The 15 greatest teen idols from the '50s and '60s, ranked

5 July 2022, 17:30 | Updated: 20 September 2023, 13:19

The greatest teen idols
The greatest teen idols. Picture: Alamy

By Tom Eames

The golden age of the teen idol popstar was back in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Rock and roll had burst onto the scene, but it wasn't quite time for the beat groups of the 1960s. The Beatles would bring with them a new form of pop pinup.

But in the years from around 1958 to 1962, there was a very particular group of male singers who dominated the charts.

Recording a poppy version of rock and roll, these artists would become the biggest stars on the planet thanks to their catchy - and often romantic - tunes.

Here are the very best of this era to make for a perfect teen idol playlist:

  1. Johnny Tillotson

    Johnny Tillotson
    Johnny Tillotson. Picture: Getty

    Johnny Tillotson was mostly a country artist, but in the early 1960s he was a teen idol pin-up in the pop market.

    His biggest hit was 'Poetry in Motion', a number one in the UK.

  2. Mark Wynter

    Mark Wynter
    Mark Wynter. Picture: Getty

    English singer Mark Wynter had a couple of hits in the early '60s as a teen idol: 'Venus in Blue Jeans' and 'Go Away Little Girl'.

    He later became a successful actor and TV presenter, and continues to tour to fans around the UK.

  3. Brian Hyland

    Brian Hyland
    Brian Hyland. Picture: Getty

    Brian Hyland's brand of puppy love bubblegum pop cemented him as one of the biggest stars around before the Beatles emerged in the early '60s.

    Songs including 'Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini' and 'Sealed with a Kiss' were big hits, and he later continued recording as a country music artist once his teen idol status waned.

  4. Bobby Rydell

    Bobby Rydell
    Bobby Rydell. Picture: Getty

    Bobby Rydell was one of the biggest teen idols of the early 1960s, scoring hits with 'Wildwood Days', 'Volare' and 'Wild One'.

    Grease also named its high school Rydell High after him, as a tribute to his teen idol status.

    He kept touring until his death at the age of 79 in 2022.

  5. Marty Wilde

    Marty Wilde
    Marty Wilde. Picture: Getty

    Marty Wilde was Britain's answer to rock and roll in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and he had several big hits.

    His most famous songs included 'Endless Sleep', 'Donna' and 'A Teenager in Love'. He continued to work in the industry - including looking after the early career of his daughter Kim Wilde - and he still performs live today.

  6. Adam Faith

    Adam Faith
    Adam Faith. Picture: Getty

    Adam Faith was one of the UK's biggest popstars at the turn of the 1960s, having two number ones with his Buddy Holly-sounding songs 'Poor Me' and 'What Do You Want'.

    He passed away in 2003 after a heart attack, aged 62.

  7. Frankie Avalon

    Frankie Avalon
    Frankie Avalon. Picture: Getty

    Frankie Avalon summed up what a teen idol was perfectly in 1959, when he had two massive number one singles in America: 'Why' and 'Venus'.

    He was so perfect that he was hired to play the Teen Angel in the movie adaptation of Grease nearly 20 years later.

  8. Tab Hunter

    Tab Hunter
    Tab Hunter. Picture: Getty

    Known more as a Hollywood actor, Tab also had a decent music career - including the massive number one single 'Young Love' in 1957.

    He adorned the cover of hundreds of magazines of the era, and continued acting into the 1980s.

    He passed away in 2018, aged 86.

  9. Tommy Steele

    Tommy Steele
    Tommy Steele. Picture: Getty

    Before Cliff, Tommy Steele was Britain's first rock and roll star and teen idol - and he had several big hits that proved the Brits could do it as well as the Americans.

    While the hits stopped coming by the mid-1960s, Tommy continued performing on stage and screen and was knighted in 2020.

  10. Bobby Vee

    Bobby Vee
    Bobby Vee. Picture: Getty

    Bobby Vee emerged as a teen idol in the early 1960s, with his biggest hits including 'Take Good Care of My Baby' and 'Rubber Ball'.

    A young Bob Dylan played in his band, and later named Vee as one of the most important people of his career.

    He died in 2016 with complications from Alzheimer's disease, aged 73.

  11. Pat Boone

    Pat Boone
    Pat Boone. Picture: Getty

    It's easy to forget just how massive Pat Boone was. Only Elvis Presley sold more records than him in the 1950s in the US.

    Later moving into gospel music, at 88 years old he continues to perform and speak as a motivational speaker, is a TV personality, and a conservative political commentator.

  12. Paul Anka

    Paul Anka
    Paul Anka. Picture: Getty

    Paul Anka was only 16 when his song 'Diana' become a worldwide pop smash in 1957.

    He went on to sustain a prolific career as a singer and songwriter over the next few decades, including writing the English lyrics for 'My Way' and writing for Michael Jackson and Tom Jones.

  13. Ricky Nelson

    Ricky Nelson
    Ricky Nelson. Picture: Getty

    The term 'teen idol' was actually coined to describe Ricky Nelson, so arguably he is the original prototype.

    Ricky emerged as a young singer in the late 1950s, and also had a successful film career as an actor. His biggest hits included 'Poor Little Fool', 'Travellin' Man', 'Hello Mary Lou' and 'A Teenager's Romance'.

    By the 1960s, he had moved over to rock and country and changed his name to simply Rick Nelson, but he could never quite match his teen idol success. He tragically died in a plane crash in 1985, aged just 45.

  14. Cliff Richard

    Cliff Richard
    Cliff Richard. Picture: Getty

    Cliff Richard was the UK's answer to Elvis, and he more than took that mantle on.

    Like Elvis, he started on the rocky end of the spectrum, but by the early 1960s he had morped into pop numbers and ballads - with songs like 'The Young Ones', 'Summer Holiday' and 'Bachelor Boy' making him the UK's best ever teen idol.

  15. Elvis Presley

    Elvis Presley
    Elvis Presley. Picture: Getty

    It had to be Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll.

    While he started his career as a rock and roll star, by the late 1950s he had moved with the times and recorded a number of pop-driven ballads that kept him top of the pack.

    His movie career and iconic status also made sure that he was the ultimate teen idol, forever more.