The twentieth century is not easy to decipher when it comes to the popularity of singers and songs. The songs of the eighties and nineties were more popular than the songs of the 1950s and 1960s because the last decades of the 20th century made singing a worldwide phenomenon, thanks to TVs and radios that had reached every home and people could listen to their favorite songs any time. So, while preparing the list of the top 10 best songs of the 20th century, a number of factors are to be kept in mind. Some classic songs had their origin in the early 1920s and 30s, but they were recorded so many times that their popularity far exceeded the songs of the last two decades of this century. Thus, this list is made with a lot of effort keeping in mind the influence of a song over time.
1. ‘Over the Rainbow’ by Judy Garland (1939)
“Over the Rainbow” featured in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz and went on to win the Academy Award for the Best Original Song. This song is an expression to the wish of a girl to go beyond the clouds into another world where there are no worries and tribulations to torment her.
2. ‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin (1967)
Awarded with the prestigious Grammy Hall of Fame, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin featured in her 1967 superhit album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. This song is in the form of an address by a lady to her man asking for nothing except a bit of respect. It is the feministic touch imparted to the song that makes it stand apart.
3. ‘The Entertainer’ by Scott Joplin (1902)
A classic piano rag by Scott Joplin, “The Entertainer” is famous for its timeless appeal. Every time it was performed by new artists, it became more famous than ever before. This speaks volumes about the popularity of this evergreen classic ragtime that has a universal appeal to make it an immortal artistic composition.
4. ‘White Christmas’ by Bing Crosby (1942)
“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby has been an exceptionally successful song about the snowy Christmas enjoyed by one and all. The original version of the song sung by Bing Crosby in 1942 achieved phenomenal success with over 50 million copies being sold till date.
5. ‘You Are My Sunshine’ by Jimmie Davis (1939)
Originally a popular country song, “You are my Sunshine” underwent numerous transformations after it was first sung by Jimmie Davis in 1939. This is a love song dealing with true and sincere feelings of the lover for his beloved who has left him for some other fellow. The lover feels dejected and heartbroken at being rejected.
6. ‘Stand by Me’ by Ben E King (1961)
Featuring in the popular 1962 album Don’t Play That Song, “Stand by Me” was originally sung by the American singer Ben -E- King. The song has seen countless remixes with its popularity become higher with each new version. It is in the form of an entreaty by a lover to his beloved to stand by him through thick and thin.
7. ‘This Land Is Your Land’ by Woody Guthrie (1945)
One of the most popular folk songs of America, “This Land is Your Land” was originally written and sung by Woody Guthrie in 1940. This song is fused with the spirit of patriotism for America that belongs to all Americans irrespective of their class, creed, and color. This song too underwent numerous recordings and versions.
8. ‘Mack the Knife’ by Bobby Darin 1928
“Mack the Knife” was originally written by Bertolt Brecht for his musical drama entitled The Threepenny Opera (1928) but it became highly popular with Bobby Drain’s singing in 1959. It too has undergone several changes and recordings which speaks volumes about its popularity. This song is about an anti-hero who is a murderer.
9. ‘God Bless America’ by Kate Smith (1938)
“God Bless America” written by Irving Berlin and sung by Kate Smith is a patriotic and nationalistic song which has always been highly popular with people. It is in the form of a prayer to the God to shower His blessings on America and its people.
10. ‘Star Dust’ by Hoagy Carmichael (1927)
One of the most recorded songs with over 1500 recordings, “Star Dust” was composed in the year 1927. Its eccentricity imparted it a distinctive touch with the song becoming extremely popular. Reminiscent of long lost love, the lovelorn singer appears to be strongly aware of the fact that she is permanently separated from her lover.