Here is a detailed description of the best 1920s music, along with a playlist on Spotify that showcases some of the iconic songs from that era. It’s fascinating to explore the musical diversity and historical context of the roaring twenties, which was a time of great social and technological changes. The playlist contains various songs from different genres, including blues, jazz, tango, and opera, among others. Artists like Raquel Meller, Carlos Gardel, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith made significant contributions to the music of that time. The playlist also features popular dance tunes, like the Charleston, which was a craze during the 1920s.
It’s impressive to see how music from this era has survived over a century and remains relevant in today’s collective memory. These songs not only reflect the happiness and prosperity of the period but also carry the emotions and stories of people from that time. It’s a valuable resource for anyone interested in exploring the sounds and vibes of that era. By looking back, we go back 100 years in time to rediscover the best music of the 1920s, the decade known for bringing great happiness to many of its citizens. Especially for Americans, as it was during this period that the American Dream seemed to come true more than ever. It was all about wealth, bourgeoisie, washing machines, refrigerators, and technology to improve the quality of life. It was non-stop, really.
And when it comes to music? Well, the of the 1920s songs were quite a mixed bag, as is usual in our lists, with a compilation of songs from various countries. As we have previously mentioned when choosing our favorite songs from each decade, before the 1950s, music did not have the linguistic predominance that it has now. In fact, if there was any, it was more French or Italian than English. However, in Spain, the most successful music was in Spanish, and the same went for each country with its own language. Nevertheless, the influence of the United States was becoming more and more frequent, especially.
The Best 1920s Music: 29 Songs from 1920 to 1929
For many, this decade is known as the “Roaring Twenties”. This is mainly due to the institutionalized American Dream and the technological advancements both inside and outside the home. However, it was not the same when it came to cinema or the majority of 1920s singers. The transition from carriages to cars allowed many families to acquire and consume more. Undoubtedly, people were also happy because of the 1920s music and the associated dances.
That was the case in the United States. In Europe, we can also talk about happiness among those who saw the end of the Great War and did not experience poverty. It is clear that there was a resurgence of the desire to live, but the wear and tear of spending four years in a war that changed everything compared to other wars can be felt in many 1920s songs in Spanish (with the tango standing out, but also the jota or the zarzuela).
We will also see this in the music of the 1920s as bitterness was part of many artists, especially black musicians and the French, who began to adapt the cabaret and vaudeville savoir-faire to 1920s jazz music. Many of them are still legendary figures today, with films about their lives that recall their great songs and those eventful times, or represent them. Few could anticipate what would come fifteen years later. And let’s not forget Latin American history, which also had its share, which we can feel through tangos or mariachis.
Songs from the year 1920
Mon Homme, by Mistinguett
Originally from 1920, Mistinguett’s version (written by André Willemetz and Jacques Charles, and composed by Maurice Yvain) is one of the most famous songs from the 1920s.
National Hora, by Abe Schwartz
One of the curious things about revisiting and recovering music from the 1920s is that you come across many traditional folk songs. Such is the case with National Hora, a classic chant among Yiddish, Hebrew, and Jewish people.
Music from the year 1921
All By Myself, by Flo Bert
From the year 1921, we highlight only one song. It’s something you will also notice in other years (where we titled with music rather than songs, to differentiate). We didn’t do it on purpose, but the list ended up alternating each year.
About All By Myself (composed by Irving Berlin this year), it has nothing to do with Celine Dion’s song (whose original version was composed by Eric Carmen in 1975).
Regarding Flo Bert, she was a vaudeville artist of the time, considered by many as the first blues singer to record with a film production company (though not being one of the big names of the blues). Another interesting detail is that some suggest that the popular recordings associated with her were actually the work of Florence Cole Talbert, an African-American singer.
Songs from the year 1922
Fumando Espero, by Pilar Arcos
The song popularized in Spain by Sara Montiel in the form of a cuplé was originally a tango composed by Juan Viladomat Masanas and Félix Garzo. Among the many voices that have interpreted it over time, we have chosen this version by Cuban singer Pilar Arcos.
Tu Sola, by Beniamino Gigli
Although nowadays they may not be as passionate, opera tenors still make a big impact on their audience (which may be a bit smaller than in the 1920s). Beniamino Gigli was one of those stars who, taking advantage of the impact of record recordings, released several interpretations that confirm he is still one of the greatest operatic tenors of his time.
Music from the year 1923
Charleston, by James P. Johnson
James P. Johnson was an important figure bridging the gap between ragtime and jazz piano styles during the 1920s. His style became known as Stride. As a child, Johnson studied classical and ragtime music. He began playing professionally in a sporting house and later moved on to perform at parties, bars, and vaudeville shows.
Over time, he became known as the best pianist on the American East Coast and participated as an accompanist in more than 400 recordings, collaborating with classic blues singers such as Ida Cox, Ethel Waters, and Bessie Smith.
The Charleston dance, popularized during the 1920s in the United States, was a variety of foxtrot. It was named after the city-port of Charleston in South Carolina but became popular thanks to its inclusion in the Broadway show “Runnin’ Wild”.
Songs from the year 1924
Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues, by Ida Cox
As we’ve mentioned before, there were two different Broadway scenes during this time. In one of them, Ida Cox was a star, and time has kept her at that level, especially in the United States. She was an African-American vaudeville singer and artist, best known for her performances and recordings of blues, earning her the title of “The uncrowned queen of the blues.”
Although she was one of the prominent voices of this decade, her name resurged successfully in the 1960s when she recorded and released this and other songs, bidding farewell to a larger audience.
La Dolores, by Miguel Fleta
One of the amusing things about this era is how names and song titles changed depending on the year of publication, the distributor, and the country of release. Miguel Burro Fleta, a Spanish tenor, was sometimes credited as Michele Fleta or Mischele Fleta.
His repertoire ranged from Verdi to Puccini, including genres such as the jota from the opera “La Dolores,” a Spanish composition by Tomás Bretón.
The Prisoner’s Song, by Vernon Dalhart
As we mentioned earlier about the names or pseudonyms some artists used during this decade, Vernon Dalhart also had various aliases, including Mr. “X,” Hugh Donovan, or Joseph Elliott. The peculiar thing in this case is that all these pseudonyms were also used by other singers.
As for “The Prisoner’s Song,” it is said that Vernon was inspired by his cousin, Guy Massey, who sang it when he was at Dalhart’s house, and Guy had heard it from his brother Robert Massey, who might have heard it while serving a prison sentence. Hence the title.
Death Letter Blues, by Ida Cox
We end the year 1924 with the same singer we started with. Ida Cox confirms that this was not only her year but also one of the most appreciated artists of this period, with numerous original recordings still treasured by collectors of old vinyl records.
Music from the year 1925
Amicizia Mazurka, by Nullo Romani
Nullo Romani, an Italian-American violinist and composer (after becoming a U.S. citizen in 1928), had several hits between 1923 and 1928, recording dozens of records with Columbia. In 1925, he also recorded titles in two sessions with Victor. Interesting facts, considering the importance of these record companies and others that emerged with new technologies and improvements.
Songs from the year 1926
The Memphis Blues, by Sam Ku West
Sam Ku West was a steel guitar player who first performed professionally as a member of Irene West’s live band, adding “West” to his birth name, Sam Ku Jr. After performing in Singapore in 1926, he was named “the Fritz Kreisler of the steel guitar” by Prince George of England, comparing him to one of the greatest violinists in history. He also played the harp in concerts, although unfortunately, he never recorded anything with it.
Like many others we’ve seen in the 1920s music scene, West toured America in the vaudeville circuit and also performed abroad throughout East Asia and Europe. He recorded for several labels in 1927 and 1928, with 27 surviving recordings, but died prematurely in Paris in 1930 at the age of 23.
I’m Sitting On Top Of The World, by Al Jolson
You might recognize the name Al Jolson as the star of the first sound film, “The Jazz Singer,” released in 1927, which was a huge success leading up to its release.
I’m Sitting On Top Of The World is practically a standard song. It has been recorded by voices like Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Les Paul, or Mary Ford.
A Media Luz, by Carlos Gardel
Among the most unforgettable Spanish songs of the 1920s, A Media Luz is probably our favorite and the most popular one. It’s a tango that we have heard many times, and in this case, it’s performed by Carlos Gardel (then known and published as Carlitos Gardel). Much has been said about this title, so we’ll be silent and let you listen to it with all your attention.
Music from the year 1927
Dark Was the Night – Cold Was the Ground, by Blind Willie Johnson
The blues and gospel singer and guitarist Blind Willie Johnson is considered one of the masters of blues in this era, particularly within the gospel blues style. The main difference from other classics is that Johnson channeled the expressiveness of the blues into his religious messages.
…Y Reías Como Loca, by Carlos Gardel
In one of the earliest existing recordings of this song, the letter “i” was a Latin “i.” The anecdote doesn’t go further, but it’s interesting to see how titles and artist names have changed over time to take their own form. This didn’t just happen with the 1920s music; it also occurred in the 1980s with many songs by Alaska, whose titles in her most famous songs didn’t always match what people were looking for. The chorus has become the title, although it wasn’t always that way, so they changed it over time.
Purrete De Mi Amor, by Azucena Maizani
As expected during this decade, we shouldn’t be surprised to talk about another tango singer and composer. Azucena Maizani, also known as La Ñata Gaucha, is one of the most famous of the period we are highlighting here. This is evident in Purrete De Mi Amor.
En Tierra Extraña, by Concha Piquer
With the permission of Rocío Jurado, Concha Piquer may be the greatest. Her career was always triumphant, her performances and songs appreciated, and her life worthy of a very long and interesting documentary. There are still a few more years to go before we hear “Suspiros De España,” but with “En Tierra Extraña,” she was already giving it all and offering glimpses of modernity that many would envy today.
Songs from the year 1928
Watching the Trains Come In, by Vernon Dalhart
Vernon Dalhart returns in 1928. The American country composer and singer is one of the most important names of the early 20th century, with numerous hits that many still treasure like gold. The song “Watching the Trains Come In” has numerous versions, including one by Jack Pleasants, but it’s clear that Dalhart was the audience’s favorite due to his unique style he brought to each song.
La Chaîne, by Damia
We are big fans of Damia on this blog, as we saw in the post about the next decade. Her career wasn’t very long, and both she and other French singers of the time have been overshadowed by the enormous Édith Piaf. However, one thing doesn’t diminish the other: just because the second is impressive and immortal doesn’t mean we can’t recommend the others.
God’s Warning To The Church, by Josie Miles & Elizabeth Cooper
The first missionary and the second sister, both musicians and nuns. Again, blues and vaudeville taking center stage thanks to these pioneers of the genre. The genre often included lyrics from evangelical church hymnals.
Creole Love Call, by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra
If you have been a night owl in the past, someone who left the radio on during the wee hours, you may find this Duke Ellington melody quite familiar. With slight differences, very slight, it’s clear that we are listening to the beginning of “Hablar con hablar,” a program hosted by Gemma Nierga.
Music from the year 1929
Tired Of Being Mistreated – Part 1, by Clifford Gibson
We reach the last year of the chosen decade with seven songs from the 1920s, including recognizable names for the general public. Perhaps not Clifford Gibson’s name, but definitely those of other great artists that we’ll see below.
Ilusión, by El Trio Argentino Irusta-Fugazot-Demare
The Argentine trio was initially a duo conceived by Francisco Canaro, who brought together Agustín Irusta and Roberto Fugazot to participate in several festivals organized by the Odeón label in Buenos Aires. Canaro encouraged them to join pianist Lucas Demare to add more substance to the guitars and vocals of Irusta and Fugazot.
Over time, they toured Spain and other European countries, as well as all of South and Central America. Their success lasted until 1937 when the trio separated, but they reunited one last time in Havana, Cuba, in 1946.
Knockin’ A Jug, by Louis Armstrong And His Orchestra
According to experts, what we hear in “Knockin’ A Jug” and other songs from these years places Louis Armstrong as the first great jazz soloist. But it’s not just that: he is one of the most important and influential figures in American music. Recordings like this, highlighting his solos in particular, set a standard that musicians still strive to match in terms of beauty and innovation.
It’s not a matter of how famous some of his songs are. These recordings radically altered the approach to jazz; instead of playing collectively, Armstrong’s spectacular instrumental (and vocal) improvisations redefined the music. He helped popularize the genre and introduced jazz techniques like stop-time.
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, by Bessie Smith
Dubbed the “Empress of the Blues,” many considered her the best blues singer of all time (although it’s still early to define this in 1929). She was also a successful vaudeville artist and became the highest-paid African-American artist in the roaring twenties.
As a non-musical fact, it’s worth mentioning that Bessie died from injuries sustained in a car accident, and her grave remained unmarked for 33 years until singer Janis Joplin paid for her tombstone in 1970.
Lagarterana, by Raquel Meller
Raquel Meller was a Spanish singer specialized in cuplé, tonadilla, and monologues. In short, a versatile artist with a very groundbreaking image.
Her success went beyond Spain’s borders, becoming an international star in the 1920s and 1930s, appearing in several films and touring Europe and America, participating in the vaudeville circuit. She sang the original versions of songs like “La Violetera” (which we’ll discuss when reviewing the music of the 1910s) and “El Relicario.”
Zaraza, by Salvador Pizarro Y Su Orquesta Tipica Argentina
From a family with a clear musical vocation (he was the brother of Manuel Pizarro and Alfredo Pizarro, both bandoneonists, and Domingo Pizarro, a guitarist and singer), Salvador Pizarro has endured over time, thanks in part to his tango “Zaraza,” composed by Benjamín Tagle Lara.
Guantanamera, by Joseíto Fernández
We say goodbye to the music of the 1920s with a classic that will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face. This is the Cuban musician José Fernández Díaz, the author of the famous song “Guajira Guantanamera,” which incorporated verses by José Martí and additional lines by Fernández himself, later immortalized by the great Celia Cruz.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.