Best Songs of the 1930s: #40 – 31

40. “Goodnight My Love” by Ella Fitzgerald & Benny Goodman

Ella Fitzgerald was only 20 years old when she recorded “Goodnight My Love” with the already-established Benny Goodman Orchestra. Just from this performance, it’s clear that she was a jazz superstar in the making. Fitzgerald could belt, croon and improvise like no other singers of the era, and her purity of tone and flawless timing allowed her to easily adapt to any song. Although she got even better with age, her youthful exuberance is what makes “Goodnight My Love” so special.

39. “Close Your Eyes” by Al Bowlly & Ray Noble

The combination of South African-born singer Al Bowlly with the Ray Noble Orchestra was one of Britain’s finest musical exports in the 1930s. “Close Your Eyes,” a mid-tempo waltz with a slightly ominous backbeat, was a huge hit in the United States. Noble’s arrangement works hand-in-hand with Bowlly’s gentle vocal, making for the rare big band partnership relying on subtlety over showmanship.

38. “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” by The Boswell Sisters

Martha, Connie and Helvetia Boswell were the most entertaining pop ensemble of the Jazz Age. Together, the uptown New Orleans trio set dance floors on fire all across the country with their wholly unique brand of fast-paced vocal swing. “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” features all of the Sisters’ hallmarks: intricate three-part harmonies, freewheeling changes in tempo and a shuffling, post-Dixieland instrumental arrangement. The only thing it’s missing is ‘Boswellese’ (see #30).

37. “Blue Yodel No. 9 (Standing on the Corner)” by Jimmie Rodgers

What are the odds today that the biggest country superstar would collaborate with the biggest jazz superstar? These disparate genres rarely go hand in hand, but in the late 1920s and early 1930s the practice was quite commonplace. On the seminal “Blue Yodel No. 9,” Jimmie Rodgers is backed by Louis Armstrong’s trumpet for a bluesy tour through Beale Street’s back alleys.

36. “Weather Bird” by Louis Armstrong & Earl Hines

“Weather Bird” was a song that Louis Armstrong had originally written back in his riverboat days. In it’s recorded 1929 version (released in early 1930), he and pianist Earl Hines trade stop-time solos to create one of the most famous jazz duets in history. The whole piece is a masterpiece of innovation, from Armstrong’s bouncing trumpet melodies to Hines’ striding backbeats, with two musicians playing together in absolutely perfect unison.

35. “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” by Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby recorded “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” four times throughout his career, which goes to show how much the singer loved it. However, the 1931 original is Crosby’s seminal version. Featuring a string arrangement that stutters and stops, the tune is full of optimism despite its Great Depression setting: “Just remember that sunshine always follows the rain/So wrap your troubles in dreams/And dream your troubles away

34. “Summertime” by Billie Holiday

Despite a rough upbringing, Billie Holiday defied the odds to become one of the most successful jazz singers of all time. Her 1936 rendition of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” was an early breakout that featured all of Holiday’s hallmarks: a weathered-yet-charismatic vocal (she was only 21-years-old at the time); a somewhat-sloppy combination of blues, jazz and swing; and an uncanny ability to turn any song into an autobiography — she readily accepts the role of Bess because she’s already lived it.

33. “Begin the Beguine” by Artie Shaw

The sharp brass blasts that punctuate the gentle swing of Artie Shaw’s “Begin the Beguine” gradually ratchet up the tension, propelling the song to a brilliant climax. The 1938 hit record brought immediate popularity to Shaw — how many other jazz bandleaders also doubled as A-list celebrities? Likewise, how many jazzmen had the opportunity to marry Ava Gardner and Lana Turner? Just like his most famous song, Shaw perfectly embodied the sophistication and salaciousness of the 1930s swing era.

32. “Caravan” by Duke Ellington

The sinister rhumba that snakes its way through Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” introduced the world to Afro-Cuban rhythms. Likewise, the growling trumpet placed the listener in the snare of the African jungle. As one of Ellington’s most exotic (or “exotica,” for that matter) songs, “Caravan” showcased that he could drastically change his sound without losing his signature elegance.

31. “John the Revelator” by Blind Willie Johnson

This call-and-response duet with Willie B. Harris — who may or may not have been Blind Willie Johnson’s wife — was among the legendary Texas bluesman’s final recordings. Johnson dispenses with his trademark slide guitar for a traditional-yet-uncharacteristic fingerpicking style, thus turning the focus to the lyrics, which are filled with apocalyptic imagery lifted straight from the Book of Revelation. It’s a fitting way for Johnson to finish his fabled career.

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