10 Classic Songs from the World War II Era

Veterans Day is now recently passed. In honor of all military, serving and veteran, here’s a small trip down memory lane of the music we listened to while in conflict around the world.


The starting point of this mini-series is WWII. Many of our parents were of that era (mine were), their music is familiar to us from when we were young, and much of their music is still with us today — classics.

I personally rate this as the song most associated with everything you might imagine from 1940s wartime America.  It catches a certain manic mood, dancing the night away while the orchestra played — because in another week the women would be alone and the men might well be storming a beach somewhere halfway across the world.

1. Benny Goodman – “Sing, Sing, Sing”


It really was a coin toss between my number-one choice and this song.

Miller was a strict perfectionist with his musicians and vocalists.  For example, he once instructed his singers, the Modernaires — Marion Hutton (younger sister of the actress Betty Hutton), Ray Eberle and Tex Beneke — to clearly articulate “Don’t sit under the apple tree,” not be lazy and have it come out as “Don’ Sid unner da Abble twee.”  You can hear that breezy precision in all of his songs.

2. Glenn Miller – “In the Mood”


Followed closely by another Miller tune. I am told that my parents heard this performed at the famous Totem Pole in Newton, Massachusetts (referred to as “America’s most beautiful ballroom”), while floating in a canoe on the Charles River outside.


3. Glenn Miller – “Moonlight Serenade”


One thing that always strikes me from listening to old songs like this: what a shame that horn sections have largely gone out of style today. Backing the “Duke,” they were jumpin’.

4. Duke Ellington – “Take the ‘A’ Train”


Yas, Yas, Minnie’s in the money, and you know that must have made her very popular!  While there was nationwide rationing, money still counted, and if you knew the right people, well, there was a U.S. black market, and people knew how to use it if they were flush.

5. Benny Goodman – “Minnie’s in the Money”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prnS5URkyc8G.I. Jive – The first verses of the song, “It starts with the bugler blowin’ reveille over your bed when you arrive / Jack, that’s the GI Jive,” refers to the morning experience of the newly arrived, green soldier in boot camp.  I remember this stuff well myself, and suspect nothing has changed in this regard since Xerxes was a pup. The drill sergeant’s Mantra: “making recruits lives miserable since 2500 BC.”

6. Johnny Mercer – “G.I. Jive”


LaVerne, Maxene, and Patti – America’s sweethearts.

7. The Andrews Sisters – “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”



A Cole Porter song. Although originally released in 1936, it took Artie Shaw to make it famous, recorded by him in the first session with his new, 14-piece band in 1936.  A “beguine” has had several meaning since the 1300s, but in this modern form, it refers to a slow, intimate dance between a couple. Pure, languid ballroom dancing.

8. Artie Shaw – “Begin the Beguine”


Doris Day was quite the attractive young woman, wasn’t she?

9. Doris Day – “Sentimental Journey”


This isn’t so much a “best song” of WWII, or even a “classic” today — its significance is that it was the most widely heard song of the war – (on both sides).  An old German love song, there were English and German versions, as well as Dietrich having recorded it for the OSSfor use in propaganda broadcasts.

10. Marlene Dietrich – “Lili Marlene”



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