I have thought about a series of posts about music hits for a long time. At one point, I was envisioning the idea of “Billboard got it wrong” as the theme, the idea that listing by sales might be a good short-term measure of a hit in the year it is recorded, but ten, twenty, even fifty years later, is it still a song that holds up? Or is there some sort of historical “correction” that I could apply, albeit biased by personal subjectivity, that would be “my view of the musical hits for year x”. As I started preparing for it, a topic that interested me as far back as 13 years ago even, I was caught by the most basic question — what year would I start with? Since Billboard really got going in the 50s, but had some lists as far back as ’46, and there were some other lists into the war years, I decided to go with the first real list that I found with a credible methodology. That year was 1943.
Of course, one of the things that attracted me to 1943 too was the change that was happening in music. The dance music of the Roaring 20s had long faded, the sagas of the depressed 30s were still hanging on, and world-wide war had entered the lexicon of the daily population around the world, a scant 22 years after the “Great War” that was to end all wars. Before we got to 1943 though, there were some currents already at play.
In 1940, Winston Churchill promised to “fight them on the beaches”; Germany was blitzing London; there were race riots in the U.S.; Gone with the Wind debuted. And the U.S. was doing it’s best to stay out of the war, the only time in history perhaps that it has emulated Switzerland. Yet the U.S. was arming, and the economy was booming, starting the reversal of the Great Depression. Benny Goodman and Count Basie ruled the hit parade with jazz.
In 1941, Citizen Kane and the Maltese Falcon ruled the cinemas and the new drive-in theatres, the war was front-page news, and the Japanese threat was increasing. Right up until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which changed the War, and perhaps the face of global politics forever.
In 1942, the U.S. fully engaged in the war effort, but the feelings of optimism of a quick victory were eaten away as the year progressed. The tide in Europe started to turn although the UK was still being pummeled, and as the war in Asia heated up, 120K Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps under Executive Order 9066. Similar internments occurred in Canada and elsewhere. Women formed the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, and were celebrated by MacArthur as they worked hard, complained less, and were better disciplined than the men! Rationing kicked in, particularly for gas. Casablanca ruled the movie world, although Bambi and Road to Morocco held their own.
But while those were all important as undercurrents to the approaching year, their biggest contribution to music went unnoticed except by relevant family members:
- John Lennon, Manfred Mann, Frankie Avalon, Gene Pitney, Smokey Robinson, and Ringo Starr were born in 1940;
- Chubby Checker, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Pete Best, Paul Anka, Joan Baez, Mama Cass, Neil Diamond, Placido Domingo, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Percy Sledge were born in 1941; and,
- Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Brian Jones, Paul McCartney, Barbara Streisand, and Tammy Wynette round out the births for 1942.
Not surprisingly, the big news for the year remained the War. The Pentagon in Washington was completed, rationing was expanded, Eisenhower became the head of the Allied forces. The war in Italy turned significantly, and across the various fronts, the German forces started to see less success. More importantly for pop culture, the role of women changed rapidly. They worked in factories, contributed to the war effort in the home and in the office and in the stores. And, for those who like baseball, baseball returned with the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (immortalized in the movie A League of Their Own). Hollywood was not to be left out though…they started the Gold Globes, Lassie Came Home, and they made movies like For Whom the Bell Tolls and Heaven Can Wait. Frank Sinatra, Oklahoma and Glenn Miller were heating up the music scene. Again, not that anyone would notice, but Steve Miller, Janis Joplin, John Denver, Charles Gibson, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, and Jim Morrison came into the world.
When you look at the various sources of “hit lists” for 1943, there isn’t a lot of credible information with rigorous methodology. That isn’t to say there isn’t any — some sites have tracked sales, some talk about hit parade lists, others simply list the big hits by Frank Sinatra or Glenn Miller. But I pulled together a combined list from multiple sources, and I went through the songs.
Not unexpectedly, some songs reflect the mood of the times. Others the changing social conditions. Many others clung to the jazz sounds of the 1930s, simpler days in terms of politics if not the economy. And others were just about the war. Of the 117 songs in my list, very few would stand the test of time in terms of listening to them regularly now, unless you had a specific ear for jazz, or swing, or sultry crooning. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find a few that stood out. Since I limit myself to whole-number ratings (0,1,2,3,4,5), there are some that make my “top 18 hit list” that have the same value as ones that don’t. That’s more about rounding issues than anything.
Here are my thoughts.
- As Time Goes By by Dooley Wilson — this is a bit of a gimmick for the list, a terrible way to start. It is the song as extracted from Casablanca, with many of the original quotes from other parts of the movie overladen with the song. It was impossible NOT to include it, and given its strong contribution to pop culture through the years, plus the ability of the song to simply stand on its own, it had to be my first choice, and the only one for the year that I’ll rate as a “3”. Rudy Vallee, Jacques Renard, and Vera Lynn all do versions during the year, and none of them hold up to Dooley’s version.
- Pistol Packin’ Mama by Bing Crosby — This may seem like a bit of a stretch, but it is a pretty lively song. It isn’t jazz, it isn’t Big Band per se, it isn’t swing…it’s a bit of R&B mixed perhaps with some country twang, sung by a noted crooner. There’s a new sound that starts to emerge about this time, not defined yet, and this is one of the examples.
- Flash by Harry James and His Orchestra — Just as I chose PPM above as the example of the new sound, I chose this one as the Big Band / jazz hybrid. It’s a little up-tempo, slides back and forth between jazz and Big Band, and even manages to harken back a bit to the Roaring 20s sound. It’s not spectacular, it’s not ground-breaking, but it is eminently listenable even 70 years later.
- Sweet Slumber by Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra — This is a slower one that goes in the opposite direction to Flash. It is reminiscent of Auld Lang Syne, with a jazz sound, performed by a full orchestra. Then out of nowhere, more than a minute into a 3 minute song that seems like a simple instrumental, a voice starts crooning crystal clear. It’s definitely not jazz at that point, or rather it isn’t sung in a jazz style. It is almost barbershop quartet, and foreshadows the pop crooners of the 50s. There are a lot of songs that do this through out the year — they start off instrumental, and then halfway through, the singer starts in. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra do a lot of the same songs as the orchestras, but they move the lyrics to the start of the song and spread them out more evenly throughout the song. This too is a change…the old “orchestra” sound is starting to give way to the pure lyrics-led song.
- I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Bing Crosby — I have to admit that I seriously thought of putting this first. It is such a classic song that gets dug out every Christmas, it would be impossible to deny its longevity and contribution to pop culture. Sure, it came from a movie in ’42, not ’43, but that isn’t a reason to quibble. My reason for not putting it first is that in ’43, it had a totally different mood to it than it does now. In ’43, it really was about people who would NOT be home for Christmas (except in their dreams). Many celebrants now don’t even realize the song means the opposite of what the title implies, they just haven’t the same sense in the words. It was a truly sad song in ’43, and for some, it even meant those who would never return at all.
- Murder, He Says by Dinah Shore — I had never heard this song before I went through this process and review. The song is pure 1943, and it wouldn’t likely work in any other year because of its content. It is about a girl who has a boyfriend who constantly talks in the “hip” slang of the era (some people argue that the biggest indicator of change in a society is the degree of change in language during the same era). In the song, every time they kiss, he says, “Murder” i.e. she’s an amazing kisser and it is almost like killing him. Except he’s driving her nuts with his slang, and she’s thinking of (not really) killing him if he doesn’t start talking normal. No longevity, but just plain awesome “snapshot” of the year with lots of examples of phrases for the year. Murder.
- Ration Blues by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five — This song, and the next three, are really here for a very specific reason — they capture specific aspects of the “wartime” mood. Ration Blues is lamenting the experience of rationing that has expanded throughout the U.S.
- Silver Wings in the Moonlight by Anne Shelton — While there wasn’t a lot of “great” stories coming out of Northern Africa or Europe, the war in the Pacific had the glamour that always accompanies the crisp flyboys of the Air Force with their Silver Wings.
- When the Lights Go On Again by Vera Lynn — Lynn had lots of airplay during the time, lots of hits. But this one captures the mood of change perfectly — when the lights go on again all over the world, i.e. when the war is over, and things return to normal. Not the naïve “victory in weeks” sentiment at the start of ’42, but the cold rational belief by ’43 that it would still be a grueling slog, but eventually victory would be had. Vaughn Monroe also produced a version, but too instrumental and without the wistful hope of Lynn’s version.
- Why Don’t You Fall In Love With Me? by Dinah Shore — The song title by itself conveys little more than a simple love song, but the lyrics are about more of the social change, temporary nature of the war…it says “as long as you’re not already in love with someone else”. While Casablanca belittled the small concerns of two crazy people, this one tries to say, “Hey, let’s make the most of today, unless you have someone back home.” Finding comfort where comfort could be found.
My next eight songs were part of my consideration, and I ranked them from 11 to 18, but they were mostly B choices from the top ten above. Some cook (Five Guys Named Moe), some are amazing instrumentals (Mission to Moscow), others from movies (Yankee Doodle Boy), etc. After that, it’s a long slow slide from decent nostalgia to meh.
Some other highlights though:
- Taking a Chance on Love steps in only at #28 on my list, not because it’s not a great song, but because the version isn’t earth-shattering…many have sung it better over the years;
- They’re Either Too Young or Too Old is at #29, and I like the sentiment…it’s a little light-hearted song about the girl left behind who can’t find a man, because they’re all off at war. As a result, for what’s left, they’re either “too young or too old”…there are some links to themes of gender emancipation here, but the song is more cute than revolutionary;
- A Slip of the Lip makes my list at #41, and while it too reflects the time, it looks and sounds more like a War Department-sponsored song that uses the slogan of the day — A slip of the lip sinks ships, i.e. there are spies everywhere;
- Oh, What A Beautiful Morning is at #93 with Bing Crosby and Trudy Erwin. It is a truly amazing song, but this version is not up to the standard; and,
- Zing! Went the String of My Heart is at #117…again, great song but NOT this version.
Completely Unofficial and Totally Authorized
Guide to Music: 1943
|1943||1||3||Dooley Wilson||As Time Goes By||IT101|
|Part of the “Best of the year:, but not in the timeless class as the first one|
|1943||2||2||Bing Crosby||Pistol Packin’ Mama||WB024, TS010|
|1943||3||2||Harry James And His Orchestra||Flash||WB055|
|1943||4||2||Lucky Millinder And His Orchestra||Sweet Slumber||WB010, TS077|
|1943||5||2||Bing Crosby||I’ll Be Home For Christmas||WB043, TS028|
|1943||6||2||Dinah Shore||Murder, He Says||TS056|
|1943||7||2||Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five||Ration Blues||WB009, TS041|
|1943||8||2||Anne Shelton||Silver Wings in the Moonlight||TS035|
|1943||9||2||Vera Lynn||When The Lights Go On Again||TS093|
|1943||10||2||Dinah Shore||Why Don’t You Fall In Love With Me||TS029|
|The next 8 are ranked, but are very close, could almost be considered tied for 11th|
|1943||11||2||Ella Mae Morse||Shoo Shoo Baby||WB008, TS043|
|1943||13||2||Benny Goodman||Mission to Moscow||TS079|
|1943||14||2||Fred Waring & the Pennsylvanians||Yankee Doodle Boy||TS073|
|1943||15||2||Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters||Jingle Bells||TS052|
|1943||16||2||Lucky Millinder And His Orchestra||Apollo Jump||WB006|
|1943||17||2||Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five||Five Guys Named Moe||WB021|
|1943||18||2||Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, The||Boogie Woogie||WB036|
|The next 14 are essentially tied for 19th place, and listed alphabetically by song title|
|1943||19||2||King Cole Trio||All For You||WB007, TS067|
|1943||20||2||Vera Lynn||As Time Goes By||TS033|
|1943||21||2||Erskine Hawkins And His Orchestra||Don’t Cry Baby||WB001, TS049|
|1943||22||2||Duke Ellington||Don’t Get Around Much Anymore||WB005, TS021|
|1943||23||2||Bunny Banks Trio||Don’t Stop Now||WB003|
|1943||24||2||Judy Garland & Gene Kelly||For Me & My Gal||TS013|
|1943||25||2||Ink Spots||I Can’t Stand Losing You||WB002|
|1943||27||2||Al Dexter & His Troopers||Pistol Packin’ Mama||WB034, TS003|
|1943||28||2||Benny Goodman||Taking A Chance On Love||WB052, TS012|
|1943||29||2||Jimmy Dorsey||They’re Either Too Young Or Too Old||TS022|
|1943||30||2||Harry James||Two O’Clock Jump||TS053|
|1943||31||2||Bing Crosby||White Christmas||WB048|
|1943||32||2||Benny Goodman||Why Don’t You Do Right||WB030|
|The next twenty are tied for 33rd place, kind of in two or three sub-groupings, but not reflecting much difference between them
|1943||33||1||Jacques Renard And His Orchestra||As Time Goes By||WB042, TS038|
|1943||34||1||Rudy Vallee & his Connecticut Yankees||As Time Goes By||TS011|
|1943||35||1||Glenn Miller||It Must Be Jelly||TS100|
|1943||36||1||Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, The||It Started All Over Again||WB016, TS055|
|1943||37||1||Charlie Barnet||That Old Black Magic||WB018, TS006|
|1943||38||1||Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five||The Chicks I Pick Are Slender And Tender And Tall||WB057|
|1943||39||1||Bing Crosby||Sunday, Monday Or Always||WB022, TS005|
|1943||40||1||Dinah Shore||You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To||WB054, TS020|
|1943||41||1||Duke Ellington||A Slip Of The Lip||WB012, TS080|
|1943||42||1||David Rose||Holiday for strings||TS025|
|1943||43||1||Charlie Barnet||Oh! Miss Jaxon||WB019|
|1943||44||1||Mills Brothers||Paper Doll||WB014, TS001|
|1943||46||1||Xavier Cugat||Brazil||WB047, TS019|
|1943||47||1||Dick Haymes||In My Arms||TS039|
|1943||48||1||Dick Haymes||It Can’t Be Wrong||WB017, TS026|
|1943||49||1||Four Vagabonds||It Can’t Be Wrong||WB020|
|1943||50||1||Ella Fitzgerald & Ink Spots||My Heart And I Decided||WB039|
|1943||51||1||Dick Haymes||Put Your Arms Around Me Honey||TS050|
|1943||52||1||Frank Sinatra||You’ll Never Know||TS048|
|The rest of the list are “filler” for the year, nothing exceptional in there. Consider them all tied for 53rd spot, listed alphabetically by song title|
|1943||53||1||Francisco Alves||A Dama de Vermelho||TS063|
|1943||54||1||Frank Sinatra||All Or Nothing At All||WB041, TS015|
|1943||55||1||Buddy Johnson And His Orchestra||Baby Don’t You Cry||WB025|
|1943||56||1||Glenn Miller||Blue Rain||TS070|
|1943||57||1||Ted Daffan & his Texans||Born to Lose||TS088|
|1943||59||1||Frank Sinatra||Close to You||TS057|
|1943||60||1||Four Vagabonds||Comin’ in on a Wing & a Prayer||TS089|
|1943||61||1||The Song Spinners||Comin’ in on a Wing & a Prayer||TS008|
|1943||63||1||Hildegarde||Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup||TS023|
|1943||64||1||Glenn Miller||Dearly Beloved||IT003|
|1943||65||1||Glen Gray||Don’t Get Around Much Anymore||TS081|
|1943||66||1||The Ink Spots||Don’t Get Around Much Anymore||TS027|
|1943||67||1||Beverly White And Her Blues Chasers||Don’t Stop Now||WB050|
|1943||68||1||Charles Trenet||Douce France||TS078|
|1943||69||1||Lionel Hampton And His Orchestra||Flying Home||WB026|
|1943||70||1||Lionel Hampton And His Orchestra||Flying Home||WB049|
|1943||71||1||Ceele Burke||From Twilight ‘Til Dawn||WB027|
|1943||72||1||Jay McShann And His Orchestra||Get Me On Your Mind||WB040, TS082|
|1943||73||1||Andy Kirk And His 12 Clouds Of Joy||Hey Lawdy Mama||WB028|
|1943||74||1||Kate Smith||I Don’t Want to Walk Without You||TS064|
|1943||75||1||Harry James And His Orchestra||I Had The Craziest Dream||WB029, TB007|
|1943||76||1||Vera Lynn||I Had the Craziest Dream||TS065|
|1943||77||1||Dick Haymes||I Heard You Cried Last Night||WB045, TS046|
|1943||78||1||Ink Spots||If I Cared A Little Bit Less||WB056|
|1943||79||1||Bing Crosby||If You Please||TS071|
|1943||80||1||Fred Astaire||I’m Old Fashioned||TS069|
|1943||81||1||The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra||In The Blue Of The Evening||WB053, TS014|
|1943||82||1||Harry James And His Orchestra||I’ve Heard That Song Before||WB013, TS004|
|1943||83||1||Bert Ambrose & his Orchestra||Johnny Zero||TS096|
|1943||84||1||The Song Spinners||Johnny Zero||TS058|
|1943||85||1||Buddy Johnson And His Orchestra||Let’s Beat Out Some Love||WB015|
|1943||86||1||Jimmy Dorsey||Let’s Get Lost||TS091|
|1943||87||1||Kay Kyser||Let’s Get Lost||TS054|
|1943||88||1||Vaughn Monroe||Let’s Get Lost||TS036|
|1943||89||1||Harry James||Mister Five By Five||TS018|
|1943||90||1||Bert Ambrose & his Orchestra||My Devotion||TS032|
|1943||91||1||Billy Butterfield||My Ideal||TS099|
|1943||92||1||Glen Gray||My Shining Hour||TS040|
|1943||93||1||Bing Crosby & Trudy Erwin||Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’||TS017|
|1943||94||1||Mayfair Dance Orchestra||Pedro The Fisherman||TS066|
|1943||95||1||Bing Crosby & Trudy Erwin||People Will Say We’re in Love||TS024|
|1943||96||1||Frank Sinatra||People Will Say We’re in Love||TS047|
|1943||97||1||Boone’s Jumpin’ Jacks||Please Be Careful||WB032|
|1943||98||1||Dick Kuhn & his Orchestra||Put Your Arms Around Me Honey||TS075|
|1943||99||1||Glen Miller And His Orchestra||Rhapsody In Blue||WB035, TS059|
|1943||100||1||Sonny Boy Williams And His Orchestra||Rubber Bounce||WB051|
|1943||101||1||Count Basie||Rusty Dusty Blues||WB037|
|1943||102||1||Orlando Silva||Sempre em Meu Coracao||TS097|
|1943||103||1||Duke Ellington||Sentimental Lady||WB011, TS051|
|1943||104||1||Frank Sinatra||Sunday, Monday or Always||TS030|
|1943||105||1||Glenn Miller with Skip Nelson||That Old Black Magic||IT102|
|1943||106||1||Freddie Slack||That Old Black Magic||TS087|
|1943||107||1||Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five||That’ll Just ‘Bout Knock Me Out||WB046|
|1943||108||1||Ivy Benson||The Homecoming Waltz||TS098|
|1943||109||1||Tommy Dorsey & Frank Sinatra||There Are Such Things||TS009|
|1943||110||1||Jimmy Wakely||There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere||TS061|
|1943||111||1||Harry James And His Orchestra||Velvet Moon||WB033, TS044|
|1943||112||1||Charlie Barnet||Washington Whirlagig||WB031, TS084|
|1943||113||1||Vaughn Monroe||When The Lights Go On Again||TS016|
|1943||114||1||Anne Shelton||You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to||TS060|
|1943||115||1||Dick Haymes||You’ll Never Know||WB004, TS002|
|1943||116||1||Willie Kelly & his Orchestra||You’ll Never Know||TS076|
|1943||117||1||Judy Garland||Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart||TS042|