#1 R&B song from the year you graduated high school
As the name suggests, R&B (rhythm & blues) is a musical genre blending jazz-based rhythmic elements with classic blues structures. A predecessor to rock 'n' roll, R&B continues to both inform and envelop a slew of peripheral genres. To that end, everything from funk to neo-soul to jump blues to hip-hop to oldies rock can fall under or overlap with the R&B banner.
Meanwhile, the story of R&B is invariably a story of race in America, with direct ties to two separate African American urban migrations. The first migration—also known as the Great Migration—occurred in the wake of World War I. Proudly uniting in the face of unjust segregation policies, African Americans cultivated various forms of blues music, some of which were unexpectedly popular on the national stage.
The second migration occurred during and after World War II, causing the African American urban population to increase substantially. Along with the continued expansion came more interaction, unification, cultural development, and an ongoing demand for music and entertainment. Enter artists like Louis Jordan, who began infusing classic blues music with humorous lyrics and upbeat rhythms in the late 1930s. This trend continued well into the 1940s when an entirely new genre was born: R&B.
With its palpable rhythms and hook-laden instrumentals, early R&B laid the groundwork for what would soon become rock 'n' roll. And while the two genres frequently overlapped in the 1950s, they nevertheless targeted different crowds. Whereas rock 'n' roll with its larger-than-life personas and streamlined guitar chords aimed for the teenage crowd, R&B legends such as Ray Charles were marketed to an older audience. That began to change with the emergence of a new generation of R&B performers. Indeed, the music of artists like James Brown and Ike Turner was simply too danceable and contagious for any teenager to refuse. The genre has been a fixture among the youth crowd ever since.
With that youth crowd in mind, Stacker presents the most popular R&B song from the year you graduated high school. For the data, Stacker dug up the list of Billboard's year-end #1 singles going all the way back to 1947. Like the genre itself, Billboard's ranking methods have changed over time, ultimately tracking sales (physical and digital), radio play, and online streaming. Data was not available for the year 1964.
Without further ado, here is the #1 R&B song from the year you graduated high school.
You may also like: #1 pop song from the year you graduated high school
1946: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop
Artist: Lionel Hampton
Musician Lionel Hampton and drummer Curley Hamner penned this R&B classic, which was partially derived from similar-sounding predecessors. In fact, "Be-Baba-Leba" by Helen Humes was still on the charts by the time Hampton's hit song was released. Multiple versions recordings by various performers would follow.
1947: Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens
1948: Long Gone
Artist: Sonny Thompson
Alfonso “Sonny” Thompson first topped the charts with Part II of this groovy instrumental, which features contributions from saxophonist Eddie Chamblee. Thompson would score another #1 R&B single that very same year, and later work as the A&R director for King Records. Throughout his career, Thompson also penned classic songs for other artists like Freddie King.
1949: The Hucklebuck
Artist: Paul Williams
Released on Savoy Records, this jazzy interpretation of a popular dance number is considered one of the most successful R&B singles of all time. It's also hailed as a clear and important precursor to the rock ‘n' roll genre. The record's instant popularity inspired crooner Frank Sinatra to release his own version just one year later.
1950: Pink Champagne
Artist: Joe Liggins
The same year he signed to Specialty Records, Joe Liggins & His Honeydrippers scored a #1 hit with this infectious single. It stayed on the R&B chart for 13 weeks in 1950, and also landed at #30 on the pop chart. This was one among numerous hit songs from Liggins and his band.
1951: Sixty Minute Man
Artist: The Dominoes
Blending elements of doo-wop and R&B, this controversial single finds Billy Ward bragging about his prowess in the bedroom. Ward co-wrote the song with his business partner and performed it with his band, the Dominoes. It became one of the first R&B crossover hits, peaking at #17 on the pop chart.
1952: Lawdy Miss Clawdy
Artist: Lloyd Price
Louisiana's Lloyd Price was recovering from a broken heart when he wrote this epochal tune in his mother's New Orleans sandwich shop. He would soon record it for Specialty Records, with the legendary Fats Domino providing a rolling piano intro. It marked the early start to Price's highly successful career.
1953: (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean
Artist: Ruth Brown
Singer Ruth Brown was such a dominant force in the early 1950s that her label, Atlantic Records, was once known as “the house that Ruth built.” This particular song was initially presented to Brown as a slow blues number, but she wisely insisted on ramping up the tempo before committing to it. The song became her third #1 R&B single in a row, and her first to land on the pop chart.
1954: Work With Me, Annie
Hank Ballard and The Midnighters were performing as The Royals when they first released this popular single in 1954, changing their name after the song's success. Rife with suggestive lyrics, the record was banned from airplay on numerous radio stations. That didn't stop it from reaching #1 on the R&B charts, nor did it stop the group from releasing two spin-off songs about Annie.
1955: Pledging My Love
Artist: Johnny Ace
This tender blues ballad finds Johnny Ace pledging devotion in exchange for his darling's eternal love. It would later be covered by artists like Elvis Presley and Marvin Gaye with Diana Ross, and appear in movies like “Mean Streets” and “Back to the Future.” Tragically, Ace died from a gunshot wound before the hit single was released.