Popular Songs of 1941

Artie Shaw playing his clarinet
Artie Shaw

1. Frenesi – Artie Shaw
2. Amapola – Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra w/Helen O’Connell and Bob Eberly
3. Daddy – Sammy Kaye
4. Piano Concerto in B Flat – Freddy Martin
5. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy – The Andrews Sisters
6. Maria Elena – Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra
7. Song of the Volga Boatmen – Glenn Miller
8. Take the A Train – Duke Ellington
9. Green Eyes – Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra w/Helen O’Connell and Bob Eberly
10. Stardust – Artie Shaw
11. My Sister and I – Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra
12. Blue Champagne – Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra
13. Elmer’s Tune – Glenn Miller
14. God Bless the Child – Billie Holiday
15. You Are My Sunshine – Wayne King
16. The Last Time I Saw Paris – Tony Martin
17. You and I – Glenn Miller
18. You Made Me Love You – Harry James
19. We Three – The Ink Spots
20. Dancing in the Dark – Artie Shaw
21. And the Band Played On – Guy Lombardo
22. By the Sleepy Lagoon – Harry James
23. Oh! Look At Me Now – Tommy Dorsey w/Frank Sinatra
24. I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire – Horace Heidt
25. There I Go – Vaughn Monroe
26. There’ll Be Some Changes Made – Benny Goodman
27. Walking the Floor Over You – Ernest Tubb
28. Racing with the Moon – Vaughn Monroe
29. Bounce Me Brother – The Andrews Sisters
30. Dolores – Tommy Dorsey w/Frank Sinatra
31. I Hear a Rhapsody – Charlie Barnet
32. I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time – Andrews Sisters
33. Intermezzo – Earl Hines
34. Tonight We Love – Nelson Eddy
35. Perfidia – Xavier Cugat
36. Music Makers – Harry James
37. Summit Ridge Drive – Artie Shaw
38. Lament To Love – Harry James
39. This Love of Mine – Tommy Dorsey Orchestra w/Frank Sinatra
40. I Know Why – Glenn Miller

1941 was the height of the Big Band Era. The bobby-soxers may have swooned over Frank Sinatra, but it was Tommy Dorsey’s name on the record. Ditto Bob Eberle, whose silky smooth vocals with Helen O’Connell sold many a record — for Jimmy Dorsey. The musicians’ union strike was only a year away, but for 1941 the dance halls ruled, ballroom tickets were affordable, the great Depression was quickly becoming a memory, and the war was something the Europeans would have to figure out.

Sinatra was Tommy Dorsey’s lead vocalist, backed by the Pied Pipers on at least ten of his chart hits. The Pied Pipers were a quartet of three men and one woman, who happened to be Jo Stafford. Stafford’s first hit came in 1941, a song called Yes Indeed that she sang solo. Tommy Dorsey allegedly fired one of the Pied Pipers in 1942, which led to the departure of the whole group in a show of team unity. With the eventual departure of Sinatra in 1942, Tommy turned to Dick Haymes for vocal leadership. A bit of trivia: a certain trumpet player joined Dorsey after his discharge following World War II. The kid was young, and talent was still raw, but Dorsey saw something he liked. That trumpeter was Carl “Doc” Severinson.

Jimmy Dorsey ran something of a smoother ship in the early 1940s. He owned the #1 spot for 19 weeks out of 52 in 1941, a record that wouldn’t stand long — Glenn Miller eclipsed it just a year later. But don’t let that minimize Jimmy’s achievement in ’41; each of the 5 songs listed above spent at least a week on top of the charts. Amapola spent 10 weeks at #1 and is therefore one of the all-time “monster” chart toppers. It would’ve topped Artie Shaw’s Frenesi on this list, but for the fact that Shaw’s number already had a few weeks at #1 in December of 1940. [editor’s note: PopularSong.org year-by-year policy is to list a song in one year only, unless a song fell off the charts completely between chart runs.].Dorsey’s hits featured a unique 3-part format. This “A-B-C” arrangement saw Bob Eberly lead the first third, the band – led by Jimmy’s sax – took the second part, and Helen O’Connell would finish it out with a flourish. As the average playing time of a commercial 78 RPM record was 3 minutes, each “section” lasted about a minute. It was an unstoppable formula in 1941.

One of the few vocalists not tied to a Big Band in 1941 was Dinah Shore. Although Jo Stafford had a solo hit, and Billie Holiday was regarded as a solo act, both toured as part of larger orchestras. Considering that the Andrews Sisters were a group, it is generally believed (although not easy to verify) that Dinah Shore was the first female pop star to “call her own shots” if you will. Although later stars like Doris Day and Patti Page would eclipse Dinah on the charts, none would eclipse her ability to perfectly hit each note.

One of the solo artists listed on the chart above is Ernest Tubb, with one of the few times that a country song is found on a PopularSong.org annual chart. Another solo name listed above is Vaughn Monroe, but he was very much a bandleader in 1941 — still playing the trumpet as more than just an occasional diversion. Racing With the Moon would go on to become known as “Vaughn’s Theme” over the ensuing years.

The Dorseys would continue as a major draw for the next dozen or so years, although the size and scope of their various orchestras would swell and shrink. After Tommy succumbed to cancer in 1953, Jimmy combined the show, and held on for a couple more years. Jimmy’s last big hit, So Rare, was recorded just prior to his death, although it is generally believed that he did not perform on the recording. But as of 1941, The Fabulous Dorsey Brothers were on top of the world of American pop music.

Tommy (left) and Jimmy Dorsey.  This photo was taken about 15 years after their heyday.

Recommended Listening

To get a better handle on 1941 specifically, there’s a CD called Jimmy Dorsey & Orchestra – Greatest Hits that you can sort of think of as “Jimmy Dorsey 101.” Or perhaps “Intro to Jimmy Dorsey.” Whatever title you prefer, it’s a short set — just 13 songs — but includes some of the important stuff…Amapola, Besame Mucho, So Rare, Maria Elena, Green Eyes and a few other hits. It’s really just the basics, but at about five bucks, who can complain? It’s a good sounding CD.

Another terrific CD is called Sounds of the 1940s. In most of our featured recommendations we tend to stick with individual artists, but this link goes to “compilation” type CDs, a sort of all-stars of the 1940s record. It’s a convenient and affordable way to relive the sounds of yesteryear.

Additional Reading

To get the complete story on American Popular Song in 1941, you might want to check out The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands by Leo Walker. It starts with the premise that at the typical American cocktail party for the “over 35 set” during the 1950s, the conversation would inevitably turn to the Big Band Era — specifically, what happened to the dance bands of the 1940s? The less-informed would of course point to the untimely death of Glenn Miller as the turning point, while more knowledgeable guests might point to the dawn of rock and roll, or the rise of the crooner, or the musicians’ strikes that racked the 1940s. All, including the Miller fan, would be partly correct. In any case, Walker begins to answer the question by beginning at the beginning, when “jass” bands were struggling for employment. He then sweeps into the heyday of the 1930s and 1940s, where you’ll re-live the experience of the big show, the recording sessions, local gigs, life on the road, and the music business. It’s simply an outstanding book.