The 50 Best Songs of 1945
by Seth Colter Walls | June 11, 2014
Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.
We kick off our mix of the best songs of 1945 with a series of tunes that would each prove to have a large impact on future trends. Sonny Boy Williamson's version of "Stop Breaking Down" had quite an influence on legions of bluesmen and -women yet to come. Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Strange Things Happening Every Day" was a clear precursor of rock 'n' roll. And trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High," along with saxophonist Charlie Parker's "Koko," gave the record-buying public its first taste of bebop riffage and abstraction. (The two soloists played on each other's iconic records, naturally.)
But music wasn't just dealing with its own advancement in '45, either. Woody Guthrie recorded his tuneful narration of the carnage wrought by strike-breakers during the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, his song closing with a prayer for the mine workers' union. In the contemporary sphere, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys celebrated the fast-approaching end of World War II, envisioning a day "when the powers of dictators shall be taken all away" in the lyrics to "Smoke on the Water." While sharing a similar sentiment on "The General Jumped at Dawn," the Golden Gate Quartet also pointedly used a lyric or two to honor the multiracial makeup of the American military (even if its still-segregated service units wouldn't be integrated until 1948). And Count Basie's band paid its tribute to the war effort with "G.I. Stomp."
So click play, and start exploring the ecstatic, venturesome music of a transitional year in American history. We've got the first-ever recording of Rhapsody in Blue (in its truncated form), plus hits from Frank Sinatra, Louis Jordan, Anita O'Day and Tex Ritter. Toward the end of our playlist, we even allow 1945 to put on a solo piano clinic, with cuts from Duke Ellington (playing with Billy Strayhorn), Lennie Tristano, and the great composer Bela Bartok (playing some of his own "simple" piano pieces, intended for children). From Detroit blues to Czech folk-inspired classical riffs, we've got it all. Enjoy!