Top 10 Albums of 1950

The 10 Best Albums of 1950

In 1950, the Korean War began, Jackson Pollock painted Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) and Charlie Parker made the best album of the year.

When it comes to the Top 10 Albums of 1950 (the year, not the decade), we must first establish that “albums” as we know them today essentially didn’t exist back then. Although the 12-inch LP was first introduced by RCA Victor in 1948, the most common form of music mass production was still the 78rpm record. Most of the “albums” on this list were originally released on 10-inch vinyl, typically lasting no longer than 20 to 25 minutes.

Even the simple task of finding 10 albums from 1950 was pretty tough. As a result, this probably goes down as one of the most diverse Best Of lists in Colin’s Review history. Where else are you going to find Peruvian mambo and a posthumous release from Dixieland legend Bunk Johnson side by side?

The rest of the Top 10 — including the number one spot — is rounded out by already-established veterans from the previous decade (Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Kenton) and soon-to-be legends that will shape the course of the decade to come (Les Paul, Bud Powell and Frank Sinatra). All are deserving of inclusion, despite the unprecedented dearth of actual “albums” to choose from.

And so, without further ado, here are the 10 best albums of 1950.

10. Ella Sings Gershwin

Ella Sings Gershwin by Ella Fitzgerald (1950)

Artist: Ella Fitzgerald

Genre: Vocal Jazz

Always a pleasure to hear one of the greatest singers of all time. Especially when she’s singing Gershwin. Ella Fitzgerald was already 33-years-old when she released Ella Sings Gershwin, yet she sounded as youthful as ever. Continue reading…

9. Piano Solos

Bud Powell "Piano Solos"

Artist: Bud Powell

Genre: Bebop

Not as good as the sequel, and not as good as the piano solos that Thelonious Monk was recording at the same time, but Piano Solos #1 is another reason why Bud Powell should be given his due as one of the progenitors of modern jazz. Continue reading…

8. Stan Kenton Presents

Stan Kenton Presents 

Artist: Stan Kenton

Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz

Ever since the 1940s, Stan Kenton’s signature brand of progressive big band had always been pointing in the direction of intellectual, avant-garde, art music. That’s why Stan Kenton Presents shouldn’t come as a surprise. Throughout the album, Kenton combines modernist classical with his eclectic jazz orchestra to showcase the possibilities of his newfound experiments. Continue reading…

7. Swing and Dance with Frank Sinatra

Swing and Dance with Frank Sinatra

Artist: Frank Sinatra

Genre: Swing

Swing and Dance with Frank Sinatra features some of the crooner’s most underrated tunes. “Lover” is not only a vocal tour-de-force but also a showcase of stunning musicianship. Meanwhile, “It’s Only a Paper Moon” shows that he was clearly a superstar in the making. Continue reading…

6. Voice of the Xtabay

Yma Sumac "Voice of the Xtabay"

Artist: Yma Sumac

Genre: Exotica

The voice of Yma Sumac is one of the most impressive musical instruments of all time, something that truly must be heard to be believed. Even though the backing orchestration that accompanies her incredible vocals is Hollywood’s idea of South America, Sumac’s Incan inclinations transcend the cheesy fanfare. Her voice is ancient and timeless, and the song “Ataypura” is featured in The Big Lebowski, which is also pretty timeless. A winning combination. Continue reading…

5. The New Sound

Les Paul "The New Sound"

Artist: Les Paul

Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz

Is this album jazz? Country? Folk? Avant-Garde? Maybe rock and roll? It’s a New Sound, whatever it is. Even though Les Paul is practically a household name, his music remains severely underrated. This early, experimental 10-inch LP is among his best works — an instrumental exploration of innovative guitar sounds and recording techniques. Continue reading…

4. The Last Testament of a Great New Orleans Jazzman

Bunk Johnson "The Last Testament of a Great New Orleans Jazzman"

Artist: Bunk Johnson

Genre: Dixieland

An influence upon a young Louis Armstrong, Bunk Johnson was one of jazz music’s original inventors in the early 1900s. He played trumpet throughout Louisiana until he got his teeth knocked out in 1931, prompting an early retirement. Recorded at Carnegie Hall in December of 1947, The Last Testament of a New Orleans Jazzman is a joyous celebration of high-stepping Dixieland and primitive ragtime blues. Continue reading…

3. Piano Solos #2 

Bud Powell "Piano Solos 2"

Artist: Bud Powell

Genre: Bebop

Bud Powell’s playing style is energetic but also soothing, pointing the way toward hard bop while remaining firmly rooted in bebop ballad tradition. Making use of chromaticism and frequent arpeggios, Powell was at least a decade of his time. He perfectly translates the musical language of Charlie Parker from alto saxophone to piano. Continue reading…

2. Innovations in Modern Music 

"Innovations in Modern Music" Stan Kenton

Artist: Stan Kenton

Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz

Stan Kenton utilizes the full range of his big band “orchestra” like no other jazz musician before or since — from tone clusters that resemble the music of Charles Ives to off-kilter piano chords that predict the experiments of Eric Dolphy, Innovations in Modern Music is one of the most daring jazz releases of all time. Continue reading…

1. Charlie Parker with Strings 

Charlie Parker with Strings

Artist: Charlie Parker

Genre: Jazz

Charlie Parker had always been interested in classical music, particularly the innovations of Igor Stravinsky, and it had always been his longtime desire to record in an orchestral setting. As one of the first bebop artists to perform in an orchestral setting, Charlie Parker with String is an album that seamlessly bridges genres and cultures — jazz mixes with elements of classical, and the contrast of the string ensemble against Parker’s standalone solos still sounds fresh to this day. Continue reading…

Top 10 Albums of 1950

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