Top 10 Best Big Band Songs

Updated on June 9, 2017

List of Greatest Big Band Songs

Love to dance to the music of the Swing Era? Here are the best big band songs.
Love to dance to the music of the Swing Era? Here are the best big band songs.

The roots of big band music date back to the 1930s and '40s when a group of 12 to 25 musicians used to play arranged jazz music.The era was popularly called the Swing Era, and the large ensembles that played this music (often collaborations of more than a dozen musicians) were called big bands.

The Swing Era was known for dancing and swinging around to the music of big band orchestras. Every big band had its own bandleader, lead arranger, and personnel. The band usually reflected the personality of its band leader, each of whom had his or her own style. Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Duke Ellington led some of the most popular big bands of the era.

Here is a list of 100 greatest songs by big bands during the Swing Era. Almost all of the songs included in the list are from the '30s and '40s. The list also includes a few famous songs that big bands covered.

If you find any of your favorite big band songs missing, then let me know in the comments.

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Top 10 Big Band Songs

Below is the list of my top 10 big band songs.

Benny Goodman - One of the Best Artist

"Chattanooga Choo Choo" by the Glen Miller Orchestra

This classic tells the tale of a man travelling from New York to Chattanooga. Recorded in 1941 for the film Sun Valley Serenade, this song became the world's first certified gold record the following year for selling a record-breaking 1,200,000 copies.

"Mack the Knife" by Bobby Darin

This song was originally written in germ on for the musical drama Die Dreigroschenoper. While it was composed by Kurt Weill, and the lyrics were written by Bertolt Brecht, the most famous version is an English version by Bobby Darin.

"I'll Never Smile Again" by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra

This song was originally written by a woman, Ruth Lowe. However, the most successful version—eventually being added to the Grammy Hall of Fame over 40 years after it was recorded—was by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra. The lead singer in this version is Frank Sinatra.

"Stardust" by Nat King Cole

"Stardust" is a famous song covered by many of the star voices of the big band era. It was written in 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael, and lyrics were added two years later by Mitchell Parish. Famous covers include ones by Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Doris Day, and Ella Fitzgerald. Perhaps one of the best covers of the song is by Nat King Cole.

"White Christmas" by Bing Crosby

This song, which appears in the classic Christmas film of the same name, is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling single of all time. A perennial favorite, the song was actually written by Irving Berlin.He was the first artist to inspire celebrity portrait tattoos, a trend which is very popular now.

"Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)" by Billie Holiday

This distinctive Billie Holiday song was written for her by Jimmy Davis, Roger Ramirez, and James Sherman. It talks about a woman's longing for someone to love her, and the melody perfectly captures that longing.

"Begin the Beguine" by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra

A Beguine is a slow couple's dance in the Caribbean, and this song was written by Cole Porter during a cruise (albeit the cruise was not in the Caribbean, but in the Pacific).

"In the Mood" by Glenn Miller

This song by Glenn Miller was one of the greatest hits of the Swing Era. It has been so influential that NPR includes it on its list of "the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century."

"Take the A Train" by Duke Ellington

This song was Duke Ellington's most famous. It describes how to get to Harlem "in a hurry." And Ellington says the song also came to him in a flash; he says he composed it without thinking, "like writing a letter to a friend."

"Sing Sing Sing" by Benny Goodman

This song, most famously covered by Benny Goodman, was originally written by Luigi "Louis" Prima. Goodman's recording is unusual for its length; most big band songs were limited to the three minutes so that they could fit on one side of a 10-inch record. On the other hand, one record recording of "Sing, Sing, Sing" is roughly nine minutes long!

Shout out loud about your favorite song from Swing Era in the comment section below.

Questions & Answers

    Your Favorite Big Band Song: Share Your Thoughts, Comments, and Suggestions or Just Say "Hi"

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      • profile image

        dave danze 

        2 months ago

        Why can't I find any history of the big band tune "Always"? One of my favorites! Benny Goodman played it. Who wrote it?

        Any tips appreciated!

      • profile image

        ray ritter 

        11 months ago

        I'm looking for the songs from the most popular singers from yhew big baND ERA

      • profile image

        ray 

        12 months ago

        Do you have the following songs: teach me tonight,hey there

      • profile image

        Michelle ET Chamberlain 

        13 months ago

        I grew up with the Big Band / Swing era with my Dad, however also loved the little band sound with the english Bands of the 20,s, 30,s and 40,s they will be with me forever. I cherish this kind music forever!

      • profile image

        '96rev 

        14 months ago

        No sinatra though?

      • profile image

        Oic117 

        2 years ago

        Surely the greattest bib band track has to be Stardust by the Artie Shaw band withe Billy Butterfield on trumpet

      • profile image

        Jimmy Dorsey 

        2 years ago

        There was an album that played Tommy Dorsey's rendition of (In the Mood) (Tuxedo Junction) along with a few other big band hits. It was a differnt band then the original Dorsey's but was recorded with some of the same musicians and was recorded I think the seventies or eighties.I was a mobile DJ in the late eighties and early to mid nineties and used the cd for those tracks. The quality of the stereo sound was terrific and always made the wedding I did a smash. I forgot the name of the band. Can anyone one recall the cd I'm referring to.

      • profile image

        the Man 

        3 years ago

        sing sing sing all the way

      • profile image

        Lynnette Witwer 

        3 years ago

        great selection! I'm a believer!

      • profile image

        John Felix Koziol 

        4 years ago

        My dad was born in 1925 and also was a World War II vet so the big band sound was prevalent during his time and, thanks to him, I fell in love with the music too.

      • sheilamarie78 profile image

        Sheilamarie 

        5 years ago from British Columbia

        My dad loved this music, but I only learned to appreciate it after I moved out on my own.

      • MysticHipGyp profile image

        MysticHipGyp 

        5 years ago

        Swing Swing Swing of course <3

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        5 years ago

        "I've Heard That Song Before"-Harry James I was in college '45-'49 and a DJ in Lincoln, NE '50-'51 and a GI '51-'52 and crooner

        "wanna-be" before going to New York for a career in advertising so i was overwhelmed, and still am, by the music of those years.

        Truly the Golden Years of singers, musicians and writers. Thanks for this terrific "reminder" of those wonderful years.

      • JeffGilbert profile image

        JeffGilbert 

        5 years ago

        A lot of great tunes over the years. Very nice lens!! :)

      • ManipledMutineer profile image

        ManipledMutineer 

        5 years ago

        Some great tracks here - good to see Stardust near the top of the top 100, also some tracks cut by lesser-known but still great bandleaders like Bunny Berigan and Charlie Barnet

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Can't find the title, but was listening to one that had a line like: "wish I was still in love, miss those conversations with the throwing dishes/plates" something on that line, cracked me up! Anyone know the title?

      • profile image

        thomanna 

        6 years ago

        I used to play the trumpet. Haven't picked it up in years. "In The Mood" was always my favorite song to play in my high school jazz band.

      • profile image

        DollarTycoon 

        6 years ago

        Great Lens! I was not born in that era, but I enjoy it!

      • Phillyfreeze profile image

        Ronald Tucker 

        6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

        Living in Harlem, New York in the late 1970s I would take the A train to work...Duke Ellingtons rendition has always been one of my favorite Big Band recordings.

      • daveframer lm profile image

        daveframer lm 

        6 years ago

        I remember growing and watching tv, one of my favorite movies was The Glenn Miller Story, and there cames my introduction to Big Band music, I still like to listen to big band music at Christmas time ,like Bing.

      • MusicFan57 profile image

        MusicFan57 

        6 years ago

        Great lens. Our cable company took away the big band channel, which I used to listen to constantly. Really miss it.

      • hughgrissettsr lm profile image

        hughgrissettsr lm 

        6 years ago

        best big band lens i've seen! you really have a through knowledge of popular music!

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