It can be nostalgic to go back and listen to music from certain periods of time and it can give you an idea of what was popular or in the news during that era. We’re going to tell you all about 35 popular songs from the 1940s that you should check out.
1. White Christmas – Bing Crosby
First on our list is a song we all know, White Christmas, but the version by Bing Crosby is one of the most iconic. The version Bing sang is the biggest in sales, with over 50 million copies sold worldwide. The first time Bing sang White Christmas was just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, on December 25, 1941, on The Kraft Music Hall radio show, which was Bing’s radio show on NBC.
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2. Stardust – Artie Shaw
Up next is a remake of Stardust, recorded by Artie Shaw in 1940. By this point, the song had already become a standard since it had been released several years earlier, but the version by Artie became his biggest hit and ended up selling more than a million records. Stardust has been in several movies, including Casino, Sleepless In Seattle, and Goodfellas. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1995.
3. Body and Soul – Coleman Hawkins
Bebop fans may have heard the song Body and Soul, which makes our list since Coleman Hawkins recorded a version released in 1940. His version of Body and Soul became one of the earlier bebop recordings, and he improvised lines that made his version a little different from the original. In 2004, this song was inducted into the National Recording Registry.
4. Swinging on a Star – Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby released Swinging On A Star in 1944, and this song was made for the movie Going My Way. The song was such a hit that it stayed number one for over two months! Swinging On A Star also won Best Original Song. This is one of the most famous Bing Crosby songs, and it’s been covered by multiple artists through the years.
5. Riders in the Sky – Vaughn Monroe
Up next is Vaughn Monroe with Riders In The Sky, which he released in 1949 and is one of several versions of this song that have been released through the years. This song is an anthem for cowboys, and it’s all about riders trying to chase demonic cattle but is doomed.
6. God Bless The Child – Billie Holiday
Next is Billie Holiday with her song God Bless The Child which was recorded in 1941 and then released in 1942. She recorded the song three times, including the first time in 1941, then again in 1950, and lastly, in 1956. This very popular song was named one of the Songs Of The Century by the RIAA, and the version by Billie was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1976.
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7. As Time Goes By – Dooley Wilson
Up next is Dooley Wilson covering As Time Goes By, which was released in 1942 for the movie Casablanca, and Dooley performed it as Sam. This was one of the movie’s most notable songs, with only Over The Rainbow topping it. As Time Goes By was used by Warner Brothers as their signature tune and has been in several films, including Fallen and Message In A Bottle. As Time Goes By has also been used in television shows like Two And A Half Men.
8. Take The “A” Train – Duke Ellington
Our list has to include the Duke Ellington song Take The “A” Train, a signature song of Duke, and the most popular recording was released in 1941. In the movie, Reveille With Beverly, released in 1943, Duke and the band played the song in what was supposed to be a railway car. NPR included this song in its NPR 100 list of the best songs of the century.
9. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
Next is the song we’re all familiar with, The Christmas Song, often referred to as “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire,” and it was recorded in 1946 by Nat King Cole. The Christmas Song became a hit on both the R&B and Pop charts, becoming one of the most-played songs around Christmas. It has been recorded several times by other artists, although the Nat King Cole version reigns supreme. In 2022, the song entered the National Recording Registry.
10. Sentimental Journey – Les Brown & Doris Day
In 1944, Sentimental Journey was recorded by Doris Day and Les Brown after a two-year strike by musicians. The song became a homecoming for the soldiers returning after World War II since it was released at the same time the war was over. It was the first number-one song for Doris and it charted for 23 weeks on the Billboard charts. The song has been famously featured on an episode of M*A*S*H and has been covered by multiple artists through the years.
11. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy – the Andrews Sisters
Next up is The Andrews Sisters with the World War II blues song Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, which was released in 1941 and was written for the movie Buck Privates. It reached number six on the Billboard Pop Singles chart as the film was released. A very notable song, it was named the sixth most important song of the century. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy also was nominated for Best Original Song.
12. Paper Doll – the Mills Brothers
Next is the hit song Paper Doll by The Mills Brothers, and this song lasted 12 weeks in the number-one spot on the Billboard Singles chart. This was the first time in the 1940s that an African American artist had a number-one single. Paper Doll is only a handful of 40 singles that have sold over 10 million copies worldwide. For The Mills Brothers, Paper Doll revived their career, which had been in the tank for a few years before the song came out.
13. Straighten Up and Fly Right – Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole is on our list for 1943 hit Straighten Up And Fly Right, one of the first hits for Nat King Cole. This was an incredibly popular song, and on the Harlem Hit Parade, it reached number one, where it stayed for 10 weeks. On pop charts, Straighten Up And Fly Right reached number nine. This song also was on the Most Played Jukebox Hillbilly Records chart for six weeks in the number one position.
14. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer – Gene Autry
Next on our list is another song you’ll recognize even today because it’s a timeless song called Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the version by Gene Autry gained significant traction. He recorded his version in June 1949, and in September 1949, Columbia Records released it s a record for kids.
During Christmas 1949, the song reached number one on the charts and has become one of the most well-known Christmas songs of all time. Given his success with the song, he released Peter Cottontail for Easter, which also became popular.
15. All The Things You Are – Miles Davis
All The Things You Are was written for the 1939 musical Very Warm For May, and the Miles Davis version in 1947 is one of several that have become popular over the years. This song also appeared in the 1944 film Broadway Rhythm. It has been covered several times, such as by Bill Evans Trio, Artie Shaw, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, and Carly Simon.
16. Some Enchanted Evening – Perry Como
Next is Perry Como with Some Enchanted Evening, which was released by Perry in 1949; the song was for the beginning of South Pacific, which was a musical that was released during that time. When Some Enchanted Evening was released, it was a hit almost instantly and dubbed as the greatest song to be released for a musical. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the song, and it became one of their most well-known hits.
The song has been covered by several artists such as Andy Williams, The Temptations, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan. It has appeared in movies and television shows, including American Graffiti, Crossing Delancey, and on shows such as Ally McBeal and The Muppet Show.
17. That’s My Desire – Frankie Laine
Frankie Laine released a version of That’s My Desire in 1946, and the song landed on the Best Seller Billboard chart in 1947, landing at number two. It stayed on the charts for more than 17 weeks, and this was the first hit for Frankie. While many artists have covered the song through the years, the Frankie Laine version is the most well-known, even though the Sammy Kaye version charted higher.
18. The White Cliffs Of Dover – Vera Lynn
Next is the Vera Lynn tune, The White Cliffs Of Dover, which was released in 1942. It’s a World War II-era song that was inspired by the British and Luftwaffe planes that had been flying over Dover. It’s a much slower war song and has become an iconic song of the Battle of Britain. Vera’s voice made this song calming and warm.
19. This Land Is Your Land – Woody Guthrie
In 1940, Woody Guthrie wrote the tune This Land Is Your Land, and you might remember this song from elementary school. He wrote the song because he felt the wealth wasn’t distributed equally in America, and it was almost a protest against God Bless America.
Most people do not know that history related to this song, and several other artists have covered it through the years, such as Bing Crosby and Connie Francis. It’s one of the biggest and most popular folk songs in America, and in 2002, it was added to the National Recording Registry because of its historical significance. This Land Is Your Land has appeared in Up In The Air, Stepmom, and My Own Love Song. It has also been parodied in Home Improvement, The Simpsons, and several other television shows.
20. I’ll Be Seeing You – Bing Crosby & Tommy Dorsey
Up next is the 1940 hit I’ll Be Seeing You by Tommy Dorsey and Bing Crosby. This song is about someone missing their loved one, and it reached number four on the charts in 1944. I’ll Be Seeing You was used as the title for a 1944 film of the same name and is part of the movie soundtrack.
21. That Old Black Magic – Glenn Miller
Next is That Old Black Magic by Glenn Miller, released in 1942 and the final number-one song by Miller. On the Billboard charts, out of the 14 weeks on the charts, it was only number one for a week.
22. Auld Lang Syne – Guy Lombardo
Guy Lombardo released his version of Auld Lang Syne in 1947, and it became one of the most popular versions of this song. He would sing this song every year when the New Year began and did so for more than a decade. It’s still a song we sing today when the clock hits midnight on New Year’s.
23. My Foolish Heart – Gordon Jenkins
In 1949, Gordon Jenkins released a version of My Foolish Heart which was for a movie of the same name, and the song was nominated for the Best Original Song Award by the Academy Awards. In the UK, My Foolish Heart hit number one in 1950 and stayed on the charts for more than 11 weeks. This song is now thought to be one of the jazz standards, and several versions of this song exist today, including one version by Roberta Flack.
24. When You Wish Upon A Star – Cliff Edwards
Next up is the Pinocchio classic song When You Wish Upon A Star which was performed by Cliff Edwards in 1940 and sung in the voice of Jiminy Cricket. You can hear this song in both the beginning and end of Pinocchio, and the song won an Oscar, becoming the first Disney song to win that award. It also won the Best Original Song Academy Award in 1940 and has become the Walt Disney Company’s signature tune.
25. ‘Round Midnight – Thelonious Monk
In 1943, Thelonious Monk released the bebop hit Round Midnight, which is now a jazz standard and was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1993. Multiple artists have covered this song through the years, including Miles Davis and Cootie Williams making it one of the most popular jazz standards that jazz musicians cover.
26. A String Of Pearls – Glenn Miller
Attention all fans of The Notebook, you may remember hearing the next on our list from the movie soundtrack. That song is A String Of Pearls which was famously recorded by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra in 1941. In 1942, the song was number one on the Billboard Best Sellers chart for over two weeks and spent 21 weeks on the chart. The song has been featured in other movies, including Tough Guys, Carnal Knowledge, and Revolutionary Road. It was also featured in television shows such as the Lawrence Welk Show and The Carol Burnett Show. Several other artists have covered it through the years too.
27. Brush Up Your Shakespeare – Cole Porter
Brush Up Your Shakespeare was written by Cole Porter for the hit musical called Kiss Me, Kate in 1948 and was first performed in 1949. This was a very popular song in the late 40s, and by 1970, Cole had been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
28. Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree – The Andrews Sisters
The Andrews Sisters recorded a version of Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree as World War II was going on, and their version is one of the most famous versions of this song. It’s about a couple pledging their loyalty and fidelity to one another as one is off serving in the war. In 2016, The Andrews Sisters’ version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and this song has been in several movies, including Kiss Them For Me and With A Song In My Heart.
29. Let It Snow – Vaughn Monroe
If you enjoy the snow, you probably have sung along to the song Let It Snow, first recorded by Vaughn Monroe and released after Thanksgiving in 1945. By Christmas 1945, the song was a hit, and it has become one of the most-played Christmas songs of all time because of its winter theme. Several artists have covered Let It Snow over the years and released versions as part of their Christmas albums.
30. You Are My Sunshine – Jimmie Davis
Everyone from Louisiana probably knows the song You Are My Sunshine because it’s the official state song. This song was released in 1940 and performed by Jimmie Davis, although more than 300 musicians have recorded a version of this song through the years. Jimmie Davis had been governor of Louisiana twice, and You Are My Sunshine was one of the songs he wrote when he was running for office, and it helped get him elected!
31. Opus one – Tommy Dorsey
Next is the 1945 swing and big band song Opus One by Tommy Dorsey. This was written by Sy Oliver, who came from the Jimmie Lunceford band, because Tommy heard people talking about how his music lacked the feeling of jazz. Thanks to that move, Opus One is one of Tommy’s most popular songs to be recorded.
32. Cool Water – Sons Of The Pioneers
Sons of the Pioneers released Cool Water in 1941 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Johnny Cash and Vaughn Monroe later covered the song. It’s about a cowboy with his mule in the desert, and he sees a mirage because he’s parched. This folk song was a huge hit in the 40s and beyond.
33. I’ve Heard That Song Before – Harry James
Next up is I’ve Heard That Song Before by Harry James, which was released in 1942, and the song had been recorded right before the ban that happened with the Musicians Union. It went number one in 1943 on the Harlem Hits Parade and pop charts and stayed number one for 12 weeks. The song is famously featured in Hannah and Her Sisters, which is a 1986 film by Woody Allen.
34. Tangerine – Jimmy Dorsey
Next is the 1942 hit Tangerine, which Jimmy Dorsey had covered, and his version is the most popular version of this song. It spent six weeks at number one on the Billboard chart and a total of 15 weeks on the chart. Tangerine was first used in the 1942 movie The Fleet’s In and has also been used in Double Indemnity, Sorry Wrong Number, and Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.
35. Near You – Francis Craig
Lastly, we have Francis Craig with his hit song Near You, released in 1947 and was a huge success. The song spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Best Sellers chart and reached the number-one spot. For the year 1947, Billboard ranked Near You as the number one song, and at the time, spending 17 weeks consecutively at number one was a record.
From the time she was little, Florence loved listening to music and quickly learned how music can make you happy and feel fulfilled. One of her favorite memories is being in the garage with her dad working on classic cars with the local rock station blaring in the background. Ever since Florence was 3, she loved grunge music and spent hours listening to bands such as Alice in Chains, Mad Season, Soul Asylum, and Soundgarden.
She also enjoys classic rock, modern rock, nu metal, alternative rock, and old 90’s R&B. Her love of music grew as she got older, and used music to help her get through tough times in her life. More often than not, you’ll see Florence with earbuds in while she’s writing, cooking, cleaning, and doing other tasks. She also loves to debate music with her friends such as which lead singer is the best vocalist, the most iconic guitar solos in music, and what songs are really the best of the decade.