#1 pop song from the year you graduated high school
Old people complaining about "the music these days" is a trope for a reason: It's been happening for as long as music has been on the radio. The fact is, the music we fall in love with as teenagers stays with us for the rest of our lives. A New York Times analysis of Spotify data found that the most influential age for one's musical taste is 13 for women and 14 for men. At that formative moment, music just means more: Each of those songs become linked with events that feel monumental (First dance! First kiss! First beer! First love!) Just as fascinating are the songs that don't affect listeners who weren't just the right age when they hit the radio waves. According to the study, if you were an 11-year-old girl when The Cure's “Just Like Heaven” was released, you stream it all the time. But if you were older than 20 or younger than 5 at the time? It's just “meh.”
Pop music is about a time, a place, and what a song or a band can mean to a generation of listeners. Because of that, it can be anything from an orchestral movie theme to a remix of a Spanish-language hit to a folk harmony to a Dolly Parton cover. What makes it pop is that it speaks to young people of the day. And because those are the songs that stay with us, pop music becomes a shared language for a generation.
So, what's your pop music dictionary? What are the songs that are part of your teenage cohorts' shared language and experience?
Stacker pulled data from Billboard Year-End Charts, which ranks the #1 singles, albums, and more of the calendar year, to compile a list of the #1 pop song for each year from 1946 to 2019. Whether you love pop music or hate it, these are the hits that dominated the car radios, the winter balls, the proms, and the house parties for every year since 1946.
These are #1 pop songs from the year you graduated high school.
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1946: 'Prisoner of Love' by Perry Como
“Prisoner of Love” was originally performed by Russ Columbo in 1931, but it really took off in popularity a decade and a half later. In 1945, Billy Eckstine put out a version with Duke Ellington on the piano, and a year later, Perry Como put out one of his own, which charted in March 1946 and hit #1 that year. Como was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2002 Grammys.
1947: 'Near You' by Francis Craig
Francis Craig, already a well-known bandleader in his mid-40s, had an unexpected megahit when he recorded “Near You” and three other songs in a studio before taking a gig as a radio station music librarian. Unexpectedly, “Near You,” which was a B-side recording on the single, was a breakout hit, eclipsing 1 million copies sold in five months, and sitting atop the charts for an unprecedented 17 weeks. It became the theme song for comedian Milton Berle's popular radio show. It also was covered by George Jones and Tammy Wynette in 1972, becoming a #1 country hit.
1948: 'Twelfth Street Rag' by Pee Wee Hunt
“Twelfth Street Rag” was composed by Euday Louis Bowman, who first published the song in 1914. However, the song was best-known as a spark of sorts, reigniting jazz musicians' interest in ragtime from the 1920s through the 1940s. The trombonist Walter “Pee Wee” Hunt recorded his 1948 version for Capitol Records, which went on to sell 3 million copies. A 1999 version of the song regularly appeared throughout the run of “Spongebob Squarepants” featuring a steel guitar and a ukulele.
1949: 'Riders in the Sky' by Vaughn Monroe Orchestra
Vaughn Monroe was a big band leader whose voice earned him the nickname “Old Leather Lungs.” He had a string of #1 hits throughout the 1940s, ending the decade with “Riders in the Sky”—a country Western classic that has since been recorded by everyone from Johnny Cash to the Blues Brothers.
1950: 'Goodnight, Irene' by Gordon Jenkins and The Weavers
Originally recorded by blues legend Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, the 1950 version by The Weavers is the one that topped the charts. The Weavers, a folk band based in Greenwich Village, co-founded by Pete Seeger, were the forerunners of a “folk boom” that included Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Bob Dylan. Fifteen years later, Seeger allegedly threatened to take a hatchet to the wire to Dylan's amps when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival.
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1951: 'Too Young' by Nat King Cole
With music by Sidney Lippman and lyrics by Sylvia Dee, Nat King Cole's “Too Young” sold more than a million records and stayed at #1 on the charts for five weeks. Incredibly, in 1956, Cole became the first black man to host a network TV show when “The Nat King Cole Show” premiered on NBC that November. Cole died of lung cancer at the age of 45 in February 1965.
1952: 'Blue Tango' by Leroy Anderson
When Leroy Anderson released “Blue Tango” on a 45, it was paired with “Belle of the Ball,” which the composer expected to be the bigger hit. He was very wrong. “Blue Tango” sold more than 1 million records, becoming the first instrumental to reach gold record status. Mitchell Parish wrote lyrics for the song later in 1952.
1953: 'Song from Moulin Rouge' by Percy Faith
Originally written for the 1952 film “Moulin Rouge,” “Song from Moulin Rouge” (also known as “Where Is Your Heart”) became a chart-topping hit when it was recorded by Percy Faith's orchestra in 1953. That version, sung by Felicia Sanders, topped the Billboard charts for 10 weeks. Tony Bennett credits Percy Faith as an early influence.
1954: 'Little Things Mean a Lot' by Kitty Kallen
Originally written by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutz, the version of “Little Things Mean a Lot” that topped the charts was recorded by Kitty Kallen in 1954. The next year, Kallen began to struggle to sing live (she could still record, which led many to believe the problem was psychological). She was erroneously reported dead in 1978, before actually dying at the age of 94 in 2016.
1955: 'Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White' by Pérez Prado
“Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” is the English translation of the original French title “Cerisier Rose et Pommier Blanc,” composed by Louiguy (“La Vie en Rose”). The version that topped the charts in 1955 was released by Dámaso Pérez Prado, who recorded it for the soundtrack of the 1955 RCA film “Underwater!” In the film, the actress Jane Russell dances to the mambo hit.
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