hot 100-the pop chart-provided a glimpse of what was to come in future decades. There was the folk revival's first incursion into the mainstream with the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" and some of country's first pop crossover hits: Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans," the Browns' "The Three Bells" and Guy Mitchell's cover of the Ray Price hit "Heartaches by the Numbers."
The Hot 100's very first No. 1, Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool," held the top spot for two consecutive weeks. Then 18, Nelson was a particularly prescient chart-topper, exemplifying two trends that would be important, and a constant on the ranking: the enduring appeal of teen idols and, through his family's show "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," the importance of TV as a key exposure platform for recording artists.
The burgeoning buying power of teenage consumers, which would become even more formidable in the years to come, also powered teen idols Frankie Avalon and Paul Anka to No. 1.
Anka, whose "Diana" was a huge hit in 1957, spent four weeks at No. 1 with "Lonely Boy" during the summer of '59. Avalon, who went on to even greater fame in the '60s co-starring in teen beach movies with Annette Funicello, was one of only two artists to top the Hot 100 with two different hits in the '50s. He scored with "Venus," which spent five weeks at the summit in March and April of 1959, and "Why," which spent one week at No. 1 and was the final chart-topper of the decade.
R&B artists had only a limited presence atop the Hot 100 during the late '50s, something that would change for good in the following decade. The Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" topped the chart for three weeks in January and February of 1959, immediately followed by Lloyd Price's "Stagger Lee," which spent four weeks at No. 1. In May of that year, Wilbert Harrison spent two weeks atop the Hot 100 with his version of Leiber & Stoller's "Kansas City."
The title for longest reign at No. 1 during the '50s belongs to Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife." Darin's brassy, jazzed-up interpretation of the song, from the famed 1928 Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical "The Threepenny Opera," spent a remarkable nine weeks at the summit in the fall of 1959. That a song from Weimar-era Germany could top the chart the same year as Elvis Presley's "A Big Hunk O' Love" and "The Chipmunk Song" clearly illustrated that scoring a No. 1 on the Hot 100 was anything but predictable. -Louis Hau