Top hits from the 1920s and how they live on today

The sound of popular music in the 1920s was largely the sound of America. Recorded music was still in its infancy – by 1925, there were only 60,000 people in Australia with a radio license. But in America, musical forms like jazz, blues and country were bursting out of dancehalls and being exported by a rapidly growing recording industry and beamed around the world through the magic of cinema.

What’s surprising about these hits of the 1920s? How many of them have lived on through the decades since.

To hear these and our other favourite tracks from the 1920s, check out our playlist on Spotify
learn how to use Spotify here)


I Wanna Be Loved By You (1928)

Remember Betty Boop? She was a real person. Helen Kane’s cutesy-pie scat ‘boop-boop-a-doop’ made her a darling of the flappers and although her career was short-lived, her best-known song was rendered unforgettable by Marilyn Monroe in ‘Some Like it Hot’ in 1959; a later, more surprising cover version came from Irish singer Sinead O’Connor.


 Walk Right In (1929)

Cannon’s Jug Stompers were one of the first popular jug bands, so called because of the improvised instruments they used – the jug was a large bottle played with buzzed lips for a trombone-like sound. The 1960s saw a revival, with bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival recording jug band tributes like ‘Down on the Corner’; and 1970s music fans might know ‘Walk Right In’ better by the chart-topping Dr Hook cover.


Ol’ Man River (1927)

Despite being written by a white New Yorker, this show tune from the stage production ‘Show Boat’ (Hammerstein, pre-Rogers) became a classic song of the American South, with its most enduring expression in the 1936 film version of the musical, sung by Paul Robeson.


T for Texas (Blue Yodel #1, 1928)

‘The Singing Brakeman’, Jimmy Rodgers, is also known as the ‘Father of Country Music’ for his contribution to the early popularisation of this musical style. While the subject matter of his songs has much in common with today’s country music, sadly the yodel has fallen out of favour since the 1920s. What Keith Urban song couldn’t benefit from a little yodelling?


My Mammy – Al Jolson (1927)

As the first talking film, ‘The Jazz Singer’ caused a sensation and spawned an incredibly popular soundtrack. Today, Al Jolson’s blackface performance is a stark reminder of the racist attitudes of the time.


West End Blues (1928)

When Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five walked into a Chicago recording studio to record this song in June 1928, it was just as important a moment in pop music history as Elvis’ famous first Sun Studio session. It captured the revolutionary style and skills that would make Armstrong an international sensation with a five-decade long career. This record is recognized as hugely influential on rock and roll music. 


Charleston (1923)

A dance (from the city of Charleston in South Carolina) before it was a song, the Charleston rhythm conquered the world when this tune appeared in the Broadway show ‘Runnin’ Wild’. Musical theatre was often the launching pad for the hits of the 1920s, which then found renewed fame when they were reinterpreted in films of the 1930s and 40s. The Charleston dance morphed into the Lindy Hop, which went on to become rock and roll dancing in the 1950s, and still has a passionate following today.


Puttin’ on the Ritz (1929)

This tune by one the era’s great songwriters, Irving Berlin, was a smash when it appeared in the 1930 film of the same name, and has since been recorded by countless artists including Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Fred Astaire who reprised it for the 1946 film ‘Blue Skies’. And more recently, by Dutch singer Taco in 1982 (it hit #5 on the Aussie charts and stormed to #1 in New Zealand), and Robbie Williams in mid-career crooner mode in 2013.


To hear these and our other favourite tracks from the 1920s, check out our playlist on Spotify
learn how to use Spotify here)

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