1945 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast
The Petrillo ban lifts in time for Pop to celebrate victory in WW2 with a final burst of Big Bands, new girl singers and Crooners, and a heroic theme by Chopin.
Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week on Chartcrush, we do a deep dive into a year in Pop music and count down the top ten songs according to our recap of the weekly pop charts published at the time in the music industry’s top trade publication, Billboard magazine. This week on Chartcrush, we’re turning the clock back to 1945, a year of celebration in America as World War 2 ended! Germany surrendered on V-E Day (May 8), and Japan three months later on V-J Day (August 14).
President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t live to see either of those days. He died in office on April 12 having just begun his fourth term as President, but the tide turned after another letter-named day, D-Day (the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944), and towards the end of ’44 while Roosevelt was still alive, Americans were finally giving themselves permission to imagine a brighter post-war world after years of nail-biting and sacrifice, scrap drives, wage and price controls, rationing of everything from coffee and sugar to gas and tires, and of course loved ones gone to war, and more than 400,000 of them never coming back. The change on the Pop charts was striking. Defiant fight songs and lonely, yearning, anxious ballads yielded to brighter, dreamier, more upbeat and optimistic songs as the mood of the country changed.
Late ’44 also saw the end of the “Petrillo Ban:” a strike against record labels that barred players from making records for over two years right at the height of the Big Band era. James C. Petrillo, the head of the American Federation of Musicians Union. Gigs was how musicians got paid, and with a half a million nickel-a-play jukeboxes operating (and three-quarters of all the disks made going in them), Petrillo thought records were making live entertainment obsolete. So the strike was to get musicians a cut of record sales and airplay like songwriters got, beyond the “one-and-done” fee they collected for the recording session.
There was nothing Petrillo and the AFM could do about urban blackout restrictions, players getting drafted, gas and tire rationing and other difficulties stemming from the war effort. And on top of all that, in the Spring of ’44 Congress slapped a 40% federal cabaret tax on the receipts of any establishment that permitted dancing, so “no dancing allowed” signs suddenly appeared in taverns, restaurants, hotels and even nonprofit teen clubs coast-to-coast. The tax was later reduced, but it wasn’t repealed until the mid-’60s!
All things considered, records, jukeboxes and performance royalties were really the least of working musicians’ woes during the war. But “diskers” (as Billboard affectionately called record labels) took the hit. And one by one they agreed to pay performance royalties, with the two holdouts, RCA and Columbia (the biggest), finally blinking in the Fall of ’44. That after over two years having to reissue old stuff or record their stars a capella during the ban, which didn’t apply to vocalists because they had a different union.
So the war was ending, four million GIs overseas were coming home, recording studios were humming and shellac 78s were tumbling from the presses again. And Americans were in the mood to celebrate.
#10 Carmen Cavallaro & His Orchestra – Chopin’s Polonaise
At #10 kicking off the countdown, is America’s de facto victory theme, which peaked on the charts the week the B-29 bomber Enola Gay (named after the pilot’s mother) dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered. It’s a reinterpretation of a classical piece by a Polish composer. Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, of course, the event that triggered the war in Europe a little over two years before Pearl Harbor got the U.S. involved. And not only that, but it’s an example of a distinctly Polish form, the Polonaise, a walking dance that to this day opens everything from official state balls to senior proms in Poland. From its first publication in 1843, people had been describing Frederic Chopin’s “Polonaise in A-flat major” as “heroic,” and a century later, this version had Americans humming it all year. Here’s “The Poet of the Piano,” Carmen Cavallaro and his band with “Chopin’s Polonaise.”
Classically-trained pianist Carmen Cavallaro with the #10 song on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1945’s biggest hits. While Cavallaro toured Europe as a teen piano prodigy in the early ’30s, back in the U.S., Eddy Duchin became the first successful pianist-bandleader, even though he had no formal training and was only at best an average player. Despite that (or more likely because of it!), Cavallaro was inspired to switch to Pop, and after a few years as a featured soloist he started his own band, which was successful enough to land him a string of movie roles. After “Polonaise” and the war, he rated double billing on records with star crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, and in 1956 he was the ghost pianist behind actor Tyrone Power in the 1956 biopic The Eddy Duchin Story.
#9 Johnny Mercer, Jo Stafford and The Pied Pipers – Candy
Next at #9 we have the first of two records in our 1945 top ten by an artist who was also a label executive, having just co-founded the first West-coast record label, Capitol Records. He was also the A&R head and a massively successful lyricist for stage, screen and the Pop charts; and then in ’45, he became one of Capitol’s most successful artists himself. This was his second hit in the Spring after “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” in late-Winter. It’s Johnny Mercer with Capitol’s house band led by Paul Weston along with Weston’s future wife Jo Stafford, who sings lead on one of the verses, and backing vocals by the vocal group Stafford had just left to go solo, The Pied Pipers. It’s “Candy.”
Johnny Mercer, Jo Stafford & The Pied Pipers, “Candy,” the #9 song of 1945 according to our exclusive Chartcrush ranking, and the first credit on a #1 hit for Jo Stafford, who went on to be one of the most successful chart acts of the Pop Singer era with “You Belong to Me” in 1952, then “Make Love to Me!” in ’54. The Pied Pipers scored a #1 hit for Capitol in 1945 too, “Dream,” with June Hutton replacing Jo Stafford in the group. That was #14 on our Chartcrush ranking.
#8 Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye (vocal, Nancy Norman and Billy Williams) – Chickery Chick
So at #10 we heard Carmen Cavallaro tackling one of the most difficult piano pieces, Chopin’s “Polonaise in A-flat Major.” At #8, diminutive singer Nancy Norman tackling what’s gotta be one of the most difficult-to-sing lyrics!
Norman was just 17, 4’11” and under 100 lbs. when Sammy Kaye’s band, Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye, held a contest for girl singers in L.A. Guy singers, getting drafted all over the place in 1942, the year after Pearl Harbor. Norman auditioned, won, and just like that, was the only female singer for the next four years in the most successful charting band of the ’40s decade.
Now despite Kaye’s tag line, there wasn’t a whole lot of Swing going on in Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye’s sound. They were a “Sweet Band” that played Pop, not Jazz. And this record, considered a Novelty even in 1945, was one of their biggest hits. Here’s “Chickery Chick.”
“Chickery Chick:” Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye with singers Nancy Norman and future Country singer with the Pecos River Rogues, Billy Williams. That was the first version of “Chickery Chick” to chart, but three others followed including a Jazzier rendition by drummer-bandleader Gene Krupa featuring singer Anita O’Day, which is what you just heard if you’re listening on Spotify. The Sammy Kaye version with Nancy Norman, not available on the Spotify platform so we couldn’t include it in our podcast version of the show, but if you’re listening on the radio you got Sammy Kaye’s hit version.
Still another “Chickery Chick” that charted in ’45 was by singer Evelyn Knight, and I mention that because she scored a #1 hit a few years later singing another avian song “A Little Bird Told Me.” Since the ’40s, you probably won’t be surprised to learn, “Chickery Chick” has become a standard on kids records, with versions by The Three Stooges, Tiny Tim and Joanie Bartels.
#7 Les Brown and His Orchestra (vocal, Doris Day) – My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time
Well we’re counting down the biggest hits of 1945 here on this week’s edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, and at #7 is the other act besides Johnny Mercer with two hits in our top ten. Like Sammy Kaye with Nancy Norman, it’s a “band-featuring-girl-singer” configuration. But whereas Nancy Norman left show biz soon after “Chickery Chick” hit aged 21 to settle down and raise a family, this girl singer became one of the biggest stars in America in the ’50s, ’60s and beyond, on records, on the big screen, on TV, you name it. But few had heard of her (or the band leader for that matter) before this record debuted at #2 on the Best Sellers chart in March of ’45, and by the end of April, was #1 on all three of Billboard’s Pop charts: Bestsellers, DJ Airplay and Jukeboxes. The #1 song the week the Nazis surrendered, it’s Les Brown and His Band of Renown with his career-making discovery Doris Day, “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time.”
Now if Billboard had had a Top New Artist award in 1945, it would’ve gone to Les Brown and His Band of Renown with Doris Day. That was their first #1 record, “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time” at #7. We’ll hear the other one later in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1945.
Day first sang with the Les Brown band in 1940 when she was just 17, but left to marry and have a son. The marriage didn’t work out, though, and in 1943, Brown wanted her back so bad that he was willing to foot the bill for her mom and baby boy to accompany her everywhere they needed to be.
#6 Johnny Mercer and The Pied Pipers – On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe
Next up, the bigger of Johnny Mercer’s two hits as a recording artist in our 1945 countdown. I mentioned when we heard “Candy” at #9 that Mercer’s bread ‘n butter was writing song lyrics for movies. That’s why he was based in Hollywood and started Capitol Records there. By 1945, he already had nine Best Song Oscar nominations under his belt, on his way to 19 during his career, but his first win was our #6 song. And it was the first year the Academy had its new rule that reduced the number of officially nominated songs to typically five. Before that it could be any number. And he beat out names like Irving Berlin, Jack Brooks, Mack Gordon, Oscar Hammerstein II. That’s your entire Great American Songbook right there, pretty much! Sung by Judy Garland in the movie it was in, The Harvey Girls, but the hit record was, of course, by Mercer himself, again with the Paul Weston Band and The Pied Pipers: “On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.”
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad operated from 1859 until it merged with the Burlington Northern in 1996. Johnny Mercer saw the name while sitting on a train and was struck by the rhythm of the words. He notched several more hits through the rest of the ’40s as a recording act, including his mischievous “Personality,” #1 on both the Sales and Airplay charts in 1946. And in 1952 his adaptation of “The Glow Worm” got The Mills Brothers their final #1 hit. For the rest of the ’50s he mostly stuck to his day job, lyrics for movie and show tunes, which got him back-to-back Best Original Song Oscars in ’61 and ’62 for “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the title song to Days of Wine and Roses, both co-written with Henry Mancini 15 years after his first win for the song we just heard at #6: “On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.”
#5 The Andrews Sisters – Rum and Coca-Cola
So maybe by now you’re noticing a theme: seven of the ten songs in our Chartcrush Top Ten countdown for 1945: either by or featuring female singers or singing groups. And next up is another.
Caribbean music, of course, a wellspring of big U.S. Pop hits over the years. Well, it all started with this next tune at #5, which, in rather jarring fashion, opened up the Pop charts not just for Caribbean sounds, but for international songs in general. As radio personality John Gilliland pointed out in his early ’70s radio show Pop Chronicles, for servicemen returning from the war (quote), “Kalamazoo was like dullsville after Paris or London or Trinidad. The paying customers weren’t calling for ‘Moonlight Cocktails’ much anymore” (“(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo” and “Moonlight Cocktails,” both pre-war Glenn Miller hits). “The trend was toward the harder stuff” (unquote). Indeed. And this song was the #5 song of the year despite being widely banned on radio. See if you can guess why. It’s the Andrews Sisters’ “Rum and Coca-Cola.”
Andrews Sisters, “Rum and Coca-Cola,” #5. Recorded in one take in the last ten minutes of a session without a written arrangement, and then banned by some radio stations, for the lyric “mother and daughter working for the Yankee dollar” of course, but by other stations for advertising a brand, “Coca-Cola,” and by still others for mentioning alcohol. And then there was a lawsuit over authorship. Future Dick Van Dyke Show actor Morey Amsterdam had heard the song while in Trinidad on a USO tour and published it under his own name, so after it was a hit, the real author, Trinidadan musician Lord Invader, sued and was awarded $150,000 in royalties, a tidy sum in 1940s Yankee dollars!
#4 Vaughn Monroe & His Orchestra (vocal, Vaughn Monroe) – There! I’ve Said It Again
You are listening to The Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, and we’re counting down the top hits of 1945 this week. I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. If you like what you’re hearing, visit our website, chartcrush.com, for a written transcript, plus our full 1945 Top 100 chart and other interactive extras and goodies, plus links to hear all our episodes on Spotify!
Now as I mentioned at the top of the show, RCA-Victor: one of the last labels to settle with Petrillo and the American Federation of Musicians at the end of 1944, allowing them to cut records again with union musicians. Well, just as you’d expect after a two-year ban, there was a frenzy of recording and releases by music’s biggest names, and for Victor, that was a who’s who of Big Bands.
America’s top bandleader, Glenn Miller, was on Victor but had just disappeared over the English Channel on a flight to newly-liberated Paris at the end of ’44 after famously signing up at the peak of his fame in ’42 to lead the Army Air Forces Band. But Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye who we heard at #8: all still very much in the game, and all on Victor. And the new band records did okay in ’45, but the biggest hits after the ban were by solo singers.
Now the guy with the #4 song of the year was on Victor and technically a bandleader, but since he also sang on his records, and it was his deep baritone voice more than anything that made them hits, he was kind of a missing link between the Big Band and Pop Singer eras. And as such, he remained successful through the ’40s and into the ’50s. It’s Vaughn Monroe with “There! I’ve Said It Again.”
Vaughn Monroe’s first chart topper, “There! I’ve Said It Again,” #4 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1945. Brill Building Teen Idol Bobby Vinton took his remake of that song to #1 in early 1964: the last #1 before Beatlemania. But back in ’45, Monroe followed it up with a blockbuster holiday hit: a then-brand new song by ace songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jule Steyn, “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Show!” Crooner Dean Martin’s version recorded in the ’60s, more familiar in the streaming era, but Monroe’s original hit version was #1 for multiple weeks. He stayed hot with “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” and “Ballerina” in ’47 and ’48, but in 1949, his finest moment: the game-changing #1 record that got the whole biz thinking Country-Western: “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”
#3 Perry Como – Till the End of Time
Now at #10, we heard Carmen Cavallaro’s Big Band instrumental of “Chopin’s Polonaise,” which I highlighted as America’s de facto World War 2 victory theme. But what I didn’t mention (because I was saving it for our #3 song) is that lyricist Buddy Kaye wrote words to it and published it as a Pop song. And three versions hit the charts simultaneously, as happened often in the ’40s, but one stood out and became the first of an amazing 14 #1 hits between 1945 and1958 for America’s all-time top charting Crooner, Perry Como. At #3, “Till the End of Time.”
Frank Sinatra, of course, the focus of the early ’40s Crooner craze often mentioned as a precursor to Elvis and Beatlemania in the ’50s and ’60s. Sinatra’s biggest hit in ’45, “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night in the Week),” notches in at #34 on our ranking. But there was room for more than one Crooner, and teen bobbysoxers and their swooner clubs also swooned for Perry Como.
Besides being 1945’s third biggest hit, Como’s “Till the End of Time” (along with the instrumental “Chopin’s Polonaise” theme it’s based on) was used throughout the 1946 movie with the same title starring Dorothy McGuire, Guy Madison and Robert Mitchum about war vets re-adjusting to civilian life. With the Army alone discharging 1.2 million soldiers every month in late ’45, returning GIs were on everyone’s minds, and another movie out a few months later was an even bigger box office hit and went on to win nine Oscars including Best Picture, That was The Best Years of Our Lives with Myrna Loy and Frederic March.
#2 Les Brown and His Orchestra (vocal, Doris Day) – Sentimental Journey
But when it comes to GIs returning from World War 2, the song that stands above and beyond as their unofficial anthem and homecoming song is the #2 song in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1945. Its run from March to September encompassed both V-E and V-J days, and the band-singer pairing had just debuted with their first big hit, our #7 song, “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time.” Here again: Les Brown and His Band of Renown with Doris Day: one for the ages, “Sentimental Journey.”
Les Brown and His Band of Renown with Doris Day, “Sentimental Journey.” Brown was a co-writer on the song and they’d been performing it for months, but couldn’t record it ’til their label, Columbia, settled with Petrillo and the musicians union in late 1944. And as Brown told it (quote) “The timing was good because it looked like the war was won, and it just seemed to be a great homecoming song for all the troops” (unquote).
After ’45, Crooners and Pop singers mostly replaced bands at the top of the charts, but Doris Day continued as Brown’s featured girl singer for two more years, putting out records, touring extensively with her mother and young son in tow, and appearing on Bob Hope’s radio show. In ’48, though, her first movie role fell into her lap, Romance on the High Seas. In the film she sang the song “It’s Magic,” which became her first solo hit, and from there she became one of the biggest stars of the ’50s repeating the formula with “Secret Love” from Calamity Jane in 1953, “Que Sera, Sera” from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1956, and many others.
Les Brown stayed with Bob Hope for the next 50 years, and continued leading the Band of Renown doing upwards of 60 dates a year until his death in 2001. At which point his son, Les Brown, Jr. took over and kept it going as an attraction in Branson, Missouri until his death at 82 in 2023. Guinness has it as the longest-lasting musical organization in Pop history.
#1 Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters – Don’t Fence Me In
So the AFM Recording Ban wasn’t lifted for Columbia and RCA-Victor ’til the end of 1944, but other labels agreed to Petrillo’s demands earlier. Decca was first in September of ’43, and then Capitol a month later. Neither had a deep back catalogs or a vault of unreleased stuff to keep them going through the strike, so they didn’t have much of a choice. Capitol had only just released its first record a month before the ban went into effect! But with Columbia and Victor unable to record new material, settling early with the union gave labels like Decca and Capitol a clear shot at the charts, and the #1 song in our 1945 Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown is a collaboration between Decca’s two top acts that came out just as Victor and Columbia were ramping back up again in late ’44. And it was #1 on at least one of Billboard’s Pop charts (Sales, Airplay and Jukeboxes) for a solid 13 weeks, mid-December ’44 to March ’45. The pairing produced four chart hits for Decca in ’45, and separately they notched another 13, one of which we’ve already heard: The Andrews Sisters “Rum and Coca Cola” at #5. Here are Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters doing Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In.”
#1 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1945’s biggest hits, “Don’t Fence Me In,” supposedly recorded in a half hour, and neither Bing Crosby nor The Andrews Sisters had ever seen or heard the song before. How that happens, I don’t know, but if it’s true, the phrase “consummate professionals” comes to mind! Recall that The Andrews Sisters also recorded our #5 song “Rum and Coca Cola” in one take with ten minutes of studio time. Pretty incredible!
Crosby first teamed up with the trio, Laverne, Maxine and Patty Andrews, in 1939 when they were newcomers, but by then he’d already been scoring hits for over a decade. Three of 1944’s top ten best-sellers were Bing Crosby records, and then in the mid-to-late ’40s, he was the #1 box office attraction for five straight years and still charting top ten hits.
As Johnny Mercer put it in an interview (quote): “We were all born from Crosby. He was not only a star as a singer; he was a star leading man, and nobody really beat him at it until our skinny friend” (referring to Frank Sinatra) “came along. And it took him a few years to do it” (unquote).
And there you have ’em: the top ten songs of 1945 according to our exclusive Chartcrush ranking. Now ranking the songs for years before Billboard debuted the Hot100 in 1958 is a bit tricky. As I’ve been saying throughout the show, there were three separate survey-based Pop charts before the Hot100: Best Sellers in Stores, Most Played by DJs, and Most Played on Jukeboxes. So what we do to rank the songs is first combine the data from all three, weighing each equally, into a single weekly chart, and apply the same exact ranking mojo as for Hot100 years.
Honorable Mention: #12 Harry James & His Orchestra (vocal, Kitty Kallen) – It’s Been a Long, Long Time
Now there’s one act who didn’t land a song in our top ten for 1945, but had two near misses at numbers 12 and 13. We think that rates a special nod in our bonus segment in the time we have left. One of the songs was almost as iconic an end-of-war/soldiers-coming-home theme as “Sentimental Journey,” so between the two, we’re gonna go with that. It’s trumpeter-bandleader Harry James and Orchestra with his girl singer Kitty Kallen, “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.”
Trumpet playing Big Band leader Harry James’s final #1 hit, “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” vocal by Kitty Kallen and that alto sax solo by Willie Smith, our #12 song and honorable mention here in our 1945 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.
Sammy Cahn and Jule Steyn wrote the song for lovers reuniting after the war, and two of the other charting versions by bandleaders Charlie Spivak and Stan Kenton also featured girl singers: Irene Day and June Christy, respectively. But interestingly, Bing Crosby’s super-laid-back version with Les Paul on guitar interpreted the song from the male returning soldier’s point of view, and did almost as well as James and Kallen’s we just heard: #16 on our ranking.
James and Kallen’s other big hit in 1945: “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” That was #1 on the DJ chart for two weeks in April ’45 and #13 on our ranking. Kitty Kallen struggled on the charts for years after 1945, but spectacularly re-emerged as the headliner on the #1 song of 1954, “Little Things Mean a Lot.”
And that’s gonna have to do it for our 1945 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi, and I want to thank you for listening. Check out our website, chartcrush.com, for written transcripts and streaming links for this and other Chartcrush Countdowns, plus chart run line graphs and other dandy extras. We count down a different year every week on this show, from the dawn ofthe Billboard Pop charts in the early 1940s all the way up to the present, so tune in again next week, same station and time, for another edition of Chartcrush.