Top Songs from the 1940s
I've been interested in music since I was a kid. In high school, I developed a way of combining different music charts in order to make a much larger chart containing the top songs from the year. I decided to start a much larger project, combining charts from multiple years and even multiple decades. I start, however, with the humble 1940s.
Why start there? Well, it's the easiest decade to start at, for one. Most of the music charts that you find are available for the rock era, from the 1950s (especially mid-1950s) on. I was able to find very few charts for the 1940s, so this part of the chart list is very small. It's an easy project to finish. For this reason, the only charts that these songs will appear on will be the 1940s charts and the final song chart at the end. Starting in the 1950s, there will be song charts available for each year as well.
Why even bother with the songs of the 1940s? Do people even care about them? Surprisingly, a lot of the songs that we think of as "American Classics" today initially came out in the 1940s. The 1940s might not be full of songs that you put on your playlist in the car, but they did come out with quite a few songs that you might hum along to from time to time. So... I start there.
Way Back to the 1940s
If you were to go back in time to the 1940s, you would see that the world was a different place. As the decade began, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president of the United States, and Adolph Hitler was the Führer of Germany. The United States was in the final years of the great depression, and Europe was at war. It was a trying time to live in one of the western nations.
It looked like Germany was going to win this war. The country had taken over much of Europe, and it looked like Britain was the last holdout. Then, on December 7, 1941, the United States was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor.
Just like songs today are often affected by the mood of the nation, the songs of the 1940s were also affected by the events of the time. Some wartime songs had a little bit of sadness to them, while others were cheerful, and might have taken people's minds off the war for a while. After the war, people were trying to rebuild their lives, but they were optimistic about the future. This is the world of the 1940s where these songs were originally set.
#1: Ghost Riders in the Sky - Vaughn Monroe
The last year of the decade produced the song that made the number one spot on the 1940s chart. It's a song by Vaughn Monroe called (Ghost) Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend). The song has been remade quite a few times since. While this particular version isn't heard a lot today, its remakes are familiar to many. There was a movie made to go along with the song in 1949 as well.
This song is available in mp3 format or on CD. The movie is available as well.
#2: White Christmas - Bing Crosby
White Christmas just might be the song that most people remember from the 1940s in its original version. Bing Crosby was one of the most popular artists of the era, and is probably remembered most for this song. While most of us do not sit down to listen to songs from the 1940s on a regular basis, when the Christmas season rolls around, many of us will listen to this classic more than once.
It's also the title track to a movie.
The song is available in mp3 format or on an album. You can watch the movie, which features the song, through Amazon Instant Video, Blu-Ray, or on DVD (pictured is the DVD version).
#3: Swinging on a Star - Bing Crosby
This song ended up #3 on the list of top songs from the 1940s. It's not played very much today, but it's quite a catchy little ditty, IMO. It came out in 1944, during the final years of World War II. I could imagine that people could use a little cheering up back then. Not only is it an upbeat, happy tune, it also encourages people to do their best and get an education. We could use a few more songs in our culture like that today.
This song is available in mp3 format, on an album, or even as sheet music. It was sung in the movie Going My Way (also pictured).
#4: Frenesi - Artie Shaw
This song, from 1940, is an instrumental that features the clarinet. When it came out, the United States hadn't entered the war yet, but war was raging in Europe, and the economy was in the tank in the US. This upbeat tune probably helped people forget their troubles for a bit.
You can buy the album, on CD, mp3, or even vinyl or cassette, but I don't know if it's available as a single track.
#5: Moonlight Cocktail - Glenn Miller & His Orchestra
This big-band style song came out in 1942, while the world was at war.
This song is available on mp3, as a live album, or as sheet music.
#6: I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover - Art Mooney & His Orchestra
This song came out in 1948. The war was over, and things were starting to look up in the US again (even the economy). It's one of those songs that most people know the tune to, even if they had never heard this version.
This song is available in mp3 and on a full-length album.
#7: I'll Never Smile Again - Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra
This song from 1940 features Frank Sinatra. It's a little slower than most of the songs in the top 10 songs from the decade, but it's a sweet song nonetheless.
This song currently can be purchased on mp3, but if you want an album, you'll have to purchase it on vinyl, not CD.
#8: I've Heard That Song Before - Harry James & His Orchestra
This song from 1940 features lyrics sung by Helen Forrest.
This song is available on mp3 or on CD.
#9: Personality - Johnny Mercer & Pied Pipers
This song is available on an album. If you want just this song, it's song #10 and is available in mp3 format.
#10: In the Mood - Glenn Miller & His Orchestra
Rounding out the top 10 is "In The Mood" by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra, which came out in 1940. It's a tune that most people are familiar with. I remember learning to play this song (although surely an easier arrangement) in band class.
These songs made up the top 10 songs from 1940. There are 118 more to go, but that's all for now.