Various Artists

Billboard Top Rock & Roll Hits: 1955

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Despite its many faults, Rhino's Billboard Top Rock & Roll Hits is as good an introduction to consistently diverse music as possible. It's sometimes marred by a confusing song selection, poor liner notes, and brevity, as well as the omission of several important pop, rock, and album rock artists. However, the series isn't attempting to be comprehensive. Instead, it offers a view of the popular mainstream for each year from 1955 to 1974 at an affordable price. And with Elvis Presley represented along with usual suspects Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Carl Perkins on the initial '50s volumes, the discs are more comprehensive than some other, earlier attempts at this kind of compilation, and are essential in their entirety. The 1955 volume kicks off well enough, with the song that declared rock & roll's arrival at the top of the charts, Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" (in what, in 1988, was the best remastering available -- and it still sounds good 20 years later). Chuck Berry's "Maybellene," Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame," and the Penguins' "Earth Angel" fill the next three slots, and then listeners get to slightly more outre (though still well-known and mostly essential) music, the Platters' "Only You," LaVern Baker's "Tweedlee Dee," and the Moonglows' "Sincerely" sandwiching "Hearts of Stone" by the Fontane Sisters and "Black Denin Trousers" by the Cheers. Those two pieces constitute novelty tunes that intersect somewhat with rock & roll, but are hardly representative of what was happening in music (or rock & roll) in 1955 -- indeed, they are more representative of the non-rock & roll world's reaction to the rise of youth culture, exploiting and ridiculing it. But among the surprises is one genuine jewel, the El Dorados' "At My Front Door," about as good an R&B harmony vocal (i.e., doo wop) rocker as there is in this series. The sound has held up well, but the annotation is sorely lacking. Still, this is a fun half-hour's listening, even with the weak moments that slipped through.

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