What a complicated decade, indeed, the 1930s music era. In the United States, they are suffering the consequences of the 1929 stock market crash. The roaring 20s are dead.
The sadness and unhappiness in this decade were not feelings that only affected them, the Americans, nor solely the music of the 1930s. More than two decades of hardships, in reality, constituted that Great Depression. A constant upheaval in societies all over the world during, to focus, the following ten years, which would also lead to the start of World War II.
The extreme poverty in Germany after World War I fueled extremism and its cries, along with other protagonists affected by a global crisis. In Spain, for example, we had the Second Republic and the subsequent Civil War (which we’ll see in this list tangentially), in Latin America, they had as many revolutions as attacks from the United States to control it surreptitiously. And all that’s just on the political side.
With this backdrop, it will be very intriguing to musically observe the cultural contrast and differentiate between the types of artists that were prevalent in the most melodic lands of the world. Especially because we will try not to include war songs, but we will include interwar songs, although some are so popular that we had no choice.
The context of 1930s music: the 1929 stock market crash, extremes, and interwar songs
As, in a way, the music of the 1930s was understood as a liberation or an escape from reality, just like the songs of the 1950s were, listening to them today, knowing the context, is even more striking than it was back then. However, often, a song from this decade can be so moving, even when listened to now, that it can deeply affect you emotionally, so put yourself in the shoes of those who lived through those times. We don’t want to jump ahead, but “Suspiros De España,” in the case of our country, is a good example of what we mean.
Of course, it is also true that in the United States, despite experiencing the Great Depression, they didn’t care much about what was happening outside their borders. Although they understood (or understand?) the American continent as their borders, practically. The same happened with Vietnam and the songs of the 1960s, for example. So, nobody was very content, nothing was particularly joyful, except in the movies and music, of course.
For all these reasons, the 1930s were a very tumultuous and precarious decade, preceded, in fact, by the end of World War I and a decade that seemed to want to forget what many had experienced. The world entered a kind of process of sad maturity or strange development that led to the end of a way of life that slowly died after facing an endless trench warfare in Europe and a period of wealth loss, consumption, and the American dream in the United States.
40 songs of the 1930s, year by year
Or ask Fred Astaire, who is in glory: the absolute star of the decade, although also of the following one, as you can see on our page dedicated to the songs of the 1940s, dominating the musical in cinema, dancing on screens and dance floors with his voice and the arrangements and compositions of Irving Berlin. However, he’s not the only prominent name in 1930s music. Antonio Machín, Marlene Dietrich, Carlos Gardel, the French Fréhel, and the early steps of blues are also the protagonists of the decade.
But before we start our journey through the best songs of the 1930s, it’s worth remembering the theme “Siboney,” released in 1929, because, for a year, it has been spared from being included in the list, and it would deserve it. Despite not being something bad and not making us sad, we should be happy about it. We have the perfect excuse to make, at some point, our list with the best songs of the previous decade.
In this sense, we don’t want to forget other names like Polaire, for example. Because it’s these names that invite us to talk and discover more music, given their importance. We want to access the latest real recordings of these artists and others. To reach everything that exists. But well, while all that is said arrives, we leave you with the best music of the ’30s, starting from 1930, until we complete the 40 songs that define these years.
Songs of the year 1930
El Manisero, by Antonio Machín (with Don Azpiazu and the Havana Casino Orchestra)
We open our list of songs from the ’30s with Antonio Machín and the classic El Manisero. This Cuban son, composed by Moisés Simons, immerses us fully in the Latin spirit of the decade. The song gained worldwide fame, despite its language and Cuban origin, becoming a Latin music standard forever.
Machín’s voice and personality, as almost always, elevate the song above any other version.
Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt, by Marlene Dietrich
Known in its English version as Falling In Love Again, the literal meaning of Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt is I am completely geared for love from head to toe. Years later, marketing would tell songwriters that they should use shorter titles for success.
Later, literary sagas like Millennium or bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco would reverse the trend again. For us, as long as what they offer is good, they can use whatever title they want. That’s what Marlene Dietrich usually did.
Puttin’ On the Ritz, by Fred Astaire
Our first choice to talk about American music in the ’30s is no surprise. Fred Astaire is a legend of cinema, music, and dance. Puttin’ On the Ritz is perhaps more famous today for the version they sing in Young Frankenstein. At least, that’s the case for us. In any case, it’s a great song that will make you want to tap dance even if you don’t know where you can learn it.
Parlez-Moi D’Amour, by Lucienne Boyer
Defined as a beautiful song from a forgotten era, Parlez-Moi D’Amour, in Lucienne Boyer’s interpretation, is all that and more. The charm, the way of singing, the way it sounds due to how it was recorded with the means of the time. The changes in vocal and instrumental rhythms. Everything is perfect in its own way.
Songs of the year 1931
Tico Tico No Fubà, by Zequinha de Abreu and the Colbaz Orchestra
Probably more famous as Tico Tico, this song was composed by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917 and has been covered by great artists like Paco de Lucía. Because, among other things, the ultra-famous melody of Tico Tico has allowed anyone with a bit of talent to make it even more famous than it has always been.
A Nous La Liberté, by Henri Marchand
A chronicle of French song, it was composed for the French movie Viva la libertad, released in the same year. It starred Raymond Cordy and Henri Marchand, who played two prisoners planning to escape, with unexpected turns for each one.
Parlami D’Amore, Mariù, by Achille Togliani
Famous thanks to the Dolce & Gabbana commercial (cut!), the truth is that this song by Achille Togliani was already a big hit in the ’30s when it was released in 1931. His operatic talent transcended several decades to become a pop icon through a cologne ad. Life.
Songs of the year 1932
Night & Day, by Fred Astaire & Leo Reisman
The main song of the movie The Gay Divorcee, it was another showcase for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Because, even if we haven’t mentioned her yet, Ginger Rogers’ importance in the ’30s is as significant as Astaire’s. Without her, many of the movies they shared wouldn’t have the same magic they have today. The level of effort, moreover, is something to value even more than the former.
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?, by Bing Crosby
In Spanish, Hermano, ¿puedes prestarme una moneda de diez centavos? (Brother, can you lend me a dime?), a YouTube user comments that, adjusting for inflation to current values, we would be talking about $1.45.
This calculation can summarize in a few lines all the time that has passed since 1932. In short, we are talking about one of the most famous songs dedicated to the Great Depression.
All Of Me, by Louis Armstrong
To this day, All Of Me is quite a popular song, a classic jazz standard written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons in 1931 and performed by Louis Armstrong a year later.
Granada, by Agustín Lara
The Mexican singer and songwriter Agustín Lara (The Musician Poet and The Golden Skinny), an idol in Spain during the ’30s and ’40s, wrote several songs dedicated to cities in this country (Madrid and its chotis being another clear example).
Granada, composed by Pedro Vargas, is one of the most famous, although Lara himself would not visit it until 1954.
It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), by Duke Ellington
But it’s time to return to the swing, so famous and successful in the ’30s. It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) is a classic composed and arranged by Ellington in August 1931 during the breaks at the Lincoln Tavern in Chicago. It was first recorded by Ellington and his orchestra for Brunswick Records on February 2, 1932.
After Mills wrote the lyrics, Ivie Anderson provided the vocals, and trombonist Joe Nanton and alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges played the instrumental solos. The song became famous, Ellington wrote, “as the expression of a feeling that prevailed among jazz musicians at the time.”
Like good jazz, it has its backstory: Ellington attributed the title as a “credo” of his former trumpeter Bubber Miley, who was dying of tuberculosis at that time. Miley died the year the song was released.
Songs of the year 1933
Black Betty, by James Iron Head Baker
You recognize it, right? This classic of black music has a lot of history and a huge legacy with diverse origins. Nobody knows who to attribute its authorship to, although many believe it originated from the cotton fields where black slaves were mistreated daily.
We Are In The Money, by Ginger Rogers & Gold Diggers
Another song from a musical, this time sung only by Ginger Rogers. The movie, from 1933, was filmed during the peak of the Great Depression, so this song is a clear reference to the monetary problems of the time. Ironically, the song ends with the sheriff’s office closing the production to collect money from outstanding debts.
Stormy Weather (Keeps Rainin’ All the Time), by Ethel Waters
Al Hirschfeld once said that all Ethel Waters had to do was come out and say “Hello,” and he would cry. She was able to move even the toughest with her voice and performance.
Towards the end of her career, Waters refused to sing this song because, in her words, “Life is no longer stormy.” All’s well that ends well.
Songs of the year 1934
Cambalache, by Sofía “La Negra” Bozán
Tango had a special importance and left a strong imprint. While it may have had a greater impact in the ’20s than as part of the best songs of the ’30s worldwide, songs like Cambalache prove that the genre’s health, even if not as widespread, will never be bad.
This version of Cambalache, one of the first recorded, is the work of Sofía Bozán, nicknamed La Negra. An immortal work composed by Enrique Santos Discépolo.
Si Tu N’Étais Pas Là, by Fréhel
Decades before Rosana sang Si Tú No Estás Aquí (If You’re Not Here), Fréhel expressed a similar form of longing, although perhaps not dedicated to a father. Because I believe I remember that Rosana’s song was. Did I make that up?
Blue Moon, by Billie Holiday
Blue Moon is a classic, indeed. Only Billie Holiday can express the emotion like that, whether you like her style of music or not. Some say that the feelings she expressed in her songs were derived from the life she led or suffered because things often happened to her almost without remedy. Be that as it may, she left us a legacy of songs to be cherished.
El Día Que Me Quieras, by Carlos Gardel
Carlos Gardel became a legend long before he died prematurely in an accident. Sadly, the tragedy made him even greater. He was able to turn any song into a hit and something timeless.
Canto, by Francisco Canaro
But, as we are seeing, Gardel was not the only talent of great personality capable of immortalizing tango. Francisco Canaro, accompanied by great harmony, proves once again why the old guard was what it was and still is.
Songs of the year 1935
Cheek To Cheek, by Fred Astaire
We change course halfway through the decade. Again, with an imperishable classic, this time by Fred Astaire with Cheek To Cheek. From the movie Top Hat, this cheerful and danceable jazz standard has been covered extensively by hundreds of crooners and will always be remembered as one of the great songs of the ’30s in English.
Ta Ostatnia Niedziela, by Jerzy Petersburski
Not for being very famous, this song stops being very striking. Mainly because of its origin, especially because of the language in which it is composed.
Jerzy Petersburski was a Jewish-Polish pianist and composer of popular music, but he was known primarily for his tangos, some of which (like this one, “To Ostatnia Niedziela,” “Już Nigdy,” and “Tango Milonga”) were milestones that helped popularize the musical genre in Poland and are still widely known today, more than half a century after their creation.
Silent Night, by Bing Crosby
While “White Christmas” is possibly the most popular Christmas carol in the world, “Silent Night” is not far behind. Bing Crosby’s voice turned this song into an everlasting classic, known in Spanish as “Noche De Paz” (Silent Night) and followed by “Noche De Amor” (Night of Love).
Por Una Cabeza, by Carlos Gardel
Anyway, this list serves to highlight that in the mid-’30s, Argentine tango had a greater presence worldwide, even coming from Poland. For evidence, we have “Por Una Cabeza” and “Volver” in 1935, two great hits by Gardel.
Volver, by Carlos Gardel
So, ending the year with “Volver” is perhaps the most logical choice. It’s a song full of meaning, with an internal world, generating sensations in the listener, always relevant and with quite dignified versions in different genres.
Songs of the year 1936
Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing), by Benny Goodman Orchestra
With music and lyrics by Louis Prima, who first recorded it with the New Orleans Gang in 1936, it is not his version that is the most popular. The most famous version, in fact, belongs to Benny Goodman Orchestra’s big band and is one of the most remembered from this swing era.
Palpite Infeliz, by Aracy De Almeida
Many people say that Aracy De Ameida should be listened to on one’s knees.
Quand On Se Promène Au Bord De L’Eau, by Jean Gabin
If a French citizen had to choose just one movie to characterize the spirit of 1936, it would probably be “La belle équipe” by Julien Duvivier, which brought together two stars of the time: Jean Gabin and Charles Vanel.
However, what is remembered beyond the film is the song written by the director himself, with music composed by Maurice Yvan and Jean Sautreuil. It was already present in the credits, but it also appeared repeatedly throughout the film.
Songs of the year 1937
Some Day My Prince Will Come, by Adriana Caselotti
“Mi Príncipe Vendrá” in its Spanish version, both songs were composed and sung for the movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and they are still frequently heard today.
Minor Swing, by Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz is so, so famous that there is little more to add, except that it is one of the best songs within the music of the ’30s and, in general, of all time. Listen to it and enjoy (especially if you don’t know it).
Fritiof Och Carmencita, by Evert Taube
Also known as Samborombón is a Swedish song that we add to Polish as the main outsiders among the other best-known languages. Although the official title emphasizes Carmencita, it is known to talk about Fritiof Andersson, who rode on Samborombón and danced tango with the pretty Carmencita in an inn. He asks her to marry him, but she refuses, telling him that she will marry another man soon.
Songs of the year 1938
When The Saints Go Marching In, by Virgil Oliver Stamps
One of the great gospel classics and an anthem that often appears annually in the New Orleans carnival marches. The version by Louis Armstrong, recorded in 1927, is particularly popular.
La Chanson Des Fortifs, by Fréhel
This song is one of the most famous anti-war songs composed during the interwar period in France. It refers to events that occurred between 1840 and 1882 in the fortifications (fortifs) of Paris.
Big Noise From Winnetka, by Bob Crosby Orchestra
A well-known instrumental piece, despite lacking vocals. Its lively melody makes it stand out on this list.
Songs of the year 1939
In The Mood, by Glenn Miller
An energetic and uplifting song that epitomizes the spirit of the ’30s. It showcases the energy of the musicians during that time and reflected the optimism that, despite the war beginning in Europe, had not yet fully reached the United States.
Somewhere Over The Rainbow, by Judy Garland
The iconic theme song from the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” It remains a beloved and timeless classic.
Strange Fruit, by Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday’s powerful protest song that captures the pain and suffering of racial discrimination and lynching. Her soulful voice and poignant delivery made her an enduring diva.
Suspiros De España, by Estrellita Castro
A well-remembered hit in Spain during the ’30s. It was a fitting choice for the film “Soldados de Salamina” and continues to be appreciated for its emotional depth.
La Java Bleue, by Fréhel
Another song by Fréhel, “La Java Bleue” was written by Noël Renard and Géo Koger, with music by Vincent Scotto. It was performed by Fréhel in 1939 and became a significant piece of French chanson music.
Lili Marleen, by Lale Andersen
A classic worldwide song sung in German, “Lili Marleen” has a rich history both in and outside the lyrics. Lale Andersen’s version, recorded in 1939, gained popularity during World War II, becoming an anthem for soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
These songs represent a diverse and impactful selection of music from the late ’30s, capturing the spirit and emotions of the time.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.