17 Best 30s Songs – 1930s Was A Good Decade For Music

Today we’ll look at the best songs of the 30s.

The 1930s was a decade of immense change in America and worldwide. The Great Depression plunged millions of people into poverty, prohibition ended, and the events that eventually led up to World War II began to take shape in Europe.

People wanted to express the sadness and struggle they were going through in this decade. Still, they also wanted to take whatever opportunities they could to temporarily forget the heavy burdens of the world and celebrate the moment. No wonder we can find a mix of sorrowful, serious songs and happy party songs topping the charts during this time.

Let’s dive right in and discover the best 30s songs of this tumultuous decade.

God Bless America – Kate Smith

Song Year: 1938

Patriotism tends to increase during times of national crisis. This was true in the 1930s as America found itself in the midst of one of the worst economic periods in its history. People in cities queued up on bread lines for basic sustenance, while some in the southern plains died due to drought during the Dust Bowl.

In 1938, an old Irving Berlin song, initially penned in 1918, hit the charts like a beacon of light for a weary country in need of bolstering. The song was a prayer set to music, asking God to bless and guide the nation as it faced its most difficult days at home and a brewing war overseas. It was made even more memorable by the strong, confident voice of Kate Smith, who would become famous for her version of the tune.

Sing, Sing, Sing – With a Swing – Benny Goodman

Song Year: 1935

New York-based bandleader Benny Goodman was one of the most famous musicians of the 1930s, wowing audiences with his alluring brand of “swing” music. People loved to dance to Goodman’s arrangements, whether they were bouncing around the floor to his fast-paced numbers or having a romantic sway to his slower, more low-key pieces.

Sing Sing Sing is a hard-driving quickstep that challenges even the most athletic dancers. From the opening percussion to the lively horn section, it’s a call to let go of your inhibitions and cut a rug with whoever catches your eye. It’s no wonder it was one of the best-known and best-loved songs of its era.

Mood Indigo – Duke Ellington

Song Year: 1930

Duke Ellington is a jazz legend and bandleader who had multiple hit songs during the 1920s, 30s, and beyond. Mood Indigo is one of his most famous tunes.

As the name implies, Mood Indigo communicates the emotion of the blues. It’s a slow, sad jazz instrumental that would be the perfect background music for a montage of 1930s scenes, or a vintage bar scene.

Recorded in 1930, the song was subtitled “Estoy Muy Triste”, which in Spanish means, “I’m very sad.” It was an appropriate title for a song recorded just a year after the crash of ’29 when many Americans were still reeling from their financial losses.

Wabash Cannonball – Roy Acuff

Song Year: 1936

During the 1930s, Roy Acuff became known as the “King of Country Music”. He did a lot to advance the genre during its years of growing popularity and influenced many musicians in Nashville and beyond.

The Wabash Cannonball was a song that had been circulating in various forms since the late 19th century. It’s about a powerful train running through the country’s majestic scenery. It may have been initially a “hobo song”; a type of song composed by homeless men who often hopped trains in search of shelter and food.

Whatever its origins, Roy Acuff’s version of the Wabash Cannonball was a massive hit, becoming one of the few singles that sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

Over The Rainbow – Judy Garland

Song Year: 1938

The Wizard of Oz, released in August of 1939, went on to become one of the most beloved films of all time, thanks in no small part to its young star, Judy Garland. With her innocent looks and golden voice, she charmed audiences into immersing themselves in the movie’s magical world.

The film’s main ballad, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, was a huge hit almost immediately and became Garland’s signature song for the entirety of her career. For the last 80 years, it’s been covered by some of the world’s most talented and famous musicians, but there’s something about the original’s raw beauty and sense of longing that has stood the test of time. 

Can The Circle Be Unbroken (By and By) – The Carter Family

Song Year: 1935

In the 1930s, country music was a genre that was just beginning to capture the heart of America. During the previous decade, music producers and talent scouts had begun to reach out to folk musicians in the Appalachian Mountains region and the rural south, hoping to bring their unique brand of storytelling and musicianship to the rest of the country.

The Carter Family was one of their great finds. This talented musical family brought together gorgeous harmonies and impressive instrumental skills, drawing on the traditions of the original English, Irish and Scottish settlers in the nation’s first colonies.

May The Circle Be Unbroken is a gospel song that reflects the family’s faith. It’s an upbeat song that refers to the unity and love among Christians and their eternal hope of heaven.

Pennies From Heaven -Bing Crosby

Song Year: 1936

In 1936, many Americans wished that some money would fall from the sky and ease their woes. Perhaps this is why the feel-good song Pennies From Heaven became so popular. The Bing Crosby version of the song, which he recorded accompanied by the Georgie Stoll Orchestra, spent 10 weeks at the top of the charts.

Songs often “went viral”in the 1930s and 40s due to the movies they first appeared in. This was the case with Pennies From Heaven, which was featured in the 1936 film of the same name starring Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Madge Evans, and Edith Fellows.

If I Didn’t Care – The Ink Spots

If I Didn’t Care - The Ink Spots

Song Year: 1939

If I Didn’t Care was one of the top hit songs of the 1930s and went on to be covered in the following decades by the likes of Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, The Hilltoppers, and the Platters.

It’s a simple love song in which the singer declares the genuine nature of their feelings for the object of their affections. It seems that the singer has found himself in a position where he has to convince his loved one that he really does care for her, but whether or not he is the reason for her initial doubt is unclear.

The Ink Spots version of this song has a distinctly 1920s/1930s sound, with the lead singer crooning in a high, mournful voice. That particular singing style faded out of fashion during the 40s.

Begin The Beguine – Artie Shaw and His Orchestra

Song Year: 1938

The 1930s was the decade of the bandleader. These musicians led orchestras and created the trendiest pop music of the day. People were learning to dance in new ways during this era, taking on more complicated and suggestive moves that were very different from the waltzes and polkas of previous years.

Artie Shaw was one of the decade’s top bandleaders. His song “Begin the Beguine,” written by the prolific songwriter Cole Porter, is a lively ditty that uses fun wordplay and upbeat notes to get listeners in the mood to dance.

In The Mood – Glenn Miller, A Top Song Of

Song Year: 1939

In The Mood is one of the best-known songs from one of history’s most prominent Big Band era stars. Most of us have heard this mid-tempo instrumental at one time or another, whether it was at a wedding, an elderly relative’s anniversary party, in a movie, or on a TV ad. It’s often used as the go-to song to capture the spirit of the old time dance scene.

Because the song was released late in the decade, it held popularity into the 1940s as well, becoming one of the top songs of the World War II era.

The song made it into the Grammy Hall of Fame, The National Recording Registry, and NPR’s list of the 100 most important musical works of the 20th century”.

Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday

Song Year: 1939

Strange Fruit is one of the most controversial songs of its time. Billie Holiday sang the song, which was initially written as a poem by Abel Meeropol, to bring attention to the horrors of lynching in the southern United States.

Audiences were stunned by the graphic nature of the song, and many people preferred to look the other way rather than  face the reality of the murders. Others were moved to action and applauded Holiday for bravely bringing attention to such an important topic. The song ended up being one of Holiday’s most famous, and the record it appeared on was her best-selling album.

Moonlight Serenade – Glenn Miller

Song Year: 1939

It’s hard to say exactly how many 1930’s couples fell in love to “Moonlight Serenade”, but it’s safe to say it was quite a few. The dreamy, romantic lyrics describe a lovers’ meeting. Its a warm June night and one of them is standing at the other’s gate, waiting to see them again so they can sing a love song to them.

Released in 1939, the song went on to become another popular tune during the years of World War II. The nation’s emotions were running high, coming off a ten-year Depression and facing a war. People wanted to find comfort and love again, and Moonlight Serenade was the perfect accompaniment.

Silent Night Holy Night – Bing Crosby

Song Year: 1935

Many Christmas songs have charted over the years. These songs are usually modern holiday tunes like Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” or “Rockin Around The Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee. But years before those songs were ever conceived, Bing Crosby’s barebones 1935 version of the classic Christmas hymn Silent Night became the artist’s best-selling song of the 1930s.

In this difficult decade, people were calmed and reassured by Crosby’s mellow, pitch-perfect voice. The song encouraged people to take comfort in their faith and look forward to better years to come.

Minnie the Moocher – Cab Calloway

Song Year: 1931

Minnie the Moocher is a fun scat song made popular by Cab Calloway. It tells the story of a girl who’s always after men of means but who can’t really get the high class men she’s looking for. Only in her dreams can she cavort with a king and count his millions every day.

While many people don’t know the lyrics to Minnie the Moocher, most folks know the refrain “hie dee hie dee hi dee hie, ho dee ho dee ho dee ho…”. It became Calloway’s calling card for the rest of his career, and he performed the song whenever he could. He even sang part of it on an episode of Sesame Street in the 1980s.

All Or Nothing At All – Frank Sinatra

Song Year: 1939

Frank Sinatra’s long and celebrated career started in the 1930s. One of his early recordings was of the song All or Nothing At All. This 1939 song was composed by Arthur Altman and Jack Lawrence.

While the song didn’t become a big hit until the 1940s, its an excellent example of Sinatra’s undeniable early talent and charisma.

Crossroads Blues – Robert Johnson

Song Year: 1936

The blues genre had been taking shape in America since the late 19th century and was already somewhat mainstream in the 1930s. Robert Johnson was one of the foundational blues artists in that era, and his song Crossroads Blues is one of his best-known compositions.

The nation embraced the blues during the 30s and eventually built on the blues to create other genres, most notably rock and roll. If it hadn’t been for Robert Johnson and artists like him, we likely would not have many of the styles of music we know today.

Happy Days Are Here Again – Leo Reisman and his Orchestra

Song Year: 1932

Technically, Happy Days Are Here Again isn’t a 1930s song. It was recorded in 1929 by Leo Reisman and his Orchestra. However, it didn’t become very popular until Franklin Roosevelt’s 1932 Presidential campaign.

Roosevelt promised relief from the hardships of the Great Depression, and he wanted to get as many voters on board as possible. He chose this song because it instilled an idea of hope and optimism.

Good Songs From The 1930s, Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this little trip back in time to the best 30s songs. The 1930s was a fascinating decade when so much history was made. This decade offered a diverse range of music that reflected the upheaval and hope of the times.

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