Best of 1950s: #50 – 41

“Bands” weren’t really a thing until the 1960s, which is why the Top 100 Albums of the 1950s are stuffed to the brim with solo artists like Frank Sinatra and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Then again, groups like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the Thelonious Monk Orchestra and, especially, Clifford Brown & Max Roach showed that collaborative ensembles were the way of the future.

50. Study in Brown

Study in Brown

ArtistClifford Brown & Max Roach

Genre: Hard Bop

While not as immediate as its predecessorStudy in Brown remains one of the defining works of early ‘50s jazz. It proves that Clifford Brown & Max Roach were one of the greatest musical duos of all time. Continue reading…

49. The Art Tatum-Ben Webster Quartet

The Art Tatum-Ben Webster Quartet Album Review

Artist: Art Tatum & Ben Webster

Genre: Stride

This posthumous collection — commonly available as The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Volume Eight — is Art Tatum at his most accessible.

Ben Webster provides a steady anchor with his casual, melodic saxophone; meanwhile, Tatum strides away on piano, playing at least nine or ten notes to every one of Webster’s. This unlikely combo works wonders — a slow foreground mixing perfectly with a non-stop commentary in the background. In fact, Tatum has very little regard for what’s going on around him. He just keeps soloing and soloing as if the rest of the quartet isn’t even there. Credit to producer Norman Granz for somehow making it work. Continue reading…

48. Moanin’


ArtistArt Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

Genre: Hard Bop

It wouldn’t be a stretch to rank Moanin’ as one of the best performed jazz albums of all time. These six songs, recorded in a single session on October 30, 1958, showcase a quintet on absolute fire. It certainly wouldn’t be a stretch to rank this as Art Blakey’s best album. Continue reading…

47. The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall


Artist: Thelonious Monk

Genre: Bebop

The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall is the definitive live Monk LP, even more so than Misterioso. It features five of his greatest tunes — “Monk’s Mood,” “Little Rootie Tootie,” “Off Minor,” “Crepuscule with Nellie” and “Friday the 13th” — performed in some of his most uncharacteristic arrangements.

Although most jazz critics would recommend Thelonious Monk TrioGenius of Modern Music or even Brilliant Corners as the optimal starting points for listeners seeking the full Monk experience, I’d say that Town Hall provides the best initiation. Continue reading…

46. Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street

Clifford Brown And Max Roach At Basin Street (Expanded Edition)

ArtistClifford Brown & Max Roach

Genre: Hard Bop

Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street is the sound of things ending too soon, and it’s almost as if the musicians themselves can somehow realize it too. As a result, this electrifying LP is a fitting end to the greatest partnership in hard-bop history. Continue reading…

45. Close to You

Close to You

ArtistFrank Sinatra

Genre: Traditional Pop

Musically, Close to You is Frank Sinatra’s most interesting LP — a somber orchestral affair that harkens back to the magical, late-night qualities of Songs for Young Lovers. Lyrically, it’s Sinatra’s funniest. The songs are full of self-deprecating humor that paint Sinatra as a romantic fool and a sucker for love, which stands in perfect contrast to the vintage violins that color every verse. Continue reading…

44. Here’s Little Richard

Here's Little Richard

Artist: Little Richard

Genre: Rhythm and Blues

My favorite moments from Little Richard’s energetic debut brought hip-hopping beats, saxophone rave-ups and an immeasurable amount of R&B electricity to an unsuspecting, white audience. Here’s Little Richard is everything a rock & roll album should be, and then some. Continue reading…

43. Lightnin’ Hopkins

Lightnin' Hopkins

Artist: Lightnin’ Hopkins

Genre: Country Blues

The origin of Lightnin Hopkins’ self-titled 1959 debut album is the stuff of blues legend. By the late ’50s, the once-legendary performer had all but disappeared from public sight. Music historian Samuel Charters tracked Hopkins down to a one-room apartment in Houston and asked him to record a couple songs. In return, Hopkins only asked for a bottle of gin.

With only one microphone, an acoustic guitar and a liquor-soaked voice, Lightnin’ Hopkins features some of the rawest blues ever put to record. The reclusive artist made a daring comeback five feet from the foot of his bed. Continue reading…

42. Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2

Vol. 2

ArtistSonny Rollins

Genre: Hard Bop

Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2 features one of my all-time favorite jazz moments — the opening stanza of Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso,” featuring dizzying interplay between Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, J.J. Johnson and Monk himself. It’s a high point of hard bop. Continue reading…

41. Bo Diddley


Artist: Bo Diddley

Genre: Rock and Roll

“Bo Diddley” the song is one of the most influential singles in rock and roll history, especially when paired with its legendary B-side, “I’m a Man,” both of which sound fresh even today. Likewise, Bo Diddley the album is a landmark collection of raw R&B powered by the influential Bo Diddley beat, a chugging 3/2 clave rhythm that features fuzz guitar and maracas. Meanwhile, Bo Diddley the musician is less of a man and more of a myth. Self-obsessed to the point of self-parody, he remains the model persona for every rock star that followed. Continue reading…

Top 100 Albums of the 1950s

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