100 Great 1930s Records For The New Depression.

100 Great 1930s Records For The New Depression.
Originally posted autumn 2008.


Okay, here we go.

I’m working two jobs, going to school, and busy with volunteer work and other writing in my rare off hours. So this is going to be just a list with some twenty-first century snark attached. But listen to the songs: they’re great.


Rudy Vallee
100. Rudy Vallee & His Orchestra “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”
(Jay Gorney, E. Y. Harburg)
Columbia W152314 • 1932

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Crooner heartthrob shows his true colors as a spread-the-wealth socialist.


Cole Porter
99. Cole Porter “You’re The Top”
(Cole Porter)
Victor 84901 • 1934

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Playful obsession with the minutiae of pop-culture isn’t new. This is the Best Week Ever of 1934.


Ben Selvin
98. Ben Selvin & The Crooners “Happy Days Are Here Again”
(Milton Ager/Jack Yellen)
Columbia W139956 • 1930

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The campaign theme song to a photogenic, inspiring Democrat with a calm, aristocratic bearing wins over the populace after a decade of Republican boom-and-bust misrule. No comment.


Josh White
97. Josh White “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed”
(Traditional)
Perfect o258 • 1933

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White (who was black) was no Delta farmer, but a bourgeois blues stylist; think Springsteen or Mellencamp today.


Hoagy Carmichael
96. Hoagy Carmichael “Cosmics”
(Hoagy Carmichael)
Victor 78843 • 1933

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A chillout track for coming down after Bix Beiderbecke’s rave versions of Hoagy’s tunes.


Ethel Waters
95. Ethel Waters “Miss Otis Regrets”
(Cole Porter)
Decca 38349 • 1934

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Recurring theme here: working-class (i.e. folk) themes of infidelity and death are played for black comedy and camp by coastal elites. Huh.


Bob Hope & Shirley Ross
94. Bob Hope & Shirley Ross “Thanks For The Memory”
(Ralph Rainger/Leo Robin)
Decca DLA1583 • 1938

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In 1938 this was not an exercise in nostalgia; it’s actually a brittle comic playlet for Youtube attention spans.


Jeanette MacDonald
93. Jeanette MacDonald “Isn’t It Romantic?”
(Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart)
Victor 24067 • 1932

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Postmodern, self-referential pop gazes at its own navel and finds that it’s not actually that different from the straight stuff.


Buck & Bubbles
92. Buck & Bubbles “Lady Be Good”
(George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin)
Columbia W152661 • 1933

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Couple of thug-life playas do a tricked-out remix on a theater pop tune: Lil Wayne and T-Pain go American Idol.


The Raymond Scott Quartet
91. The Raymond Scott Quartet “Tobacco Auctioneer”
(Raymond Scott)
Columbia 24935 • 1939

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:jazz::turntablism:hip-hop — obsession with unique sounds, uninterested in the charts, and you can’t dance to it.


Bessie Smith
90. Bessie Smith “Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer”
(Wesley Wilson)
Okeh 8949 • 1933

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“When the world is running down you make the best of what you have.” — some douche. World’s always been running down, son.


Connee Boswell
89. Connee Boswell “The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”
(Harry Warren/Al Dubin)
Brunswick 15133 • 1934

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Green Day borrowed the title but didn’t get to the heart of the matter as well as a couple of Hollywood hacks.


The Sons Of The Pioneers
88. The Sons Of The Pioneers “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”
(Bob Nolan)
Decca DLA11 • 1934

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Funny how country music used to be about open places instead of small towns.


Fletcher Henderson
87. Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra “Down South Camp Meeting”
(Fletcher Henderson)
Decca 38603 • 1934

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The man who made jazz swing taking it back old-school. And forward new school: Glenn Miller took a bit of this for himself, the scamp.


Cab Calloway
86. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra “Minnie The Moocher (The Ho-De-Ho Song)”
(Frankie Jaxon/Cab Calloway)
Brunswick E36212 • 1931

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You know what kicking the gong around is, right? (Hint: it’s 4:20 somewhere, brah.)


Lydia Mendoza
85. Lydia Mendoza Y Conjunto “Mal Hombre”
(José Rodriguez)
Imperial DI-383 • 1934

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Only a bunch of fools and racists think that norteño ain’t good American music. Born and bred in Texas, bitches.


Jimmy Durante
84. Jimmy Durante “Inka Dinka Doo”
(Jimmy Durante/Ben Ryan)
Columbia LA105 • 1933

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Absurdist theater as a response to horrific reality didn’t start with Stoppard. Or end with Stoppard, come to that.


Al Bowlly
83. Ray Noble’s New Mayfair Orchestra with Al Bowlly “Twentieth Century Blues”
(Noel Coward)
HMV B-4001 • 1931

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Let me repeat that line: “Why/If there’s a God in the sky/Why shouldn’t He grin/High/Above this dreary/Twentieth century din.” Makes Bill Maher sound like a pussy, but that’s British modernists for you.


The Monroe Brothers
82. The Monroe Brothers “Nine Pound Hammer Is Too Heavy”
(Traditional)
Bluebird MW4747 • 1936

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How can you roll when the wheel won’t go? Folk lyrics are a bottomless well of metaphor.


Ethel Merman
81. The Johnny Green Orchestra with Ethel Merman “I Get A Kick Out Of You”
(Cole Porter)
Brunswick 16397 • 1934

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I love that there’s a song about doing coke and not getting anything out of it in 1934.


Django Reinhardt
80. The Quintette Of The Hot Club Of France “Djangology”
(Django Reinhardt)
Decca P77540 • 1935

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The kings of Fren— er, I mean freedom jazz. (Actually, take that literally; they were all wanted men under Vichy.)


Son House
79. Son House “Clarksdale Moan”
(Son House)
unreleased • 1930

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As with black metal, you don’t need to understand the lyrics to get the point.


Mildred Bailey
78. Mildred Bailey “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams”
(Harry Barris/Ted Koehler)
Brunswick E37161 • 1931

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This is terrible advice, but a great song.


Fred Astaire
77. The Johnny Green Orchestra with Fred Astaire “Let’s Face The Music And Dance”
(Irving Berlin)
Columbia LA1088 • 1936

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This is much better advice — and an even better song.


Edgard Varese
76. Nicolas Slonimsky & The Pan American Chamber Orchestra “Ionisation”
(Edgard Varèse)
Columbia A 4095N • 1934

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1) Modernist composition gets on to record three years after premiere shocka!
2) Frank Zappa, along with the Velvet Underground and free jazz, starts here.
3) The eggheads at the Manhattan Project listened to this continuously in their bunker.


Billie Holiday
75. Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra “Summertime”
(George Gershwin/DuBose Heyward/Ira Gershwin)
Vocalion CO37496 • 1936

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Note how you have to be poor and black for the livin’ to be easy. Gas prices don’t affect the barefoot.


Jimmie Rodgers
74. Jimmie Rodgers “Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel No. 8)”
(Jimmie Rodgers)
Victor 54863-1 • 1931

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Of course, poverty crosses racial lines. As do the blues.


Marlene Dietrich
73. Marlene Dietrich “Falling In Love Again”
(Frederick Hollander/Sammy Lerner)
Victor BLR6034 • 1930

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One fundamental problem with modern popular culture is its reluctance to acknowledge tragic femininity. Oprah or Dr. Phil would talk sense at this woman, get her to cry and nod, and pretend everything is all better.


Bill Robinson
72. Don Redman & His Orchestra with Bill Robinson “Doin’ The New Low-Down”
(Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields)
Brunswick 6520 • 1932

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The stuttering, off-beat rhythms of tap anticipate the chops and screws of hip-hop. Not hyperbole. Fact.


Big Bill Broonzy
71. Big Bill Broonzy “W.P.A. Rag”
(Bill Broonzy)
Vocalion C2325 • 1938

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The Works Progress Administration employed millions of Americans in civic, infrastructural, and educational jobs in order to end the Depression. It didn’t exactly work, but it made a whole lot of people feel better.


Mae West
70. Mae West “I Like A Guy What Takes His Time”
(Ralph Rainger)
Brunswick 6675 • 1933

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Compare with e.g. Jenna Jameson, another canny businesswoman who’s exploited the deep-seated American fascination with sexuality even while hampered by a profound inability to act. Except West’s orgasmic moans are more believable.


Ida Cox
69. Ida Cox & Her All-Star Band “Hard Time Blues”
(Bessie Smith)
Vocalion 05298 • 1939

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By 1939, this was more or less a nostalgia act. Except that the times were still hard.


Walter Huston
68. Walter Huston “Semptember Song”
(Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson)
Brunswick 23732 • 1938

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Once upon a time, some people publicly acknowledged that aging was something normal and even valuable. Yeah, that’s not making a comeback any time soon.


Louis Armstrong
67. Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra “Star Dust”
(Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish)
Columbia W151885 • 1931

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It sounds like he doesn’t even know the lyrics, but he pulls it off anyway. But enough about Lil Wayne.


Bunny Berigan
66. Bunny Berigan & His Orchestra “I Can’t Get Started”
(Vernon Duke/Ira Gershwin)
Victor 011675 • 1937

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Would something about how venture capital is all frozen meaning business startups are suffering all over be too much of a stretch? Probably.


Lonnie Johnson
65. Lonnie Johnson “Jersey Belle Blues”
(Lonnie Johnson)
Bluebird MW7927 • 1939

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Huh huh. He said titty. (Oh, and electric guitar alert.)


Duke Ellington
64. Duke Ellington & His Orchestra “Mood Indigo”
(Duke Ellington/Barney Bigard)
Victor 64811 • 1930

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Man, I’d so much rather never get over having the blues than suffer from chronic depression, I can’t even tell you.


Patsy Montana
63. Patsy Montana & The Prairie Ramblers “Back On Montana Plains”
(Stuart Hamblen)
Vocalion WC2769 • 1939

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You know, where they grow good people.


Blind Boy Fuller
62. Blind Boy Fuller “Rag Mama Rag”
(Traditional)
Columbia CO37776 • 1935

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Nothing to do with the Band tune.


Dave Tarras
61. Al Glaser’s Buconiaer Kapelle with Dave Tarras “Bessarabian Hora”
(Traditional)
Decca 18025 • 1939

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Russia oppresses local minority; film at eleven. On an unrelated note, I’m kicking myself for not having gotten deeply into klezmer before now.


Marian Anderson
60. Marian Anderson “Motherless Child”
(Traditional)
HMV DA 1597 • 1936

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She could have sung this at FDR’s fuck-you to the DAR. Look it up. (Black folks in Washington — not exactly irrelevant.)


Cliff Bruner
59. Cliff Bruner’s Texas Wanderers “It Makes No Difference Now”
(Floyd Tillman)
Decca 64504 • 1938

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Funny how country music used to be about heartbreak.


Solomon Linda’s Evening Birds
58. Solomon Linda’s Evening Birds “Mbube”
(Solomon Linda)
Singer GB.829 • 1939

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A nation under apartheid finds that its black population produces stunningly creative music, virtually overwhelming the white competition. No, the other nation under apartheid.


Dick Powell
57. Dick Powell & His Orchestra “Lulu’s Back In Town”
(Harry Warren/Al Dubin)
Brunswick B17723 • 1935

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Lulu = prostitute. Just FYI.


The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet
56. The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet “Rock My Soul”
(Traditional)
Bluebird 23461 • 1938

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The first rock & roll record. Okay, a first rock & roll record.


The Delmore Brothers
55. The Delmore Brothers “Fifteen Miles From Birmingham”
(Alton Delmore/Rabon Delmore)
Bluebird 27645 • 1938

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Funny how country music used to be about actual places.


Sonny Boy Williamson
54. Sonny Boy Williamson “Good Morning Little School Girl”
(John Lee Curtis Williamson)
Bluebird 7649 • 1937

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Oh my God oh my God oh my God someone call Chris Hansen


Lee Wiley
53. Lee Wiley with The Max Kaminsky Orchestra “But Not For Me”
(George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin)
Liberty Music Shop L284 • 1939

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The Great American Songbook tradition starts here, as a white jazz singer delves into a ten-year-old catalogue and delivers a thoughtful, patient interpretation.


The Ink Spots
52. The Ink Spots “With Plenty Of Money And You”
(Harry Warren/Al Dubin)
Decca 61583 • 1937

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Bling and bitches, yo. Game recognize game. There’s even a rap.


Bai Hong
51. Bai Hong “Wo Yao Hui Jia”
(Chen Dong-sun/Yao Min)
Pathé • 1936

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You thought I was going to say something about the Olympics or I for one welcome our new, but actually I’ve been reading a lot of Terry & The Pirates lately.


Harry Richman
50. Harry Richman & The Earl Burtnett Orchestra “Puttin’ On The Ritz”
(Irving Berlin)
Brunswick LAE672 • 1930

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The last great minstrel song. No, I’m totally serious. On both fronts.


Noel Coward
49. Noel Coward “Mad Dogs And Englishmen”
(Noel Coward)
Victor OB4210 • 1932

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Man I can’t wait until the United States is comfortable enough with its imperial status to habitually condescend to brown people like this. Or, less sarcastically, until we can make fun of our own damn selves so easily.


Bill Gaither
48. Bill Gaither “Who’s Been Here Since I Been Gone?”
(Bill Gaither)
Decca 90943 • 1936

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Part of me wishes this was the Southern Gospel singer Bill Gaither, not least because my mom really loves that music. The other part of me likes Warren Smith’s update a lot better.


Roy Acuff
47. Roy Acuff & His Crazy Tennesseans “Wabash Cannonball”
(A. P. Carter)
Vocalion C1589 • 1936

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A song about how great a form of mass transit is? Must be some kind of pinko.


Don Azpiazu
46. Don Azpiazu & His Havana Casino Orchestra “El Manicero (The Peanut Vendor)”
(Moises Simon)
Victor 62152 • 1930

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First Latin American recording on the Hit Parade. More Ricky Martin than Shakira, but everything’s got to start somewhere.


Maxine Sullivan
45. Maxine Sullivan & The Claude Thornhill Orchestra “Loch Lomond”
(Traditional)
Vocalion 21472 • 1937

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You can swing anything, even a Scottish folk ballad. (Just like you can rag anything, jazz anything, rock anything, punk anything, or sample anything. Yaddadamin.)


Harold Arlen
44. Leo Reisman & His Orchestra with Harold Arlen “Happy As The Day Is Long”
(Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler)
Victor 76072 • 1933

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Pretty sure there’s more Arlen on this list than any other composer. There’s a reason for that: he sang white but wrote black.


Speckled Red
43. Speckled Red “The Dirty Dozen No. 2”
(Rufus Perryman)
Brunswick C5584 • 1930

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Oh, snap. Dude owned you before your mamma was even born. (Bonus points: he’s an albino.)


Cliff Edwards
42. Cliff Edwards “It’s Only A Paper Moon”
(Harold Arlen/E. Y. Harburg)
Vocalion 14143 • 1933

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Man with the trick voice and the wacky name from my 1920s list is an elegant crooner here. Fitzgerald was wrong.


Ella Fitzgerald
41. Chick Webb & His Orchestra with Ella Fitzgerald “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”
(Al Feldman/Ella Fitzgerald)
Decca 63693 • 1938

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When you’re the greatest jazz singer ever, you can sing any old thing and turn it to gold. Even a nursery rhyme. And not one of the better  nursery rhymes, either, but a strong contender for Mother Goose’s retarded stepchild.


Art Tatum
40. Art Tatum “Tea For Two”
(Vincent Youmans/Irving Caesar)
Decca DLA1759 • 1939

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Tatum wasn’t so much a virtuoso performer as a technician who turned tunes inside out, a remixer who used pianos instead of haxxored software.


Hoagy Carmichael & Ella Logan
39. Hoagy Carmichael & Ella Logan with The Perry Botkin Orchestra “Two Sleepy People”
(Hoagy Carmichael/Frank Loesser)
Brunswick LA1730 • 1938

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“Now I call him Pops” is one of my favorite ad-libs in all of pop, even if Hoagy flubs the line.


Carmen Miranda
38. Carmen Miranda “Gente Bamba”
(Ary Barraso)
Odeon • 1937

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It’s bossa nova! That exclamation point won’t mean anything to you unless you’re pretty familiar with the contours of Brazilian pop history, though. (Bossa nova wasn’t invented until like 1959.)


The Memphis Jug Band
37. The Memphis Jug Band “Memphis Shakedown”
(Traditional)
Okeh C0803 • 1934

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Those sounds are so weird and out of place it might as well be a Timbaland track. The impulse to funky bizarrity is the same.


Count Basie
36. Count Basie & His Orchestra with Helen Humes “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea”
(Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler)
Columbia WC26280 • 1939

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The Count on piano, the President on saxophone, and the least-justly-forgotten singer of the age out front. This is what happens when pop fights back against economic reality: grace.


Charley Patton
35. Charley Patton “High Water Everywhere”
(Charlie Patton)
Paramount L0059 • 1930

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And this is what happens when pop takes stock of economic reality. The abyss gazes back.


Bing Crosby
34. Bing Crosby with Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me”
(Harry Warren/Al Dubin)
Brunswick 12887 • 1933

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Take a second to appreciate just how many notes Warren stuffs into a tune. Lyricist Dubin had to race to keep up.


Lotte Lenya
33. Lotte Lenya & The Three Admirals with Theo Mackaben’s Jazz Orchestra “Alabama Song”
(Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht)
Ultraphon A 371 • 1930

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European sophisticates mocking American rubes? Or predicting Palin rallies? We report, you decide.


Fats Waller
32. Fats Waller & His Rhythm “Honeysuckle Rose”
(Thomas Waller/Andy Razaf)
Victor 84921 • 1934

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He wrote the damn thing, but he still can’t keep from making fun of it. I don’t wanna keep bringing up Lil Wayne again, but, well.


Jimmie Lunceford
31. The Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra “Rhythm Is Our Business”
(Jimmie Lunceford/Sammy Cahn/Mike Kaplan)
Decca 39172 • 1934

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That opening drill anticipates hip-hop in the layered beats dudes lay down. No foolin’.


Cole Porter
30. Cole Porter “Anything Goes”
(Cole Porter)
Victor 86065 • 1934

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Man if I have to read one more rant about the Dumbing Down Of Culture and Modern Sexually Permissive Atmospheres and For In Other Days It Was Not So . . . you tell ’em, Cole.


The 5 Spirits Of Rhythm
29. The 5 Spirits Of Rhythm “I Got Rhythm”
(George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin)
Brunswick 1715 • 1933

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Take note, fifties buffs: doo wop starts here.


Frances Langford
28. Frances Langford “I’m In The Mood For Love”
(Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields)
Brunswick LA1069 • 1935

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Ballads that don’t beat you over the head with how goddamn much the singer is feeling. I miss those.

Photograph © Terry Cryer

27. Count Basie & His Orchestra with Jimmy Rushing “Blues In The Dark”
(Count Basie/Jimmy Rushing)
Columbia 63123 • 1938

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The Biggie of his day teams up with the Dre of his day, and I am only a little bit kidding as to how apt those comparisons are.


Ruth Etting
26. Ruth Etting “Ten Cents A Dance”
(Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart)
Columbia W150062 • 1930

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In the thirties they had girls you could pay to dance with for the space of a song; today it’s strippers. Same basic concept, though.


Wilmouth Houdini
25. Wilmouth Houdini & His Orchestra“Black But Sweet”
(Wilmouth Houdini)
Melotone E37022 • 1931

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Okay, why didn’t anyone tell me that calypso in the 1930s was comparable to reggae in the 1970s? Thanks to Harry Belafonte’s (unintentional) kitschification of the stuff, I’d been ignoring it like a dope. Till now, anyway.


Libby Holman
24. Libby Holman “Love For Sale”
(Cole Porter)
Brunswick E35973 • 1931

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(Thought continued from #26.) Prostitution, however, has remained pretty much the same over the years.


Bukka White
23. Bukka White “Shake ’Em On Down”
(Traditional)
Vocalion C1997 • 1937

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Listen to how he gets ahead of himself. Rock & roll again.


The Benny Goodman Sextet
22. The Benny Goodman Sextet “Flying Home”
(Lionel Hampton)
Columbia 26131 • 1939

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And here it is, folks: the first great electric guitar solo. Buckethead, eat your heart out.


Gene Autry
21. Gene Autry & His String Band “Dust”
(Gene Autry/Johnny Marvin)
Melotone LA1453 • 1937

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Bit weird to find TV star and all-round 50s blandster Autry doing credible country music — and even folk music of the Woody Guthrie stamp. But that’s how it goes. Everyone sells out, or dies.


Judy Garland
20. Judy Garland & The Victor Young Orchestra “Over The Rainbow”
(Harold Arlen/E. Y. Harburg)
Decca DLA1840 • 1939

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I know everyone’s grown up with it so that it’s no more remarkable than “Old MacDonald Had A Farm,” but goddammit it’s still a great song and to those who charge it (and Hollywood generally) with escapism, Tolkien was right.


Bob Wills
19. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys “Steel Guitar Rag”
(Leon McAuliffe)
Columbia C1479 • 1936

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It all comes down to bopping our heads in ragtime, as the man says. Country hicks, city slicks, and jack flashes alike: Americans must syncopate or die.


Lead Belly
18. Lead Belly “Gallis Pole”
(Traditional)
Musicraft 227 • 1939

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Death and glory, man, death and glory. What else is pop music ultimately about?


Paul Robeson
17. Paul Robeson “Ol’ Man River”
(Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II)
Brunswick 12096 • 1932

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Part of me always wants to resist the commodification of actual human suffering as pop materials, of which Show Boat is a particular apotheosis, but then that what the blues are too, so I dunno. (It’s what emo is too, but as a thirty-year-old dude I reserve the right to be unconvinced by teenage angst.)


The Blue Sky Boys
16. The Blue Sky Boys “Down On The Banks Of The Ohio”
(Traditional)
Bluebird MW5033 • 1936

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Funny how country music used to be about murdering girls horribly.


The Mills Brothers
15. The Mills Brothers “Tiger Rag”
(Traditional)
Decca 38641 • 1934

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First jazz song on record. Not this version, you dope. This is the first example of vocalese, which through various permutations became rapping.


Cab Calloway
14. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra “St. James Infirmary”
(Traditional)
Brunswick E35882 • 1930

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I love this because I love the Betty Boop cartoon, and nothing you can do can take that away from me.


The Mississippi Sheiks
13. The Mississippi Sheiks “Sitting On Top Of The World”
(Walter Vinson/Lonnie Chatmon)
Okeh 403805 • 1930

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Two thoughts: first, that the narrative here is almost identical to the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon,” and second, that it’s surely based to some degree on the Al Jolson song of the same name, which was Broadway minstrelsy.


Joe Turener & Pete Johnson
12. Joe Turner & Pete Johnson “Roll ’Em Pete”
(Pete Johnson/Joe Turner)
Vocalion CO35959 • 1938

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Another first rock & roll record, but rockinger and rollinger than anything before. Boogie woogie is uncle to us all.


The Boswell Sisters
11. The Boswell Sisters “Lullaby Of Broadway”
(Harry Warren/Al Dubin)
unreleased • 1935

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NOLA’s least-heralded musical daughters. Jazz swing vocal hepcats stuck making music for Hollywood and overshadowed by the brassier, less talented Andrews Sisters a decade later. What the fuck, cultural memory, what the fuck?


Blind Alfred Reed
10. Blind Alfred Reed “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?”
(Alfred Reed)
Victor 57745 • 1930

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“The poor you will have with you always.” Which is no excuse.


Ethel Waters
9. Ethel Waters & The Charlie Ventura Orchestra “Stormy Weather”
(Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler)
Brunswick 13292 • 1933

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I once wrote a story based on the line “ol’ rockin’ chair will get me.” It’s a spinster thing.


Skip James
8. Skip James “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues”
(Skip James)
Paramount L0752 • 1931

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I love the imagery in so many of these songs, hard times comin’ door to door like the milkman or the repo man or the Angel of Death. Compare that to the economic analysis you read over breakfast today. Only place to find imagery so concrete and specific these days is — you guessed it — hip-hop.


Duke Ellington
7. Duke Ellington & His Orchestra with Ivie Anderson “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”
(Duke Ellington/Irving Mills)
Brunswick 6265 • 1932

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Now you know that I love all different kinds of beats. However, the title of this song gets it exactly right. Rhythm is gonna get you.


The Carter Family
6. The Carter Family “No Depression In Heaven”
(A. P. Carter)
Decca 61135 • 1936

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Whenever I hear one of the Carter Family’s masterpieces, not only do I want to sing along, I want everyone to be singing along. There’s something so universal about them that makes the trip across seventy years and back seem like nothing.


Louis Armstrong
5. Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra “When The Saints Go Marching In”
(Traditional)
Decca 63777 • 1938

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And that goes double for Satch.


Slim & Slam
4. Slim & Slam “The Flat Foot Floogie”
(Slim Gaillard/Slam Stewart/Bud Green)
Vocalion 22318 • 1938

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It’s called jive. Nonsense set to a caffeinated swing, the sort of freeing gibberish that American pop has always done uniquely well. Back it up like burp, burp.


Fred Astaire
3. Fred Astaire with Johnny Green & His Orchestra “The Way You Look Tonight”
(Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields)
Brunswick LA1134 • 1936

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One of the most graceful unions of melody and sentiment ever produced by human hands. I will never not love this song.


Robert Johnson
2. Robert Johnson “Hellhound On My Trail”
(Robert Johnson)
Vocalion DAL394 • 1937

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Another first rock & roll song: the dark, violent, demonic edge of rock & roll. Blues falling down like hail or like hell, what’s the difference, it’s the end of the world and nobody makes it out alive.


Billie Holiday
1. Billie Holiday “Strange Fruit”
(Lewis Allen)
Commodore Music Shop WP-24403 • 1939

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If I gotta say why, you wouldn’t have understood in the first place. But anyway, yes, it’s got something to do with Obama, and something to do with the fact that I wept at the Lincoln Memorial this summer, and something to do with the fact that Billie Holiday stood in danger of her life when singing this song in Southern clubs and sang it anyway. Others abide our question; she is free.

23 Thoughts on “100 Great 1930s Records For The New Depression.

  1. WOW!!! These were all just a little before my time, but am amazed at how many have been copied by later artists. Was very surprised to see the Ink Spots had recorded a song in ’37…

    Absolutely LOVED the one with Patsy Montano doing the yodeling…hope you will have a whole section of ‘yodeling’ music…That is something not heard anymore.

    One of the things that just make this site perfect are your comments…I haven’t laughed so much in a long time…:)
    Many many big huggiez,
    Erkie
    PS…Hope it is ok to forward your site address…:)

  2. James Butler on January 26, 2009 at 12:25 am said:

    Your website brings a lot of happiness.
    Thank you seems too little to say.

    Jim
    Mindanao Island

  3. marvin davis on March 1, 2009 at 12:25 pm said:

    finding your website absolutely made my day.. It’s a Wow

  4. Ian Whippoorwill on July 6, 2009 at 4:10 pm said:

    I think you may have Fats Waller’s recording of “Two Sleepy People” there instead of Hoagy’s. Not that I’m complaining.

  5. Whoops! Don’t know how that happened…

    It’s been fixed.

  6. Ian Whippoorwill on July 8, 2009 at 4:24 pm said:

    Great work here, by the way.

  7. Ariel on July 21, 2009 at 1:27 pm said:

    I was doing research and stumbled across this site and found myself not doing work and instead enjoying the blast from the past. I was wondering if you might have any information on ANY song created in the 30’s and 40’s written about JOE LOUIS. I want to find all the songs that artists created about him and have about 16. SOme of these 16 i cant find the record information that im searching for others i need to just straight up, find. any guidance, input, etc. would be much appreciated. thanks again.

  8. Karel Rei on September 4, 2009 at 5:08 pm said:

    Yes! Love what you do.

  9. Found your site while looking for walter huston and september song-the original words (recorded) were somewhat different then those i found printed out and much more amusing. Mae West was good too. Thanks, Jinny

  10. The picture you have for #9 is not Ethel Waters, it’s Maxine Sullivan. Your picture of Ethel Waters at #95 is her. You can see it’s not the same woman.

  11. Frank3D on April 27, 2010 at 3:54 am said:

    Love the music, and your commentary! A lot of classics, along with some unknown or little-known treats! Thanks!

    [And it would be great if you could change picture 9. Fnarf is right. That is Maxine Sullivan, and not Ethel Waters. Actually, I was doing research on Ms. Sullivan when I found your page!]

    Thanks again! 🙂

  12. Donna Fletcher on May 18, 2010 at 7:48 am said:

    What a treasure trove! Great sound quality, and your comments add to the many pleasures…

  13. James Butler on May 27, 2010 at 4:57 am said:

    You have a comment posted by “me” already. However I never posted it.

  14. Thomas Cook on September 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm said:

    Holy cats, you just put the day’s fruitless job search in perspective. Thanks so much.

  15. Sir, the photograph of Jimmy Rushing singin with The Humprey Lyttleton band is my copyright and may only be used if my name appears with it, otherwise please remove it from the site.Terry Cryer

  16. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  17. Andrus Anderson on January 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm said:

    My deepest respect for this page! Sweet sounds for my ears. Thank you!

  18. Fred on March 1, 2011 at 8:41 pm said:

    Where did you get the picutre of Son House. Are you sure that it’s authentic?

  19. I got it from Google Image Search. None of these pictures are guaranteed to be authentic.

  20. anabltc on June 10, 2011 at 1:02 pm said:

    aaargh, ive been reading this for three days now! i forget to do other stuff. thnx thnx

  21. William Davis on October 30, 2011 at 9:55 am said:

    This site is keeping me from doing any work. It’s so close to perfect. But, and isn’t there always a but, there is one glaring example absent from the 1930s section. If there isn’t a more appropriate song for the New Depression than the Al Durbin/Harry Warren song, “Remember My Forgotten Man”, I can’t imagine what it might be. Returning vets without jobs (WWI or Iraq and Afghanistan), Occupy Wall Street (or the Bonus Army), the 99% of forgotten men and women. No better version than Joan Blondell and Emma Moten, but Hal Kemp did record it also. You need to make it “101 Great 1930s Records for the New Depression”.

  22. From the big busted Mae West to the Carter Family, from Hoagy Carmichael to Lydia Mendoza,from Fred Astaire to Blind Boy Fuller The dirty thirties were a diversified entertaining decade. And era my father and mother knew well. And out of sight site.Hey it’s Robert Johnson! now it’s Gene Autry, WOW

  23. Bob Wills “Steel Guitar Rag” is an alternate take with a breakdown. The real one opens with: “Take It Away Leon, Take It Away.”

    Also that is not a picture of the Bob Wills Band. He never had an accordian in his band.
    I knew him personally. Check out my YouTube channel. Radiobob 805.

    I love all the work you’ve done and it’s a great choice of music. You should join us on the Both Sides Now Music Chat Group.

    I like that audio player, too. I have over 100 interviews on alycefaye.com so I know how much work you’ve done. Great job. I’m jealous.