25 Years of Rock – 1955 – 1959



Guest contributor Zanyhorse takes a look at the radio series 25/30 Years of Rock. This first part examines 1955 to 1959

25 Years of Rock was originally broadcast on Radio 1 in 1980, and was a twenty-five part series looking at the music and news events of each year from 1955 to 1979. In 1985 the series was repeated as 30 Years of Rock which comprised the original twenty-five programmes plus an additional five programmes looking at the years from 1980 to 1984.

The series has recently been repeated on BBC Radio 6.

If you listen to the series now it helps if you bear in mind when it was first broadcast. In 1980 rock n roll was just over twenty-five years old, it was less than twenty years since the first Beatles’ record and ten years since the Beatles split, it was less than five years since the punk explosion. When 25 Years of Rock was first broadcast Bill Haley and John Lennon were still alive. The last programme in the series was more or less up to date with the current pop scene.

With each programme I have provided a playlist plus some additional comments.



Rock Around the Clock – Billy Haley and the Comets

Anthony Eden on the Suez Crisis

Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

Interview with Elvis Presley

Hail Hail Rock n Roll – Chuck Berry

Bye Bye Love – the Everley Brothers

John F Kennedy on the Cuban Missile Crisis

The Times They Are a Changing – Bob Dylan

President Kennedy assassinated

She Loves You – The Beatles

Interview with the Beatles after receiving MBEs

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction – the Rolling Stones

My Generation – the Who

Vietnam War

San Francisco – Scott McKenzie

Country Joe McDonald at Woodstock

I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die – Country Joe and the Fish

President Nixon announces troops to return from Vietnam

Space Oddity – David Bowie

Neil Armstrong lands on the Moon Edward Heath announces three day week

Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen

President Nixon Resigns Jimmy Carter runs for president

Anarchy in the UK – the Sex Pistols

Margaret Thatcher becomes Conservative Party Leader Interview with Johnny Rotten

Another Brick in the Wall – Pink Floyd

(When the first edition of 25 Years of Rock was repeated as 30 Years of Rock the introduction was extended to include: Ronald Reagan’s inauguration Fame – Irene Cara Interview with John Lennon. John Lennon assassinated. Just Like Starting Over – John Lennon Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana Romeo and Juliet – Dire Straits The Falklands War Two Tribes – Franke Goes to Hollywood)

Main programme:

Alan Freed introduces…

Rock Around the Clock – Billy Haley and the Comets

Winston Churchill resigns as prime minister

Ain’t That a Shame – Fats Domino

Churchill announces Anthony Eden as successor. Conservatives win general election Leaders of USA. USSR, Britain and France meet at Geneva Summit

Sh-Boom – The Chords

Atom Bomb tests in Nevada Rolls Royce TMR, aka the Flying Bedstead, makes first vertical take-off

Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley

ITV launched (including Take Your Pick) Donald Campbell breaks waterspeed record in Bluebird

Maybellene – Chuck Berry

James Dean killed in road accident

Earth Angel – The Penguins

Royal Command Performance

On the Waterfront wins seven Oscars

Only You – The Platters

Billy Graham speaks in New York French evacuation of Vietnam

Hernando’s Hideaway – The Johnston Brothers

Start of Cyprus Crisis Juan Person ousted in military coup

Roll With Me Henry – Etta James

Prince Charles and Princess Anne make their first flight. Princess Margaret decides not to marry Captain Peter Townsend

See You Later Alligator – Billy Haley and the Comets

I Got a Woman – Ray Charles

Heathcote Elementary School wins architectural award

President Eisenhower suffers heart attack, but soon recovers and returns to work. Harry S Truman among attendees at Democratic Party dinner.

Adlai Stevenson announces intention to run for president.

Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford

British migration to Australia is highest for three years Borough of Lambeth organises inter-racial dance

Tutti Frutti – Little Richard

Harold Philby denies connection with Burgess and Maclean spy ring

The Great Pretender – The Platters

Jonas Salk develops polio vaccine. Rocky Marciano defends world heavyweight title

Elvis Presley introduces…

That’s Alright – Elvis Presley

USA and USSR announce plans to launch first space satellites by 1957

Mystery Train – Elvis Presley

Each programme plays out with Oh Well by Fleetwood Mac.

The first programme in the series, and one of the best.

Rock n roll started before 1955 and Rock Around the Clock wasn’t the first rock n roll record, but it was the first rock n roll record to be a major hit, so it was chosen as the starting point. Some music in this programme is the type of music that was the forerunner of rock n roll. But we also have the real thing from Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and somebody called Elvis Presley.

The news events put the music into some sort of context. When Bill Haley recorded Rock Around the Clock Winston Churchill was still prime minister. When this programme was first broadcast in 1980 the Burgess/Mclean/Philby story would have rung a bell with some listeners who didn’t remember the events of 1955, because a year earlier Anthony Blunt was exposed as the fourth man in the spy ring. And this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing about Vietnam.


Roll Over Beethoven – Chuck Berry

Bikini Atoll H-Bomb test, Anthony Eden announces plan for Britain’s H-bomb, Editor of Steel predicts nuclear planes and homes heated by nuclear fuel

Let the Good Times Roll – Shirley and Lee

Smog causes disruption to train service and cancelled flights High-rise flats opened in Toryglen, Glasgow

Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino

Rocky Marciano retires British Sports awards. Freddie Laker takes ten wickets in one innings. Floyd Paterson wins heavyweight boxing title

Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins

Prince Rainier of Monaco marries Grace Kelly

Why Do Fools Fall in Love? – Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

Marilyn Monroe marries Arthur Miller, and makes The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier

Be Bop a Lula – Gene Vincent

Nikita Krushchev visits UK, Commander Lionel Crabb disappears

Green Door – Jim Lowe

Cecil Reid, acting president of American Federation of musicians, announces that communists will be expelled from federation. Soviet Union invades Hungary

My Prayer – The Platters

Court in Montgomery, Alabama makes injunction against segregation on buses, Protesters picket Bill Haley concert in Birmingham, Alabama

The Saints Rock n Roll – Bill Haley and his Comets

Film Rock Around the Clock released, causing riots in cinemas

Rip It Up – Little Richard

Desmond Tee, King of the Teddy Boys, fined, and later imprisoned, for assault, Manuel Shinwell discuses rock n roll craze on Any Questions

Rock With the Caveman – Tommy Steele

Teddy boys talk about rock n roll, Lord Boothby discuses rock n roll craze on Any Questions, Egypt takes Suez canal

It’s Almost Tomorrow – The Dreamweavers

Israel invades Egypt. Anthony Eden on Suez Crisis.

Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

Suez crisis escalates

I’ll Be Home – Pat Boone

Fuel rationing announced by Aubrey Jones, minister of fuel and power, Underwater prospecting for oil

Rock Island Line – Lonnie Donegan

Rock n Roll festival in Sydney, Elvis Presley returns to Mississippi. Elvis makes his first film, Love Me Tender.

Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley

Interview with Elvis Presley

Don’t Be Cruel – Elvis Presley

President Eisenhower on being re-elected, Anthony Eden takes holiday in Jamaica

Heartbreak Hotel Elvis Presley

1956 was the breakthrough year for rock n roll, and the breakthrough year for Elvis Presley, already called the King of Rock n Roll. Britain got in on the act with Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan. In Britain there were the teddy boys. It’s amazing how they dug up that clip from the panel show Any Questions.

The main news story of the year was the Suez Crisis. The other big event was also the Soviet invasion of Hungary. I’m surprised that the sports roundup didn’t mention the Olympic Games.


All Shook Up – Elvis Presley

Anthony Eden resigns. Harold Macmillan becomes prime minister.

Six-Five Special – Don Lang

Inflation hits Britain

Singing the Blues – Guy Mitchell

Singing the Blues – Tommy Steele

Tommy Steele and his mother move from Bermondsey to Catford, Rock n roll concert on channel ferry Teddy boy suits banned at Stafford RAF Station. Tailor discuses teddy boy suits.

Puttin’ on the Style – Lonnie Donegan

Vox pops on youth culture

School Days – Chuck Berry

Inauguration of President Eisenhower

Bye Bye Love – the Everley Brothers

Little Rock High School integration crisis.

Keep a Knockin’ – Little Richard

Little Richard throws jewellery into Hunter River as symbol of his faith in God, Sophia Loren attends Hollywood Party

Little Darlin’ – the Diamonds

Jellyfish on south coast of Britain British emigrate to Canada

That’ll Be the Day – Buddy Holly and the Crickets

Buddy Holly and the Crickets visit Britain

Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly and the Crickets

Interview with Buddy Holly, IRA bow up Dungannon Barracks in Northern Ireland, Mayflower II lands in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – Jerry Lee Lewis

Nuclear accident at Windscale Lewisham rail crash Chris Brasher becomes Sportsman of the Year

Diana – Paul Anka

Wolfenden report recommends changes in law on prostitution on homosexuality, Link between smoking and lung cancer confirmed

Teddy Bear – Elvis Presley

First premium bonds draw. Bill Haley tours Britain. Bill Haley explains rock n roll.

Rock n Roll Music – Chuck Berry

Sunderland Football Club officials suspended for making illegal payments to players. Interview with Jimmy Hill. Juan Fangio wins German Grand Prix

Reete Petite – Jackie Wilson

Americans work on their first space satellite. Russians launch Sputnik.

Great Balls of Fire – Jerry Lee Lewis

Laika the dog sent into space on Sputnik II

Wake Up Little Susie – the Everley Brothers

Rock n roll was going from strength to strength. New acts included Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Everley Brothers who appear to be favourites of the series producer. The BBC launched Six Five Special, their first rock music programme.

People complained about inflation during the seventies, but it was nothing new. But the biggest news story of 1957 was the launch of Sputnik I. It’s clever how they use some of the records to fit in with the events, for example Great Balls of Fire being played after the Sputnik story.

Twenty-five Years of Rock was a bit like a serial with some of the ongoing stories such as the development of space flight, the comings and goings of the prime ministers and presidents, and the careers of some of the more famous rock acts like Elvis Presley.


Rave On – Buddy Holly

Juno I rocket launches Explorer I satellite from Cape Canaveral

You Send Me – Sam Cooke

Members of Manchester United killed and injured in plane crash in Munich

Rumble – Link Wray

Bolton Wanderers beat Manchester United in FA Cup Final. Rise in crime figures following temporary suspension of death penalty. Interview with Fabian of the Yard.

Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley

Bridge Over the River Kwai wins seven Oscars. Elvis Presley receives call up papers.

King Creole – Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley begins basic training. Interview with Elvis Presley.

Move It – Cliff Richard and the Shadows

Report from jazz club

Why Don’t They Understand?

Interview with beatniks. Interview with Lady Lewisham.

Chantilly Lace – the Big Bopper

The sack dress

No Chemise Please – Gerry Granahan

Doctors warn of dangers of using hula hoops

Poor Little Fool – Ricky Nelson

Vice President Nixon returns from tour of South America.

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands – Laurie London

Bony Maronie – Larry Williams

Vivian Fuchs reaches South Pole. Alaska becomes 49th State of America

At the Hop – Danny and the Juniors

Lebanon crisis. Interview with Private Elvis Presley

To Know Him is to Love Him – the Teddy Bears

Jayne Mansfield gets engaged to Mickey Hargitay

Stupid Cupid – Connie Francis

Sweet Little Sixteen – Chuck Berry

Six Five Special Roadshow. Britain’s first motorway, Preston By-pass. Opens Ford cars advert. Stirling Moss wins Morocco Grand Prix

Splish Splash – Bobby Darin

Comet 4 and Boeing 707 launched.

All I Have To Do Is Dream – the Everley Brothers

It’s Only Make Believe – Conway Twitty

Race riots in Notting Hill

Tom Hark – Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes

Tommy Steele gets wax statue in Madame Tussauds. CND organises Aldermaston March

Summertime Blues – Eddie Cochrane

Worst unemployment figures in UK since records began. Teenagers spend more money on clothes and records

High School Confidential – Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis UK tour cancelled after revelation that he has married his thirteen year old cousin

Good Golly Miss Molly – Little Richard

In 1958 Elvis Presley put his career on hold when he joined the army, but he predicted that rock n roll would still be around for a long time. The two most notable new rock n roll personalities were Cliff Richard and Phil Spector, the latter the writer and producer of the Teddy Bears’ first hit.

I think this is the first edition of Twenty-five Years of Rock to feature a novelty record, Gerry Granahan’s ode to the sack dress. It’s also the first to feature a speech by Richard Nixon.

It was around this time that teenagers came into their own. Lady Lewisham later became better known as the step mother of Princess Diana.


It Just Doesn’t Matter Anymore – Buddy Holly

Interview with Buddy Holly. Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens killed in a plane crash

Three Stars – Tommy Dee

Alan Freed leaves WABC after being accused of involvement in payola scandal

What Do You Want? – Adam Faith

Vice President Nixon visits Dallas State Fair

What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? – Emile Ford and the Cherckmates

Nixon visits Moscow and meets Nikita Khrushchev

Charlie Brown – the Coasters

NASA predicts men will land on Moon by 1969. Luna 3 transmits photographs of the Moon.

Kookie Kookie Lend Me Your Comb – Edward Byrnes and Connie Stevens

Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour? – Lonnie Donegan

Conservatives win general election

Mack the Knife – Bobby Darin

Harold Macmillan forms new cabinet

C’mon Everybody Eddie Cochrane

EMI to discontinue 78rpm records. Diesel and electric trains start to replace steam

Travellin’ Light – Cliff Richard

M1 motorway opened. Earl’s Court motor show

Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison

SRN1 hovercraft makes first channel crossing. Mike Hawthorn honoured by British Sporting Club. Mike Hawthorn killed in car crash.

Peter Gunn – Duane Eddy

Ingemar Johasnson wins boxing heavyweight title. England, led by Billy Wright, beat Scotland

Oh Carol – Nail Sedaka

Oh Donna – Ritchie Valens

Queen Elizabeth and President Eisenhower open Saint Lawrence Seaway in Canada

The Battle of New Orleans – Johnny Horton

Fidel Castro becomes Cuban prime minister following revolution. General De Gaulle becomes president of France

One Night – Elvis Presley

Tibetans rise up against China Communist rebellion in Laos

Dream Lover – Bobby Darin

Marty Wilde announces he is giving up rock n roll for classier style of music. Academy Awards

Living Doll – Cliff Richard

I Shall Not Be Moved – Million Dollar Quartet

CND organise second Easter march to Aldermaston

Down By the Riverside – Alexis Korner, Bill Colyer, Dick Smith, John Bastable and Ken Colyer

Government announces abolition of national service

Teenager in Love – Dion and the Belmonts

1959 saw the first major tragedy in the history of rock n roll when Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens died in a plane crash. And there’s a rare chance to hear the tribute record Three Stars.

Vice President Richard Nixon was making a name for himself. This is the first programme in the series where we hear the Queen.

There was definitely a folk music scene in Britain in 1959. And Britain was heading towards a new era with the CND movement, the new motorways, the modernisation of the railways, and the imminent abolition of national service.

According to the entry for this programme in Radio Times Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, Bobby Darin and Neil Sedaka were producing “a mellower style of pop”. And Elvis Presley joining the army, the Jerry Lee Lewis scandal, the payola scandal, and the death of Buddy Holly all contributed to the decline of the first wave of rock n roll.

2 thoughts on “25 Years of Rock – 1955 – 1959

  1. Radio 6 have just started another rerun of the series

    Rather bizarrely they’re showing the first twenty-three series on twenty-five consecutive nights, then a twelve day gap before the last two programmes from the original series, and they’re not playing the eighties episodes until the second week of January.

    The previous reruns would be on thirty consecutive nights, and it would be timed so that the last episode, which finishes with Band Aid, would be on Christmas Eve.


  2. When the first edition of 25 Years of Rock was first broadcast most of the singers featured on the programme were still alive, apart from Elvis Presley.

    Now most of them have died, and Little Richard was one of the last ones still alive.


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