For starters, I missed something obvious in my 20s list, and that’s folk music. I had a tough time with songs that sounded part blues part hillbilly and much of that sound is the beginning of folk music. Though its roots can be traced to many different locations from many different time periods, in terms of popular music, a good place to say it starts is “Stagger Lee” which I previously referred to as a hillbilly blues hybrid. Well, chalk that up to carelessness on my part.
Aside from my folk oversight, and the Robert Johnson list I prepared previously, the most notable musical growth of the 1930s was Big Band. As usual, you never want to say “THIS IS WHEN IT BEGAN!” because origins of music are very hard to prove.
Here are the Top 15 Songs of the 1930s (excluding Robert Johnson)
15. Standin On the Corner (Blue Yodel #9) – Jimmie Rodgers (1930) – (Blues)
Jimmie Rodgers! Spanning two decades!
14. Can the Circle Be Unbroken – The Carter Family (1935) – (Hillbilly)
If the Carter family is the father of anything, besides family music, it just may be the hillbilly spiritual.
13. Lester Leaps In – Count Basie (1939) – (Big Band)
Nearly two Count Basie songs made this list, but the other recording I heard was terrible so I removed it. Recording continued to get much better in the 30s, mostly because you could sing into a can.
12. Baby, Please Don’t Go – Big Joe Williams (1935) – (Blues)
Dude had a 9-String guitar! 9!
11. Good Morning School Girl – Sonny Boy Williamson (1937) – (Blues)
Sonny Boy brought the harmonica into the fray. Thing is, the harmonica is one of the most annoying instruments ever. No one will really say it because so many people have played it, and played it well, but trust me, no one wants to hear harmonica that much. We tolerated it with Bob Dylan because he’s Bob Dylan, and despite how great John Popper played it, does anyone even listen to Blues Traveler?
10. Back in the Saddle Again – Gene Autry (1939) – (Hillbilly)
Long before you had Steven Tyler, no one was quite the front man diva like Gene Autry!
9. Stormy Weather – Ethel Waters (1933) – (Ballad)
This is one of my favorite traditional ballads of all-time.
8. I Wanna Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart – Patsy Montana (1935) – (Hillbilly)
If you want your daughter to grow up to be a country singer, I suggest naming her “Patsy”.
7. Puttin’ on the Ritz – Harry Richman Orchestra featuring Earl Burnett (1930) – (Show Tune)
Yes, it’s got that show tune thing going on, but it’s just so catchy.
6. If I Didn’t Care – Ink Spots (1939) – (Ballad)
This most likely is my favorite traditional ballad of all-time, one notch higher than “Stormy Weather” in the category.
5. In the Mood – The Glenn Miller Orchestra (1939) – (Big Band)
This song came out right before Billboard started charting song sales success. Per Wikipedia, songs in this era we’re judged mostly by the amount of sheet music they sold, mostly.
4. Minnie the Moocher – Cab Calloway – (1931) – (Jazz)
It’s strange the things that make me like older songs more, but I’m probably more biased towards this one because a) the Beastie Boys reference it and b) I’ve heard Phish cover in their olden days.
3. Tumbling Tumbleweeds – Sons of Pioneers (1934) – (Hillbilly)
This is such a nice soothing song. If you were making a movie about some dude living in a city west of the deserts of California, and that dude is the right man for his time and place, this song would be the perfect introduction to that man, especially if you had a cowboy with a really low voice introducing him.
2. Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Judy Garland (1939) – (Ballad/Show Tune)
This song probably lacks something many of these others have, but the fact of the matter is my mom sang this to me to make me fall asleep when I was deep in that age of shouldn’t be able to remember. I do remember though, and that’s what makes this song so powerful.
1. Sing Sing Sing – The Benny Goodman Orchestra (1938) – (Big Band)
So WILD! Rock ’n roll has a nice wildness to it. This is the first song that seems to embody that wildness. Though it’s by no means a rock ’n roll song, you can tell many musicians coming after would get caught up in all the crunk juice that the Benny Goodman Orchestra was exuding.