The music made for the new albums market in the 1950s was altogether different from that produced for the singles market. As far as the record companies were concerned, singles were predominantly for teenagers and children. They also catered to the tastes of less well-off adults; black music and country music were both predominantly released on singles. The album charts during the 1950s represented the tastes of the more wealthy section of the British and American public. This was partly based on simple economics - albums cost more than two dollars to buy, singles under a dollar - but it was a legacy of earlier decades, in which longer classical works had needed to be released as 'albums'. As a result, the 1950s albums chart overwhelmingly reflected the tastes of older, more conservative record buyers.
Even a cursory glance at the best-selling albums of the 1950s confirms - with the striking exceptions of Elvis Presley and Miles Davis - that this is not a list of musical innovators. Instead, it points to the fact that the top-selling music of a period is not always what is best remembered by posterity or discussed by critics. The popular image we now have of the 1950s - rock 'n' roll, jazz and James Dean - actually represents aspects of the culture that at the time were the exceptions. If you want to know why James Dean became a rebel without a cause, you just need to look at the album charts. The reason why rock 'n' roll was such a sensation becomes plain: it's because Mum and Dad were busy listening to Mantovani, Johnny Mathis, Ray Conniff and Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Another perennial favourite of 1950s album buyers were the soundtracks to stage and movie musicals. The stage musical may have been coming towards the end of its golden age in the 1950s, but you would never have thought so at the time. The popularity of the musical reflected in the decades best-selling albums, with the Broadway production of My Fair Lady and the movie version of Oklahoma! both appearing in the Top 10.
The 1950s album charts, then, were not the sound of teenage rebellion - they were the sound of middle Britain and America kicking back after the trauma of World War II and enjoying a new era of prosperity. The 1950s did see a number of revolutionary developments that would transform the record industry and popular culture forever: the new sounds of rock 'n' roll were starting to emerge into the mainstream and the technological advances of the era began to reveal what recorded music was capable of. But this was also a time when most album buyers prized the familiar over the radical. Rock 'n' roll may have ruled the singles charts, but for most listeners it was the enchanting show scores, the pop standards and the easy-listening favourites that truly defined the sound of the decade.
A great selection of 1950s music can be found here: - This site represents my eclectic taste in Music and i am pleased to say that of my 20 year old performing musician daughter! I must have done something right!
Thank you for reading - Ronnie Slade.