1940s music was centered on big band styles and jazz.
It was a breakthrough decade for many artists, some writing their names in history books by shaping the music industry.
The 1940s was also a World War II era, with many artists striving to maintain their smiles even as the world was going through one of the most devastating moments in history.
Below are the 30 best songs from the 40s that endured the changing music landscape.
1. “God Bless The Child” by Billie Holiday
Kicking off our list is Billie Holiday’s simple message to black audiences.
The song blended jazz and blues elements and was a passionate plea to black Americans to be independent.
Holiday begins her narration with a presumed biblical verse, “Them who’s got shall get, them whose not shall lose,” encouraging the people to toil for whatever they need instead of depending on others.
“God Bless The Child” is one of the best songs from the 40s, with notable covers by Eddie Harris, Aretha Franklin, and The Simpsons.
2. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby
“White Christmas” is arguably one of the most popular songs from the 40s.
Originally written by Irvine Berlin, Bring Crosby’s rendition gained massive attention in the 1940s and beyond, becoming the best-selling Christmas song in history.
Released in 1941, the soulful crooning is about longing, with a sad backstory about a heartbroken Berlin after his son’s death.
3. “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole’s Christmas song dates back to the 1940s and is known for the memorable opening line, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
The song expresses holiday vibes, even though the lyrics do not mention Christmas.
Nat King Cole recorded the hit in 1946, and it has since become a standard holiday tune and one of the most popular songs from the 40s.
4. “Take The “A” Train” by Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington’s song is remembered as the official anthem of New York’s subway transit system.
Initially written by pianist Billy Strayhorn, the song is about a journey from Pittsburgh to New York City via the subway train.
5. “Swinging On A Star” by Bing Crosby
Nobody defines the 40s music quite like Bing Crosby.
No wonder he reappears in this list with another classic hit from the decade.
“Swinging On A Star” is a traditional pop song initially created by Jimmy Van Heusen.
Bing Crosby popularized it via the 1944 Going My Way film, grabbing an Academy Award for Best Original Song that year.
Many artists have since covered it, including the incredible Frank Sinatra.
6. “Stardust” by The Artie Shaw Orchestra
“Stardust” is one of the most popular songs from the 1940s.
However, its story dates back to the 1920s, when Hoagy Carmichael composed the original lyrics.
It has since been recorded more than 1500 times, with numerous performers releasing their versions, including The Artie Shaw Orchestra.
The song was already a standard by the time Shaw released his version.
But it still became the most popular record, with over 1 million sales worldwide.
7. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by The Andrews Sisters
A trip back to the 1940s takes us to Minneapolis, Minnesota, home to The Andrew Sisters, one of the best singing groups of the swing era.
The theme of war was dominant in the 40s music, thanks to the Second World War.
And this masterpiece was written along the same line, describing a Chicago trumpeter recruited into the army to fight in World War II.
The song peaked at #6 on the US Pop Singles chart after featuring in the Buck Privates comedy film.
8. “Paper Doll” by The Mills Sisters
“Paper Doll” is a significant song in the history of the 40s music.
After topping the Billboard Singles chart and staying there for 12 weeks, it became The Mills Sisters’ signature song.
The jazz song marked an important turning point in the jazz band’s career after a few years of struggle.
9. “Sentimental Journey” by Doris Day
Every 40s music lover remembers Doris Day’s song about nostalgia.
“Sentimental Journey” is a classic in the history of American music and one of the most beloved songs today.
The lyrics express a deep longing for the past or nostalgia, as one would put it.
In her narration, Doris Day explores the concept of revisiting memories.
She reminisces about the good old days, remembering the bittersweet experiences of her youth.
The lyrics will remind you to cherish the moment and live your life to the fullest.
10. “My Foolish Heart” by Gordon Jenkins
“There’s a fine line between love and fascination/That’s hard to see on an evening such as this/For they both give the very same sensation/When you’re lost in the magic of a kiss.”
That’s one of the standout lines from Gordon Jenkins’ masterpiece and one of the greatest songs from the 1940s.
11. “Let It Snow” by Vaughan Monroe
“Let It Snow” is always considered one of the best Christmas songs because the lyrics talk about spending a snowy day with someone special by the fire.
Vaughan Monroe recorded the first-ever version, which has since been covered by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Jessica Simpson, among other popular artists.
12. “A String Of Pearls” by Glenn Miller
“A String Of Pearls” is one of the best songs from the 40s, composed by Eddie DeLange and Jerry Gray.
The song became a commercial hit for Glenn Miller and his Orchestra in 1941, showing their massive influence during the Swing Era.
13. “You Always Hurt The One You Love” by The Mills Brothers
Hurting a loved one hurts.
But sometimes, that’s the best we can do when a relationship has run its course.
The traditional pop song topped the Billboard charts in 1944 and became a hit for Sammy Kaye when he released his version a year later.
The long list of artists to cover this song include Moon Mullican, Cliff Bruner, Connie Francis, and Fats Domino.
14. “Moonlight Cocktail” by Glenn Miller Orchestra
Glenn Miller recorded this song in 1941, only a day after the infamous Pearl Harbor attack during World War II.
The lyrics compare new love to mixing a cocktail.
“Moonlight Cocktail” became the best-selling record in the US for ten weeks.
15. “Shoo-Shoo Baby” by The Andrews Sisters
“Shoo-Shoo Baby” is a popular 1940s song originally composed by Phil Moore.
The Andrews Sisters popularized the song after featuring it in their 1943 film, Three Cheers for the Boys.
Other notable versions include Glenn Miller’s rendition, with vocals from the Crew Chiefs.
16. “Tuxedo Junction” by Glenn Miller Orchestra
“Tuxedo Junction” is a song about a club in Birmingham, Alabama, known for playing jazz and blues music.
The region is called “Tuxedo Junction,” although the club was based in the Nixon Building.
“Tuxedo Junction” began as an instrumental, initially credited to Julian Dash, Erskine Hawkins, and Bill Johnson.
Glenn Miller released his version in 1940, becoming a #1 hit the same year and one of the best songs from the 40s.
17. “Maybe” by The Ink Spots
“Maybe” was written by Frank Madden and Allan Flynn and published in the early 1940s.
The Ink Spots’ version featured Bill Kenny and was the first to appear on the charts.
18. “Cool Water” by Sons of the Pioneers
The memorable song by the Sons of the Pioneers is one of the best songs from the 1940s.
Bob Nolan wrote the lyrics in high school before recording the song in the 1940s as part of the Western singing group.
“Cool Water” describes a cowboy’s lonely trip across a desert.
The song was a hit throughout the 1940s, with the Sons of the Pioneers featuring Vaughn Monroe in a 1948 version.
19. “There Are Such Things” by Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra started his solo career in 1942, becoming one of the most influential singers of the era, especially among teenage music fans.
He featured in Tom Dorsey’s “There Are Such Things,” which peaked at #1 on the US best-selling records chart.
20. “Rum And Coca-Cola” by The Andrews Sisters
“Rum And Coca-Cola” became a hit for The Andrew Sisters in 1945
A calypso musician, Rupert Grant, famously called Lord Invader, wrote the original lyrics to bring attention to the US soldiers’ debauchery.
The Andrew Sisters’ version had Trinidad accents.
And despite being a popular song in the 1940s, it attracted controversy and was banned by some radio stations for its lyrical content.
21. “Till The End Of Time” by Perry Como
Perry Como’s ballad topped the US charts for ten weeks, with 2 million sales to become the best-selling jazz song in 1945.
The narration is based on a 1946 film about the American veterans coming home after the Second World War.
22. “I’ll Never Smile Again” by Tommy Dorsey ft. Frank Sinatra
“I’ll Never Smile Again” expresses despair and desperation after losing a loved one.
Ruth Lowe wrote it after losing her husband in 1939.
Ruth’s lyrics express her grief, asserting that she will never love again now that true love is gone.
Tommy Dorsey’s version became the best-selling single, featuring guest vocals from Frank Sinatra.
23. “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie
“This Land Is Your Land” preaches equality.
It was a protest song and a response to “God Bless America,” which promoted the unequal distribution of resources in the US.
Woody Guthrie’s 1940 hit became one of the most famous folk songs from the 1940s.
24. “That Old Black Magic” by Glenn Miller
“That Old Black Magic” is another popular song from the 1940s, composed by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer for the Star Spangled Rhythm film.
Notable covers include Gordon Jenkins, Bob Dylan, and Glenn Miller.
Glenn Miller’s recording reached the charts in 1943, peaking at #1 on the Billboard magazine charts.
25. “Some Enchanted Evening” by Perry Como
“Some Enchanted Evening” is the legendary 1940 love anthem that took the 40s music by storm.
Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the song for their 1949 South Pacific film before Perry Como reached #1 with his 1949 version.
26. “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons” by Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole is always celebrated as one of the best jazz singers of all time.
And many people remember him for this hit from the 1940s.
Ivory “Deek” Watson and William Best wrote and released the original song in 1945.
Nat King Cole’s version became the best-selling record, reaching the Billboard Best Seller chart in 1964.
The song is an intimate love confession and one to have on your list of the best songs from the 1940s.
27. “All The Things You Are” by Miles Davies
“All The Things You Are” first appeared in the Very Warm for May film (1939), becoming even more popular in the 1940s.
It became a jazz staple, covered by all the famous artists, including Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, and Ellie Fitzgerald.
This type of 40s music is hard to find these days.
And you will appreciate the composition when you finally listen to the compelling lyrics.
28. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” by Vivienne Segal
“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” is famously known as the Hart and Rodgers jazz standard from the 40s.
And the lyrics describe falling in love again.
The song was so good that veteran jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald released her version.
It has since been covered by numerous artists, including Doris Day.
29. “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Glenn Miller
Released in 1941, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” is one of the most popular songs from the 1940s.
It sold over 1 million copies in 1942 and became the first Gold-certified song.
Glenn Miller’s version became a #1 hit in the US, reaching the Billboard Best Sellers chart in 1941.
The lyrics describe a journey to Chattanooga on a coal-burning train.
30. “As Time Goes By” by Dooley Wilson
One of the best songs of all time from an iconic movie of the 1940s.
Many people don’t know that “As Time Goes By” was never written for the iconic Casablanca film.
Its story goes back to 1931, but it only became popular in 1942 through the film featuring Dooley Wilson.
Following its success, many artists covered the song, including Frank Sinatra, Vera Lynn, Bryan Ferry, Louis Armstrong, and Harry Nilsson.
Best Songs From the 40s – Final Thoughts
It’s hard to describe the 40s music.
The industry was fast evolving, which gave us various hits throughout the decade.
As some artists became jazzier and jazzier, others chose the lyrical path.
Big band sounds were fading and getting replaced by vocal pop and crooners.
Ultimately, only the most enduring and adaptable singers survived.
Our list of the 30 best songs from the 40s shows what music throughout this decade was like.
You will appreciate their nostalgic quality, powerful message, and longevity.