5 Songs You Missed: 1940s

Explore some deep cuts from before the advent of popular music.



I’m quite meticulous with my music. I often find myself archiving and sorting my music into giant playlists, most recently making a timeline of my digital collection. In this series for COPY, I’ll be looking at a certain year and picking some of my lesser-known favorites and deep cuts by bigger artists to introduce you to. Not all of the songs will be that unknown, but hopefully you’ll find some new music here that you enjoy!

Here I’ll explore some songs from the 1940s, before the advent of the popular music and the rock wave of the 50’s.

Check out the playlist here.

“Angelina/Zooma Zooma” by Louis Prima

If you’re going to recognize this song, it’s most likely from the beginning of The Godfather at the daughter’s wedding. Maybe you’ve heard it in any number of other Italian-American crime movies—it will usually hover in the background while De Niro smashes some poor informants face in, blood splattering around the room. The actual song is pure energy and joy, a kind that few musicians have ever fully achieved in the many decades since its release. Louis Prima and his band have an amazing talent for making music you can dance to. They force that 1940s swing sensation into your joints like nobody else. I swung to this song when I was little in the kitchen while my mom made dinner. I swung to this song on drunken nights with my college roommates. I’ll be swinging to this song until my hips don’t work because I just have to when Prima comes on.

“Caldonia” by Louis Jordan

Louis Jordan is often called one of the originators of rock music. He had a certain electricity to his jazz that not many can replicate. Here he’s at his peak funkiness with rhythms that jump up on the recording like they were poked with a hot iron. The way he shrieks “Caldonia” makes the whole band stop until he decides to carry on with the groove. You can see how his act led to performers like Little Richard with their bombastic vigor. I’ll link a video here of him performing this song live with a band of instruments covered in neon lights, the video that made me discover and love this track: “Caldonia” 

“You Always Hurt the One You Love” by The Mills Brothers

I couldn’t make a list covering this era of music without touching on my new favorite of that time, the Mills Brothers. While their songs can often be quite silly (see “Tiger Rag”), this track takes a more sweet and sad approach. It became their biggest hit. The production and backing is incredibly simple—there’s no percussion, just some sparse strings. The Mills Brothers always carry music on vocal harmonies so pleasant that it would be shameful to add much else to the song. The lyrics here are a universal truth with a sense of pleading, but still remain hopeful. It’s all so pleasant—something for a sweet day.
“Stormy Weather” by Lena Horne

This song has been covered to death since the 70s. This is a cover too, but it may be the quintessential version. Lena Horne’s voice is forlorn beyond hopelessness. Her version comes from the film of the same name. The heartbreak in this version is more tangible than others. The string accompaniment adds immensely to the dreary atmosphere. Truly a song for a rainy day when you’ve got nothing else to lose. At least you’ve got this tune.

“Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” by Tex Williams

I’m not sure if I can call this purely propaganda because he does say in the song that if he found the inventor of the cigarette, he would “murder that son of a gun in the first degree.” However, I did send this song to some smoker friends recently and they said that for around two weeks after, they would play this song every time they smoked. It’s a hilarious novelty song that has a nice talking blue ring-ding-dang to it. He doesn’t even dislike the health effects of smoking; he just doesn’t like the addiction. A song of its era for sure. Perhaps the best part is when he goes to heaven and disregards St. Peter so he can go light up. A bit of comedy jingle jangle.