As we mentally reviewed the 1940s music that we wanted to recommend, swing and jazz dominated almost everything. However, as we delved into our favorite songs of the decade, it wasn’t really like that. Especially when it comes to the songs of the 1940s in America, Spain, Latin America, and the rest of Europe, where the typical sounds of each region still stood out by far. The “copla” in Spain, “rancheras” in Mexico, “chanson” in France, “fado” in Portugal, “samba” in Brazil, and of course, swing and jazz in the United States.
Considering that the Spanish Civil War had just ended and World War II was raging during the first half of the decade, most songs in the ’40s are equally exalted and sad, depending on the context. In France and Germany, for example, they didn’t sing the same songs as in the United States, although translations and versions of the lyrics and melodies were common during that time.
Thus, you could find “Bésame Mucho” sung in both English and Spanish with the same ease as knowing that one plus one equals two. Or vice versa, with translations of English songs into Spanish, which was less common in the ’40s compared to, for example, the songs of the 1950s, a decade where barriers broke down much faster than in the ’40s. Because of all this, we recommend keeping your ears wide open and also opening your mind to immerse yourself in a sea of unique songs, generating unforgettable sensations and a spirit that we have now forgotten.
The 1940s Music: Forty Forgotten Songs from the Times of War
The music of the 1940s had a different flavor; it was songs in black and white, and that’s why its interest also lies in that initial evolution that moves from sadness to a contained joy when it comes to music in English. However, in the European area, there was still a certain melancholy, with singers like Édith Piaf or Amália Rodrigues embodying that feeling. Of course, there was a variety of music across Latin America, including mambo, salsa, boleros, cha-cha-cha, and tango, which were even more successful than before.
While some older people may have memories of those times, especially of Spanish music from the ’40s, most of us have not even come close to living in the 1940s. It’s been 80 years since these songs, a lifetime, and that’s why we’re leaving you with them now. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed compiling and remembering these songs.
The Best 40s Songs, Year by Year
Below are the best songs from each year of the 1940s.
Songs from the Year 1940
Artie Shaw & His Orchestra – Frenesi
We begin our list of the best music of the 1940s with Artie Shaw and his orchestra.
Although “Frenesí” is a piece originally composed by Alberto Domínguez for the marimba, and later adapted as a jazz standard by Leonard Whitcup and others, the fame of the song came from Artie Shaw’s version with his orchestra.
Édith Piaf – L’Accordéoniste
When we talk about Édith Piaf, we are possibly talking about the most remembered artist of the 1940s music.
To exemplify what we were talking about when we mentioned the vital sadness, just listen to “L’Accordéoniste,” the story of a prostitute who loves an accordion player, and his music, the dance called “java.” And of course, being in 1940, the song continues to tell us that the musician has to go to war, leaving her alone and finding solace in music, dreaming about how they will live together when he returns.
As for Édith Piaf, there’s little to say that hasn’t been said already. She was the great French artist of the decade, and her fame extended for many more years. Even today, her music is known worldwide, as her troubled life was full of successes and melancholic songs like this one.
Frank Sinatra – I’ll Never Smile Again
Another artist who needs no introduction is Frank Sinatra. A crooner, actor, and symbol of an era, charismatic, with a unique voice and a stage presence that allowed him to stay relevant for decades without losing notoriety. He retained his style and remained current in every decade until his death, making it even more interesting to see what he was doing in his early years.
You may not be familiar with “I’ll Never Smile Again” these days, but it has been recorded by so many other artists that it has become a jazz standard. The most successful and well-known version of the song is this one, recorded by Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra, featuring vocals by Frank Sinatra and The Pied Pipers. This version topped the first Billboard chart, the first official music chart in the United States, on July 27, 1940, holding the number one spot for 12 weeks until October 12, 1940. The melody was subsequently inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1982.
Xavier Cugat – Perfidia
“Perfidia” is a song written by Alberto Domínguez, a Mexican composer and arranger born in the state of Chiapas, about love and betrayal (since Perfidia means infidelity). In addition to the original Spanish, there are other versions, including versions in English or this one by Xavier Cugat, which is instrumental. Desi Arnaz sings the first Spanish version in the 1941 film Father Takes a Wife, starring Gloria Swanson. This version was used by director Wong Kar-Wai in his films Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love, and 2046.
As for Xavier Cugat, he was a Spanish-Cuban and American musician and bandleader who spent his formative years in Havana, Cuba. A trained violinist and arranger, he was a leading figure in the spread of Latin music. In New York City he was the resident orchestra leader at the Waldorf-Astoria before and after World War II. He was also a draftsman and restorer. Xavier Cugat’s personal documents are kept in the Biblioteca de Catalunya.
Cliff Edwards – When You Wish Upon A Star
Pinocchio is not only one of the most important films of the decade, it also has a superior soundtrack to much of the music of the 40s. Little more to add, I suppose. The main theme of the soundtrack of the Disney film helps us to close the first year of the decade that we are analyzing. The decade of the 40s and its successes have just begun, we still have many more songs to listen to.
In any case, When You Wish Upon a Star, along with Mickey Mouse, has become a Walt Disney icon. In the 1950s and 1960s, Walt Disney used the song in the opening sequences of all editions of the Walt Disney anthology television series. It has also been used to accompany Walt Disney Pictures logos, including the current logo, since the 1980s. All Disney Cruise Line ships use the first seven notes of the song’s melody as horn signals. Additionally, many productions at Disney theme parks, particularly fireworks displays and parades, use the song.
Music of the Year 1941
Damia – A Souvenir
Song that we learned about thanks to the film La Mama Y La Puta, by Jean Eustache, Un Souvenir represents the feeling of melancholy and sadness as well as the film itself ends the spirit of French May and the enthusiasm of the Nouvell Vague in its beginnings.
Behind the name Damia was Marie-Louise Damien, she first worked as a model and actress playing small roles at the Théâtre du Châtelet, but in 1909 she also began acting as a dancer, using the stage name Marise Damia, with Max Dearly in London. After returning from London, she was encouraged to sing by impresario Robert Hollard, who used the stage name Roberty. Hollard was the husband of the popular singer Fréhel at the time, but his affair with Damia ended their stormy marriage. Her singing debut took place in 1911 at the Pépinière and was followed by a performance at the Alhambra, organized by Harry Fragson. She also performed at the Alcázar d’Été, where she worked with Maurice Chevalier. When Fragson was murdered by her father, Damia left France in 1913 for the United States. She acting on Broadway until 1916, she returned to France and during the rest of the Great War she sang on the war front.
After being seen by Félix Mayol, one of the main male stars of the time, he hired her to perform in her concerts. With the help on stage of American dancer Loie Fuller, she eventually became a singing star. At the start of World War I, she opened Le Concert Damia, in Montmartre, where she became the first star to have a single spotlight focused on her bare face, arms and hands. From this point in her career, she became the foremost exponent of the chanson réaliste genre until Edith Piaf appeared in 1936. She was nicknamed la tragédienne de la chanson.
The Andrews Sisters – Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
The Andrews Sisters were a harmonic 1940s American group that exploited swing and boogie-woogie. The group consisted of three sisters: contralto LaVerne Sophia, soprano Maxene Anglyn, and mezzo-soprano Patricia Marie. In total, these sisters have sold more than 90 million records, with this Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy being an early example of rhythm and blues or jump blues. Yet The Andrews Sisters’ harmonies and songs remain influential today, having been covered, sampled, and recorded by artists such as Bette Midler, Christina Aguilera, and Pentatonix, among others.
The genre that these sisters practiced was the closest thing to danceable music in the 40s, because in those years there was a lot of dancing, despite what it might seem. Because each period of time has had its forbidden dance and others equally popular but not so frowned upon. In this last section would enter the songs of The Andrew Sisters.
Ferruccio Tagliavini – Voglio Vivere Così
Although from the French it was the chanson that attracted the most attention outside their borders, as far as Italian song is concerned, it was popular music close to opera that triumphed beyond their own country. An example is Ferruccio Tagliavini, a tenor specialized in opera, but whose fame also translated into the number of sales in 1941.
Songs like Matinata, Torna A Surriento or ‘O Sole Mio, which Mario Lanza would popularize to the point that Elvis Presley imitated him, stand out in the Italian singer’s repertoire, although for us the best is this Voglio Vivere Così.
Jimmy Dorsey – Poppy (Pretty Little Poppy)
Amapola is a 1920 song by Spanish-American composer José María Lacalle García (later Joseph Lacalle), who also wrote the original Spanish lyrics, later changed in other versions. For example, the lyrics of the Argentine version were written by the lyricist Luis Roldán, in 1924. The French lyrics were written by Louis Sauvat and Robert Champfleury. But it was after Lacalle’s death in 1937 that the lyrics in English, written by Albert Gamse, made it popular in the United States. And while the song became a rumba standard in the 1930s, with the help of Jimmy Dorsey in 1941 it hit the pop charts.
Songs of the Year 1942
Dooley Wilson – As Time Goes By
Another song that could not be missing from our list with the best songs of the 40s is As Time Goes By, taken directly from the movie Casablanca. The beginning of the melody is so well known that anyone with a bit of pop culture will know it. Despite fighting against the film with the most famous phrases per minute, As Time Goes By may be the most iconic of the entire film.
Zarah Leander – Ich Weiß, Es Wird Einmal Ein Wunder Gescheh’n
This song, another of which appears in the movie La Mama Y La Puta, and whose translation into Spanish means something like I know a miracle will happen one day, belongs to our favorites of the decade. It has something special.
Swedish singer Zarah Leander, who sang in German, sang here that if I had to live without hope, if I had to believe that nobody loves me, that I would never find happiness… Oh, that would be hard . If I didn’t know in my heart that you once told me: I love you, if life had no meaning to me.
But I know: I know that one day a miracle will happen, and then a thousand fairy tales will come true.
Louis Jordan – Five Guys Named Moe
Song that has been covered several times even under the dance genre, which shares its title with Clarke Peters’ play, it was one of the greatest hits of the 40s. But not the greatest.
Bing Crosby – White Christmas
Because if a song has entered the hall of fame of the great classics of music forever and ever, that is White Christmas. The song, composed for a movie, surpassed all expectations and all kinds of barriers to go down in collective history as one of the best Christmas carols ever made. Unsurpassed in the voice of Bing Crosby.
Music of the Year 1943
Anna Marly – Le Chant Des Partisans
Although our intention was not to go into war issues (because we want to address them in a single article), there are songs so relevant and popular around the world, like Lili Marleen, but instead of being in 1939, We are in 1943, a little closer to the end of the war.
Anna Marly’s version served to popularize the chant beyond the front where it was originally sung.
Spike Jones & His City Slickers – Der Fuehrer’s Face
And as if by magic, we again contradict ourselves regarding our claims. Der Fuehrer’s Face is a propaganda song that introduced us to Donald Duck kicking Hitler’s ass, practically. It’s a fun topic and it also helps to understand that at a time like that, trying to indoctrinate everyone and all ages was not in the least bit badly considered.
Xavier Cugat – Brazil
We change the third going back to Latin music. The Spaniard Xavier Cugat, born in Girona, was one of the greatest representatives of Afro-Cuban and Ibero-American music throughout the first half of the 20th century. Brazil is one of his most emblematic songs, although we prefer Perfidia, especially for the version by Nat King Cole.
The Mills Brothers – Paper Doll
Originally known as the Four Kings of Harmony (The Four Kings of Harmony), were an African-American jazz and pop vocal quartet that made more than 2,000 recordings and sold more than 50 million copies and earned at least three dozen gold records.
And despite everything, his greatest merit went to being one of the first African-American artists to have his own program on national radio in the United States, specifically on CBS (in 1930), and the first to have a number 1 on the Billboard singles chart, with this Paper Doll.
Songs of the Year 1944
Les Brown & Doris Day – Sentimental Journey
Doris Day and Les Brown, another of those classic duos of the decade, of great importance at the time, although outside the United States, Doris Day is much better known than Les Brown, perhaps due to its much more secondary, although essential, role in the composition of each theme.
The Andrews Sisters – Rum & Coke
We return to the Andrews sisters, in this case with Ron and Coca-Cola, like the song by Miguel Bosé, which said that Don Diablo has escaped, you don’t know what he has put together. Rum and Coke.
Los Panchos – Kiss Me Much
Although we repeat some names like the sisters in the previous song, that doesn’t mean we don’t leave room for great bands from the Latin era. The Latinos Los Panchos, who met and formed the trio in New York, are still today the big names in bolero and romanticism.
The three original members were Chucho Navarro and Alfredo Gil, both from Mexico, and Hernando Avilés from Puerto Rico. All three played the guitar and shared the role of vocalists.
Bing Crosby – Swinging On A Star
Swinging on a Star is a pop standard featured by Bing Crosby in the 1944 film Going My Way, for which he also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song of the year. In 2004 it finished in position 37 of the list with the 100 best songs of the American cinema according to the AFI.
Ella Fitzgerald & The Ink Spots – Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall
This is another hit single in the United States, number one on both The Harlem Hit Parade and the country’s global hit list. It was so popular then, that even the B-side of the single, I’m Making Believe, also became a hit on both charts. Over the years, the song has also been included on the soundtracks of various video games.
Songs of the Year 1945
Perry Como – Till The End Of Time
Perry Como was another of the great singers of the 40s. He competed with Sinatra and Crosby for the charts each year; however, time has not been as kind to him as it was to the previous two. Despite this, we consider that he has songs as good as several of those.
Amália Rodrigues – Ai Mouraria
Amália Rodrigues, the Portuguese fado player for Excellence, he began to take his first professional steps in music after more intimate beginnings, singing in fado houses. With Ai Mouraria she releases one of the first recordings of hers in her career and with it she demonstrated an interpretive maturity full of personality, which only hinted at the talent that was yet to explode.
Yves Montand – Les Feuilles Mortes
Les Feuilles Mortes, a poem by Jacques Prévert set to music by Joseph Kosma, is today a jazz standard throughout the world, despite its French origin. Yves Montand, one of the great classical interpreters of the chanson, giving Prévert the voice of a crooner, closed the circle of genius, giving us one of the most current and exciting songs in music, regardless of age.
Songs of the Year 1946
Lola Flores – La Zarzamora
But let’s go back to Spanish music. In this case with the largest, the Faraona. Lola Flores was all show and she always was. Her life is full of moments both on and off stage, standing out above all the one in which she started looking for an earring, or everything that happened during the wedding of one of her daughters.
Watching one of Lola Flores’ movies today, especially if El Pescadilla appeared, is a good way to understand what this woman transmitted to you with all that seemingly uncontrolled energy.
Édith Piaf – La Vie En Rose
Did you think, when you started reading, that there wouldn’t be enough good songs to discover 40 songs from this decade? And then, suddenly, only in the year 46 you find yourself with La Zarzamora, La Vie En Rose, at one point with La Mer de Trenet and finally with De Conversa Em Conversa.
What about Edith Piaf? She transmitted all her vital pain in the great songs of her repertoire, going down in history as one of the great voices and greatest personalities of French music.
Charles Trenet – La Mer
As we anticipated, La Mer is another of those emblematic works that have been revived in the form of hundreds of versions that, depending on who says so, improve the original. We do not agree, although Beyond The Sea, another of the great 1959 songs, we loved it too.
Isaura Garcia & Os Namorados da Lua – De Conversa Em Conversa
Isaurinha García, from São Paulo, recorded this delicious samba written and composed by Haroldo Barbosa and Lúcio Alves, who was one of the best interpreters of Brazilian music.
As with many of these artists, their elegance is already out of fashion, but something always remains.
Music of the Year 1947
Libertad Lamarque – El Choclo
El Choclo, one of the most popular Argentine tangos that exists, and logically for this reason also part of the best music of the 40s, has had many voices, but Libertad Lamarque’s does much justice to the original composition.
El Choclo means the ear of corn, supposedly written after the nickname of a nightclub owner known by that name.
Woody Guthrie – This Land Is Your Land
The great musical influence of Bob Dylan, according to many, created this masterpiece of music in the 40s, when he raised folk to the highest levels without knowing it with this This Land Is Your Land.
Not surprisingly, it is one of the most famous folk songs in the United States. Written by Woody Guthrie in 1940, and based on an earlier Carter Family tune (When the World’s on Fire), it was a critical response to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America.
Guthrie got sick of hearing Kate Smith sing it on the radio in the late 1930s and so called during the early days of the song God Blessed America For Me before renaming it This Land Is Your Land.
Antonio Machín – Little Black Angels
The voice of Antonio Machín accompanied us for decades from the 1930s to 1977, when he died. At that time, for example, he gave us Little Black Angels or one of the best songs from the 60s, Toda Una Vida.
Known in the 1930s thanks to El Masinero, with this song he made the Moorish song fashionable, which would later be turned into a bolero by the grace of musical productions, returning to the present day one of the great singers of the century XX in Spanish.
Songs of the Year 1948
Daniel Santos – Dos Gardenias
Speaking of Antonio Machín, Dos Gardenias is another of his emblematic songs. However, the most popular version in Latin America and Spain is not that one, but this one by Daniel Santos, who turned this bolero into a standard in the universal Latin music repertoire. Recorded with La Sonora Matancera, it stands out for the arrangements by Pérez Prado, the king of mambo and Latin music in general.
Wynonie Harris – Good Rockin’ Tonight
As we move closer to the 1950s, we can see how the music of the 1940s is gradually moving closer to the rock sounds that made stars of young talents like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berry. Forerunners like Wynonie Harris began to pave the way for what would come a couple of years later with this Good Rockin’ Tonight, another of those great classics that was somewhat forgotten.
Xavier Cugat – Copacabana
On the other hand, a never-forgotten classic, even though years and years have passed since its launch for sale, is Copacabana. Once again on our list we are talking about Xavier Cugat, one of the greatest Latin music artists of any time.
Francisco de Asís Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru and Deulofeu by birth, Xavier Cugat was one of the most important ambassadors of Latin music and, as such, has remained forever in the memory.
Nat King Cole – Nature Boy
Our beloved Nat King Cole has been waging a musical war since music was music, practically. For this reason, given our appreciation, we cannot forget him when talking about the music of the 40s either. As a young man he began to show all his capabilities with this Nature Boy, his first official song.
The song, written in 1947 by Eden Ahbez (George Alexander Aberle), is partly autobiographical. It is a tribute to Ahbez’s mentor, Bill Pester, who had originally introduced him to the reform philosophies of Naturmensch and Lebens, which the former practiced. When Cole performed at the Lincoln Theater that same year, Ahbez wanted to introduce him to the song, but Cole ignored him.
Despite everything, Ahbez did not lose faith and left a copy for him to find later, and that was how he learned what he could do with Nature Boy. After receiving recognition for his rendition of the song, Cole had to do some research to find the person who made it so he could record it Ahbez. The turns that life takes.
Music of the Year 1949
Mario Lanza – ‘O Sole Mio
Shot (positively, but shot nonetheless) by Elvis Presley in It’s Now Or Never, ‘O Sole Mio is possibly the most famous Neapolitan song in History, although today others may take on the role with the help of advertisements and propaganda in general.
Written in 1898, it was so popular that, in addition to dozens of versions, it even gives its name to a 1946 Italian film, directed by Giacomo Gentilomo. On the other hand, one of the first Italian neorealism films.
Evelyn Knight – A Little Bird Told Me
Jazz was very important in the 40s, we cannot deny it, even if we are not big fans of the genre. Renovators, they managed to piss off the likes of Herman Hesse, so we’re glad it exists.
Evelyn Knight’s theme is a jazz classic, the kind that was happy, with its choruses, its happiness and the clapping that encouraged anyone back then.
Vaughn Monroe – Riders In The Sky
On the other hand, country, although we like it even less than jazz, has some undeniable great songs. Riders In The Sky, for example, it is. Listen to her and tell me no. It is valid for both a tear and a ripped one. We love how music to wake up, to make life epic, to ride or to get in tune before watching a western on television.
Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin, & Frank Sinatra – New York, New York
We close the decade with a classic from the musical performed by three classics from the song. New York, New York, from the movie On The Town, is a good example of why the musical has been so important to the cinema and, above all, why it was something so popular in the 40s.
The opening scene of the film, where the three protagonists sing this song, has been imitated over and over again in films, series (even animated) and life itself, with people who dress up and make videos on the net.< /p>
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.