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100 Essential Songs

of the

20th Century

Selected by Roger Lee Hall

The classification of a song is a short piece having both words and music, and thus there are no instrumental works included on this list.

The categories include:

classical
folk
blues
jazz
pop (or easy listening)
stage musicals
movie songs
country & western
rhythm & blues
rock n' roll

This list consists of mainly American songs with a few British ones as well and not meant to slight songs in other languages such as Italian, French or Spanich, but necessary to keep the list of a manageable size.

Naturally not all the great songs could be included.

It is more concentrated on the earlier decades of the 1920s-1950s which are not as well known to some listeners and need to be preserved.

Naturally it is a matter of subjective opinion which song might be more worthwhile than another.  

The survey is based on three criteria:

1. songs which are representative of a musical style.
2. songs evoking their historical period.
3.songs
chosen because of their popularity.

The list of 100 songs is not based solely on surveys such as the Billboard charts, but the authoritative reference books by Joel Whitburn were used as sources and are indicated where appropriate.

 
 + = Top 100 hits (8 or more weeks at No. 1) in
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories, 1890 - 1954
   
 
                                                                                               

 * = Top 100 Singles, 1955-1995 (3 or more weeks at No. 1) in The Billboard Top 100 Singles, 1955-1995,
compiled by Joel Whitburn
     
 
               
                                                                                                         

Note:  Songs are arranged  by date, not by popularity or Billboard listing

 

I.   1900-1909:

1.  "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (1900) -
words: James W. Johnson/ music: J. Rosamond Johnson

2. +"Sweet Adeline" (1903) -
w: Richard H. Gerard/ m: Harry Armstrong

3.   "Toyland" (1903) - w: Glen McDonough/ m: Victor Herbert

4. +"Meet Me in St. Louis" (1904) -
w: Arthur B. Sterling/ m: Kerry Mills

5.  "Give My Regards To Broadway" (1904) -
words & music: George M. Cohan

6.  "I Love You Truly" (1906) - w & m: Carrie Jacobs-Bond

7. +"You're a Grand Old Flag" (1906) -
words & music: George M. Cohan

8. +"My Gal Sal"(1907) - w & m: Paul Dresser

9.  "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (1908) -
words: Jack Norworth/ m: Albert von Tilzer

10. +"By the Light of the Silvery Moon" (1909) -
w: Edward Madden/ m: Gus Edwards

II.   1910-1919:  

11.  +" Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1911) -
word & music:   Irving Berlin

12.    "My Melancholy Baby" (1912) -
w:   George A. Norton/ m: Ernie Burnett

13. +"On Moonlight Bay" (1912) -
w: Edward Madden/ m: Percy Weinrich

14.    "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven" (1914) -
w: Vachel Lindsay/ m: Charles Ives

15.    " St. Louis Blues" (1914) - w & m: W.C. Handy

16.    "They Didn't Believe Me?" (1914) -
w: Michael E. Rourke/ m: Jerome Kern

17.  +"Over There" (1917) - w & m: George M. Cohan

18.    "The Lament of Ian the Proud" (1918) -
w: Fiona MacLeod/m: Charles T. Griffes

19.  +"Rock-a-Bye Your Baby" (1918) -
w: Sam Lewis & Joe Young/ m: Jean Schwartz

20.  +"Swanee" (1919) - w: Irving Caesar/ m: George Gershwin

 

III.  1920-1929:  

21. +"Whispering" (1920) -
w & m: John Schonberger, Richard Coburn, Vincent Rose

22.   "Ain't We Got Fun?" (1921) -
w & m: Richard A. Whiting, Raymond B. Egan, Gus Kahn

23. +" April Showers" (1921) -
w: Buddy De Sylva/ m: Louis Silvers

24.   " Manhattan" (1925) - w: Lorenz Hart/ m: Richard Rodgers

25.   "Someone to Watch Over Me" (1926) -
w: Ira Gershwin/ m: George Gershwin

26. +"My Blue Heaven" (1927) -
w: George Whiting/ m: Walter Donaldson

27.   "Ol' Man River" (1927) -
w: Oscar Hammerstein II/ m: Jerome Kern

28.   "I Can't Give You Anything But Love"(1928) -
w: Dorothy Fields/
m: Jimmy McHugh

29.  "Star Dust" (1929) -
w: Mitchell Parrish/ m: Hoagy Carmichael

30.  "Ain't Misbehavin'" (1929) - w: Andy Razaf/ m: Fats Waller

 

IV.   1930-1938:  

31.    "I Got Rhythm" (1930) -
w: Ira Gershwin/ m: George Gershwin

32.    "Mood Indigo" (1931) -
w & m: Edward "Duke" Ellington and Irving Mills

33.    "Dancing in the Dark" (1931) -
w: Howard Dietz/ m: Arthur Schwartz

34. "Brother Can You Spare A Dime?" (1932) -
w: E.Y. Harburg/ m: Jay Gorney

35.  +"Night and Day" (1932) - w & m: Cole Porter

36.    "Sophisticated Lady" (1933) -
w: Mitchell Parrish, Irving Mills/m: Duke Ellington

37.  +"Stormy Weather" (1933) -
w: Ted Koehler/ m: Harold Arlen

38.    "Solitude" (1934) -
w: Eddie DeLange, Irving Mills/m: Duke Ellington

39.    "Begin the Beguine" (1935) - w & m: Cole Porter

40. +"Cheek to Cheek" (1935) - w & m: Irving Berlin

41.   "I've Got You Under My Skin" (1935) - w & m: Cole Porter

42.   "Summertime" (1935) -
w: DuBose Heyward/ m: George Gershwin

43.   "The Way You Look Tonight" (1936) -
w: Dorothy Fields/m: Jerome Kern

44.   "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (1937) -
w: Ira Gershwin/ m: G. Gershwin

45.   "God Bless America" (1938) - w & m: Irving Berlin

 

V.   1939-1949:  

46.   "All the Things You Are" (1939) -
w: Oscar Hammerstein II/ m: Jerome Kern

47.   "Over the Rainbow" (1939) -
w: E.Y. Harburg/ m: Harold Arlen

48. +"In the Mood" (1939) - w:   Andy Razaf/ m: Joe Garland

49.   "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" (1940) -
w: Lorenz Hart/ m: R. Rodgers

50.   "When You Wish Upon a Star" (1940) -
w: Ned Washington/ m: Leigh Harline

51. +"I'll Never Smile Again" (1940) - w & m: Ruth Lowe

52.   "Blues in the Night" (1941) -
w: Johnny Mercer/ m: Harold Arlen

53. +" Chattanooga Choo-Choo" (1941) -
w: Mack Gordon/ m: Harry Warren

54. +"White Christmas" (1942) - w & m: Irving Berlin

55.   "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" (1943) -
w: O. Hammerstein II/m: Richard Rodgers

56.   "Ac-cent-tchuate the Positive" (1945) -
w: Johnny Mercer/ m: Harold Arlen

57.   "It Might As Well Be Spring" (1945) -
w: O. Hammerstein II/ m: R. Rodgers

58.   "There's No Business Like Show Business" (1946) -
w & m: Irving Berlin

59. +"Near You" (1947) - w:  Kermit Goell/m:   Francis Craig

60. +"Riders in the Sky" (1949) w & m: Stan Jones

 

VI.  1950-1959:

61. +"Goodnight Irene" (1950) -
w & m: Huddie (Leadbelly) Ledbetter & Alan Lomax

62.   "High Noon" (1952) -
w: Ned Washington/ m: Dimitri Tiomkin

63. +"You Belong to Me" (1952) -
w & m: Pee Wee King, Redd Stewart, Chilton Price

64.  "Your Cheatin' Heart" (1952) - w & m: Hank Williams

65.  "Earth Angel" (1954) - w & m: Curtis Williams

66. "Three Coins in the Fountain" (1954) -
w: Sammy Cahn/ m: Jule Styne

67. *"Rock Around the Clock" (1955) -
w & m: Max Freedman and Jimmy DeKnight

68. *"Sincerely" (1955) - w & m: Harvey Fuqua & Alan Freed

69. *"Don't Be Cruel" (1956) -
w & m: Otis Blackwell

70.   "On the Street Where You Live" (1956) -
w: Alan Jay Lerner/m: Frederick Loewe

71.   "True Love" (1956) - w & m: Cole Porter

72.   "All the Way" (1957) -
w: Sammy Cahn/ m: James Van Heusen

73.   " Maria" (1957) -
w: Stephen Sondheim/ m: Leonard Bernstein

74. *" Mack the Knife" (1955/1959) -
w: Bertold Brecht (trans. by Marc Blitzstein)/m: Kurt Weill

75.   "Small World" (1959) -
w: Stephen Sondheim/ m: Jule Styne

 

VII.  1960-1969:

76.   "Camelot" (1960) -
w: Alan Jay Lerner/ m: Frederick Loewe

77.   "Crazy (1961) - w & m: Willie Nelson

78.   " Moon River" (1961) -
w: Johnny Mercer/ m: Henry Mancini

79.   "Blowin' in the Wind" (1962) - w & m: Bob Dylan

80.   "Call Me Irresponsible" (1963) -
w: Sammy Cahn/ m: James Van Heusen

81. *"I Want to Hold Your Hand" (1964) -
w & m: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

82.   "The Shadow of Your Smile" (1965) -
w: Paul Francis Webster/m: Johnny Mandel

83. *"Yesterday" (1965) -
w & m: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

84.  "What the World Needs Now is Love" (1965) -
w: Hal David/m: Burt Bacharach

85.  "The Look of Love" (1967) - w: Hal David/
m: Burt Bacharach

86. *"Hey Jude" (1968) - w & m: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

87.   "My Way" (1969) -
w: Paul Anka/ m: Jacques Reveaux and Claude Francois

 

VIII.  1970-1979:

88. *"Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970) - w & m: Paul Simon

89. *"American Pie" (1971) - w & m: Don McLean

90. *"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (1972) -
w & m: Ewan MacColl

91.   "The Way We Were" (1973) -
w: Alan & Marilyn Bergman/m: Marvin Hamlisch

92.   "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" (1973) -
w & m: Stevie Wonder

93. *"Just the Way You Are" (1978) - w & m: Billy Joel

94. *"Night Fever" (1978) -
w & m: Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb

 

 

IX.   1980-1989:

95. *"We Are The World" (1985) -
w & m: Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie

96. *"That's What Friends Are For" (1985) -
w & m: Carole Bayer Sager & Burt Bacharach

 

X.  1990-1999:

  97.  "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) -
w: Howard Ashman/m: Alan Menken

  98. *"I Will Always Love You" (1974/1992) -
w & m: Dolly Parton/ arr. Whitney Houston

  99.   "Candle in the Wind" (1973/1997) -
w & m: Bernie Taupin & Elton John/arr.E. John

100.  "My Heart Will Go On" (1997) -
w: Will Jennings/ m: James Horner

    + = Top 100 hits (8 or more weeks at No. 1) in Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories, 1890 - 1954.                                                                                                      

  * = Top 100 Singles, 1955-1995 (3 or more weeks at No. 1) in The Billboard Top 100 Singles, 1955-1995, compiled by Joel Whitburn.                                                                                                                                 

Songwriters (composers and lyricists) with 2 or more songs on the Top 100:

Harold Arlen = 4 [1933, 1939, 1941, 1945]

Burt Bacharach = 3 [1965/19671985]

Irving Berlin = 4 [1911, 1938, 1942, 1946]

Sammy Cahn = 3 [1954, 1957, 1963]

George M. Cohan = 3 [1904, 1906,1917]

Hal David = 2 [1965/ 1967]

Duke Ellington = 3 [1931, 1933, 1934]

Dorothy Fields = 2 [1928, 1936]

George Gershwin = 5 [1919, 1926, 1930, 1935, 1937]

Ira Gershwin = 3 [1926, 1930, 1937]

Oscar Hammerstein II = 4 [1927, 1939, 1943, 1945]

Lorenz Hart = 2 [1925, 1941]

Jerome Kern = 4 [1921, 1927, 1936, 1940]

John Lennon & Paul McCartney = 3 [1964,1965, 1968]

Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe = 2 [ 1956, 1960]

Johnny Mercer = 3 [1941, 1945, 1961]

Mitchell Parrish = 2 [1929, 1933]

Cole Porter = 4 [1932, 1935 (2), 1956]

Richard Rodgers = 4 [1925, 1941, 1943, 1945]

Paul Simon = 2 [1967, 1970]

Stephen Sondheim = 2 [1956, 1959]

James Van Heusen = 2 [1957, 1963]

 


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