What were the most popular songs during World War II?
Music played a crucial role in boosting morale during World War Two. Songs from both sides of the Atlantic topped the charts, got people on the dance floor and rallied spirits through many dark days and nights on the home front and abroad. Here are ten tunes that kept people going…
- ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ (1941)
Walter Kent & Nat Burton’s response to the battles in the skies over the English Channel is perhaps the most popular wartime songs. Though recorded in 1941 by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra, it was Vera Lynn’s 1942 recording which captured the hearts of listeners at home and abroad. It soon became an iconic song to rally the spirits of a nation, not to mention a bit of a signature tune for Vera Lynn.
- ‘We’ll Meet Again’ (1939)
Like’White Cliffs of Dover’ Ross Parker & Hughie Charles’s 1939 song was made famous by Vera Lynn, the late singer and actress who entertained the troops during WW2 and left a nation spellbound. She sang it in the 1943 film of the same name and, along with ‘White Cliffs..’ was one of the songs she is most remembered for.
Recommended recording: Vera Lynn – Keep Smiling Through
- ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ (1941)
The Andrews Sisters were massive stars in the 1940s and they made this classic song a firm favourite after they first performed it in the film Buck Privates (1941) – in which they featured, alongside stars Abbott and Costello. It was written by Don Raye & Hughie Prince.
- ‘In the Mood’ (1930/38)
Originally written as ‘Tar Paper Stomp’ by Wingy Malone in 1930, Andy Razaf & Joe Garland transformed it into arrangement with lyrics we are familiar with today. Though it had been recorded in 1938 by another big band, it’s the 1939 recording by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra which people went crazy for. That recording is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
- ‘Run, Rabbit, Run’ (1939)
Noel Gay & Ralph Butler wrote this one for the 1939 musical The Little Dog Laughed, which made it popular at the time. Flanagan & Allen soon recorded it, along with a version that poked fun at the opposing side of the war – suffice to say that version (featuring the words ‘Run, Adolf, Run’) was perhaps even more popular with many.
- ‘Everything Stops For Tea’ (1935)
Maurice Sigler, Al Goodheart & Al Hoffmann’s song was originally penned for the 1935 musical Come Out of the Pantry. The popular recording by Jack Buchanan was used by the Ministry of Food in 1940, giving it national exposure and boosting its popularity.
- ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ (1931)
This song was written by Ray Noble, Jimmy Campbell & Reg Connolly and was oft-recorded throughout the ’30s and ’40s. Its appearances in films like Angel’s Holiday (1937), The Palm Beach Story (1942) and Stage Door Canteen (1943) made it popular. It was recorded by Rudy Valee and Kenny Baker, among others, and a new recording by Nick Curtis was used as the theme tune for the ’90s BBC sitcom of the same name.
- ‘When The Lights Go On Again (All Over The World)’ (1943)
A bit like ‘We’ll Meet Again’, the message of this song by Eddie Seiler, Sol Marcus & Bennie Benjamin wasn’t lost on the millions of people living through hell at home and abroad. Vaughan Monroe & His Orchestra recorded the song most famously, and were top of the charts.
More like this
- ‘As Time Goes By’ (1931)
Written by Herman Hupfield for the Broadway musical Everybody’s Welcome, this song was made famous over a decade later by the film Casablanca (1942). Though Dooley Wilson performed the song in the film, his soundtrack version was not commercially released. Rudy Valee’s 1931 recording remains one of the most familiar, though the song has been recorded by many artists over the years.
- ‘We’re Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line’ (1939)
Perhaps one of the most famous songs sung during WW2, Michael Carr & Jimmy Kennedy’s popular tune was a comic show of defiance and something of a morale booster. The Siegfried Line refers to Germany’s fortified western border with France. It was recorded often during WW2, with notable recordings by Flanagan & Allen, Arthur Askey and Vera Lynn.
Recommended recording: 100 Hits – Wartime Memories
Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.