1946 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast

Hays Code decency standards permeate showbiz and Big Bands throw in the towel the year after WW2, but Singers, Sweet Bands and songwriters shine on the charts.


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Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show! I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week we dive deep into a year in Pop music and culture and count down the top ten songs according to our exclusive recap of the weekly charts published in Billboard, the music industry’s top trade publication and chart authority. This week on Chartcrush we’re counting down the biggest hits of 1946, the first year Billboard did year-end charts, adding up the action on their previous 52 weekly Retail Sales, Disk Jockey, Jukebox, Live Radio and Sheet Music charts, song-by-song, record-by-record, artist-by-artist, label-by-label, composer-by-composer, publisher-by-publisher: quite an undertaking on a tight deadline without computers!

But in 1946, Americans knew all about epic undertakings, having just split the atom and won a two-front World War; then reassimilating 12 million returning GIs and transitioning from wartime quotas, wage and price controls and government central planning to the boom of suburbs, cars, consumer goods and babies that drove Postwar economic expansion.

But at the same time, a new threat was gathering, and the guy that first called it out, was the same guy who’d called out Hitler in the ’30s, Britain’s recently unemployed wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Invited to speak at a college in President Truman’s home state of Missouri in March of ’46 after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had said that a war between East and West was inevitable, Churchill declared that an “Iron Curtain” had descended across Central Europe, and all the countries behind it were now in what he called “the Soviet sphere.”

Truman, by the way, President less than a year. So, new President, a new world map, new technologies, and now a new threat. That’s a lot of anxiety-inducing newness to dump in the middle of a victory party, and the weird mix of confidence and terror spawned sci-fi and film noir in the late ’40s but also a massive nostalgia wave: people craving what was comfortable and familiar from the past, but also trying to define what America was and wasn’t in an era of ideologies. The Hays Code had been around since the 30s: before ratings, the movie business’s guidelines so studios didn’t have to worry about the patchwork of different state and local decency laws across the country. It also affected music since most hit songs were written for movies. But all through ’46, Billboard was reporting on civic leaders and “vigilante” “blue-nose” groups (their words) going after “indecent” entertainment in their communities, pushing for tighter restrictions and more aggressive enforcement.

Frank Capra’s holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life came out at the end of ’46 contrasting protagonist George Bailey’s bucolic hometown, Bedford Falls, with trashy Pottersville in the alternate reality if Bailey had never been born. In 2019, a writer in Esquire preferred Pottersville’s neon, strip clubs, pool halls and Hot Jazz to Bedford Falls, “where,” he said, “the coolest thing you can do is throw rocks at a condemned house.” But in ’46 it wasn’t a debate. Most of the top Jazz Big Bands called it quits in ’46, up against a changing market and a hefty federal sin tax on dancing establishments passed by Congress in ’44, and that left the field to the Crooners and Pop-oriented Bands that ruled the charts for the rest of the decade.

#10 Bing Crosby with Carmen Cavallaro at the Piano – I Can’t Begin to Tell You

And at #10 as we kick things off here on our 1946 edition of Chartcrush, the original star Crooner, teaming up with “The Poet of the Piano” Carmen Cavallaro, fresh from his massive 1945 hit with his band version of “Chopin’s Polonaise.” At #10 it’s Bing Crosby and Cavallaro with “I Can’t Begin to Tell You.”

Bing Crosby and Carmen Cavallaro’s “I Can’t Begin to Tell You” at #10 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1946’s biggest hits. The song was from a movie, The Dolly Sisters, a biopic about identical twins who make it big on Broadway. Singer-Actress and Pinup Betty Grable sings it in the film and her version was also out on a record, but Crosby and Cavallaro’s was the bigger chart hit. Since the first six weeks of its run were in 1945, it’s not anywhere near the top ten on any of Billboard‘s three year-end charts for ’46: Best Sellers, DJ spins and Jukebox plays. But at Chartcrush we count every song’s full chart run in the year it scored most of its points, so we have it at #10 on the year: the biggest of Crosby’s 11 charting records in ’46.

#9 Kay Kyser and His Orchestra (vocal Michael Douglas) – Ole Buttermilk Sky

And at #9, another year-straddling hit, but from the end of 1946 into 1947. Again, counting full chart runs surfaces it as one of 46’s top hits. It’s a song by Great American Songbook legend Hoagy Carmichael, written for the 1946 Technicolor Western Canyon Passage: a scene where the Male lead is getting ready to propose to his girl, hoping for a romantic, moonlit night, and Carmichael sings it himself in the film, but the biggest hit was by the Kay Kyser Orchestra, sung by future daytime TV talk show host Mike Douglas, “Ol’ Buttermilk Sky.”

Hoagy Carmichael’s own record of his song “Ol’ Buttermilk Sky” on the ARA record label also charted, well below Kyser’s on Columbia we just heard at #9 for the last 12 weeks of the year, but a new Carmichael version on Decca dropped later in the year leading up to the Oscars and surpassed Kyser’s. Not long enough to be the bigger hit overall, and he lost the Oscar to Johnny Mercer’s “Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.” But fast forward five years to 1951 and it’s Carmichael and Mercer together at the podium accepting Best Original Song for “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” which they co-wrote! We’ll be hearing another tune by Hoagy Carmichael later as we continue counting down the top ten hits of 1946, here on this week’s edition of Chartcrush.

#8 Dinah Shore – The Gypsy

At #8 is the first of two versions of the same song in our top ten. Five versions were on the charts in the Summer of ’46: a common occurrence at a time when few performers were writing their own songs and Tin Pan Alley publishers were still the gravitational center of the music biz. After Mike Douglas we just heard, another ’40s Singer who went on to Daytime TV Talk Show glory in the ’70s. But she didn’t just sing on a couple hits; 21 top tens from ’41 to ’49. She was the top charting Female of the entire ’40s decade. It’s Dinah Shore’s version of “The Gypsy.”

Dinah Shore’s version of “The Gypsy,” #8 here on the 1946 edition of The Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. English Bandleader Billy Reid wrote the song for Welsh Singer Dorothy Squires, and that record was a hit in the U.K., but Squires and Dinah have something else in common: serious relationships with much younger men: Squires married future James Bond Roger Moore at 38. He was 26. And Dinah in her late fifties was hot ‘n heavy with Actor Burt Reynolds for six years in the early ’70s. He was in his late thirties.

#7 Betty Hutton – Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief

At #7, as promised, another Hoagy Carmichael song from a movie, but unlike his “Old Buttermilk Sky” we heard at #9, the hit version is by the Singer-Actress who does it in the film, known for her over-the-top, manic performances in movies since 1942, and by ’46, one of Paramount’s top box office draws. And even though she was a Singer before she was an Actress, none of her records cracked the top 5 on any chart until this one in ’46. At #7, from the movie The Stork Club in which she plays a Nightclub Singer, it’s Betty Hutton’s “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief.”

Betty Hutton, “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief,” #7 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show for 1946. Irving Berlin’s Annie, Get Your Gun debuted on Broadway in ’46, about Buffalo Bill’s Female sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Ethel Merman played the lead on Broadway, but Betty Hutton was Annie in the 1950 blockbuster movie, her most enduring role.

By the way, two songs from Annie, Get Your Gun were in the top ten on Billboard’s year-end Honor Roll of Hits for ’46. That was their chart that combined all versions of songs out on records and factored in Sheet Music sales. “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” was #5 and “They Say It’s Wonderful” was #10, but none of the versions of those songs cut by A-list Pop Singers and on the charts at the same time made our countdown of the top ten records of the year.

#6 Frank Sinatra – Five Minutes More

At #6, a Singer who accumulated a lot of nicknames over the years in different phases of his career, but the first? “Skinny,” his most striking physical characteristic. He kind of invited the taunt as a hotshot upstart unapologetically Crooning to maximum seduction effect for his teenaged Female fans (“bobbysoxers”), and then brazenly challenging the status quo of headline Bandleaders and featured vocalists, going solo at the height of Big Bands in 1941. That was a genuinely gutsy move. Only Bing Crosby had survived the public backlash against the first wave of Pop Crooners in the early ’30s. But also because Bandleader Tommy Dorsey owned 43% of his lifetime earnings by contract. Genovese family underboss Willie Moretti may or may not’ve convinced Dorsey to sell that contract for one dollar. As big as the Singer was as a solo act after that, though, he didn’t hit #1 on any chart, ’til 1946 when he did it twice, first with a Ballad that only topped the DJ chart, not Best Sellers or Jukeboxes, but then in late September, this was #1 on all three the same week, and Billboard started using a new nickname, “The Voice.” At #6, Frank Sinatra’s “Five Minutes More.”

You wanna hear some Swing, check out the Glenn Miller Band’s version of that song, “Five Minutes More,” which was on the charts at the same time as Sinatra’s we just heard at #6 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1946. Miller, of course, the biggest of the Big Bandleaders before the war, but he enlisted to lead the Army Air Forces Band in ’42, and in ’44 the plane taking him to newly-liberated France went down over the English Channel. Sax Player/Vocalist Tex Beneke took over, and the first records by Beneke and the Glenn Miller Orchestra hit in ’46, but #4 was as high as any of them got on the charts. By year’s end as I mentioned earlier, most of the Big Bands, even Tommy Dorsey’s, had called it quits.

#5 Perry Como – Prisoner of Love

So the Pop charts now belonged to Singers, but Crosby and Sinatra weren’t the only Crooners scoring hits, and in fact, the most successful on the charts in ’46 is the one at #5. Billboard named the record #1 on its year-end Retail Best-Sellers chart, and since most sources (even Billboard) default to Sales talking about pre-Hot100 song rankings, it’s considered the year’s biggest hit. Only problem with that, record players and records were expensive in the ’40s; the vast majority of people were listening on radios and jukeboxes. Still, on our combined ranking that factors Airplay, Jukeboxes and Retail Sales it was in the top 3 for 14 straight weeks. Here’s Perry Como’s “Prisoner of Love.”

Perry Como’s “Prisoner of Love,” the #5 song of 1946 here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Como was making a good living on tour with the Ted Weems Orchestra in the ’30s but quit in 1940 after his son was born to go home to Pennsylvania, open a barber shop and settle down. It wasn’t long, though, before an agent wooed him back with a deal where he could stay put and didn’t have to travel: his own network radio show and a gig at the Copacabana nightclub in New York, which was held over through the entire Summer of ’43. RCA-Victor needed a Crooner to compete with Sinatra on Columbia and Crosby on Decca, so they snapped him up, and his World War 2 victory year smash “Till the End of Time” in ’45 made him a superstar. Perry Como managed to chart at least one top ten hit every year until 1958.

#4 Frankie Carle and His Orchestra (vocal Marjorie Hughes) – Rumors Are Flying

At numbers 4 and 3 we have a two-fer for you: two records in a row by the same act, and it’s a Band, not a Singer. Well, a Band with a Singer, but the Singer isn’t the headliner. That crediting arrangement lingered a few more years before going all but extinct in the ’50s. Anyway, the Singer was the Bandleader’s daughter. His wife slipped an unmarked recording into an audition stack, and he chose his own 19-year-old daughter not knowing who she was! Finding out didn’t change his mind, and audiences loved her, but he didn’t like the optics so it was a secret until Walter Winchell got the scoop and spilled it in his gossip column. But that was after their first big hit of ’46 and no one seemed to mind. At #4, their second big hit of ’46 (we’ll hear that first one next in our two-fer). #1’s, for eight straight weeks in the Fall it’s Frankie Carle & Orchestra, vocal by Marjorie Hughes, “Rumors Are Flying.”

“Rumors Are Flying,” #4 here on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1946’s top records, ’46’s top band, Frankie Carle’s Orchestra featuring Carle’s daughter Marjorie Hughes on the vocal.

#3 Frankie Carle and His Orchestra (vocal Marjorie Hughes) – Oh! What It Seemed to Be

Carle first got noticed as the Piano Player in Horace Heidt’s Musical Knights, who were big on network radio and scored a string of top tens in ’41 and ’42, but he eventually outgrew that and started his own band, which debuted live in early ’44. They first made the charts in ’45 but putting Marjorie in the spotlight was what cracked the code, and at #3, as promised, their first hit of ’46, #1 or 2 for ten weeks in the Spring, “Oh! What It Seemed to Be.”

Billboard named Dinah Shore the year’s top Female Singer even though Marjorie Hughes blew her away on chart points, but as the featured Singer on her dad’s band records. Being a headliner had its advantages! By the way, if you’re listening on Spotify, the podcast version of the show, you heard live versions of both those Frankie Carle songs from 1946 radio broadcasts. They don’t have the hit record versions.

Frank Sinatra also scored big with “Oh! What It Seemed to Be.” His version was tops on the DJ chart (radio’s love affair with ‘ol Blue Eyes: already in full blossom in ’46), but Carle had the edge in Record Stores and on Jukeboxes, so was #1 with Sinatra’s at #2 overall for five weeks in the Spring. After a few more hits with Marjorie singing ’47 to ’49, Carle took his band over to RCA-Victor and Marjorie stayed with Columbia as a solo act. They still performed live together for a while, but neither charted again and Marjorie left showbiz completely in 1950.

#2 Eddy Howard and His Orchestra (vocal Eddy Howard) – To Each His Own

OK, we’re down to #2 here on our Chartcrush Countdown of 1946’s top ten hits: the breakthrough by a Bandleader from L.A. who came up in the ’30s as a featured Singer with fellow Californian Dick Jurgens’ Swing band, then started his own band in ’39: one of the first Singing Bandleaders. That was good way to weather the shift from Big Bands to star Vocalists in the mid-40s. He was a chart newcomer and had a lot of competition with the song: five different versions in the top ten on our combined weekly ranking for three straight weeks in September. That’s a record! But he came out on top and scored the year’s #1 Airplay hit and the #2 hit overall, it’s Eddy Howard with “To Each His Own.”

Eddy Howard’s “To Each His Own” at #2 here on our 1946 edition of Chartcrush: another song written for a movie, with the same title. Multiple Oscar-nominated score writer Victor Young wrote the music for the film, but passed on taking a crack at the title song because no one at the time knew that phrase, “to each his own.” It’s from a 17th century John Donne poem. Producer Charles Brackett wouldn’t change the title though, so second-string Songwriters Jay Livingston & Ray Evans got their big break: the #2 record of the year, but also the year’s #2 song.

#1 Ink Spots – The Gypsy

Now if you’re listening to the countdown and thinking “man, the charts were skewing awfully White in the ’40s,” well, we’ve got a surprise for you at #1. And ’46 wasn’t the first year that a Black artist scored the #1 hit of the year. The Mills Brothers’ “Paper Doll,” #1 on the year 1943. And in the top ten for years in the ’40s, Louis Jordan and the Mills Brothers again in ’44 and Ella Fitzgerald, a very respectable #14 that year. And of course Nat “King” Cole in ’47 and again in ’48. But the top charting Black act of the decade was the Group at #1 for ’46. After huge years in 1940 and ’43 they were back bigger than ever. We heard Dinah Shore doing the song back at #8, but at #1 it’s The Ink Spots version of “The Gypsy.”

Ink Spots with the #1 song of 1946 here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, #1 for ten straight weeks, and their version of “To Each His Own” was also a top ten hit in ’46. They had one of the most identifiable sounds in Pop history thanks to their so-called “top & bottom” formula: lead vocal by balladeer Bill Kenny, and a talking bass part, first by Hoppy Jones until his death in 1944, then by Bill’s brother Herb Kenny, who we just heard on “The Gypsy.” From 1940 to ’51, 19 charting records including 11 top tens.

Bonus

Well there you go: the top ten songs of 1946 according to our Chartcrush recap of Billboard‘s weekly Sales, Airplay and Jukebox charts. Again, our ranking derived by combining those three charts into a Hot100-style chart, then using the same method we use for Hot100 years to calculate the points. But looking at the charts individually, there were records that made the top ten on one, but not the others, and since we have a little bit of time, let’s take a look at those.

Johnny Mercer and The Pied Pipers – Personality

First, one that Billboard had in the top ten of both their year-end Best-Sellers and DJ charts. Our ranking algorithm wasn’t as generous, but it’s our #17 song overall: the big 1946 hit by 1945’s top charting artist, Johnny Mercer, here with the Pied Pipers Vocal Group, “Personality.”

Pretty racy for a mid-’40s Pop hit! Where was the Hays office on that one? Johnny Mercer and The Pied Pipers’ “Personality.”

Frank SinatraOh! What It Seemed to Be

Next is the #4 song on our DJ ranking, but nowhere near the top ten on for Sales or Jukeboxes. Did I mention that radio loved Frank Sinatra? Here’s his version of “Oh! What It Seemed to Be.”

We heard Frankie Carle and Marjorie Hughes’ version of “Oh! What It Seemed to Be” at #3 in the Countdown; Sinatra’s shakes out at #16.

Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters – South America, Take It Away

Our #12 overall hit comes out #9 on our Best-Sellers re-crunch: two of the ’40s top acts teaming up for another #1 after their “Don’t Fence Me In” in ’45: Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters, “South America, Take It Away.”

“South America, Take It Away,” Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters, a song about the Latin dance craze as Pan-Americanism and Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy took root in the culture.

Vaughn Monroe and His Orchestra (vocal Vaughn Monroe and The Norton Sisters) – Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

And finally, just missing our top ten for 1946 at #11, a Holiday song that we have as the year’s #10 Best-Seller and #7 DJ hit. Five weeks on top January into February made it the biggest Holiday hit since Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” in ’42: Vaughn Monroe’s “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

Dean Martin’s 1959 version of “Let It Snow!” started charting every year at holiday time in 2018 as on-demand streaming took over, but Vaughn Monroe’s, the original hit, was in 1946.

And wouldn’t you know it, just when you’re feeling festive, it’s time to wrap things up for our 1946 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Hey, if you like what you heard and you want more, head over to our website, chartcrush.com for a full transcript of the show and a link to the podcast version on Spotify, plus ducky extras like our full top 100 chart and interactive graph of the actual chart runs of the songs we heard this hour. We do that for every year, ’40s to present, and it’s all on the website, again, chartcrush.com. Thanks for listening, and I hope you’ll tune in again this time next week, same station, for another year, and another edition of Chartcrush.

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