Unforgettable Love Songs of the 1930s

The 1930s was a decade of unforgettable love songs. Many of the well-loved classics that we know today were written during this period.

The 1930s to the 1940s is also known as the Golden Age of musical theater in America. Many musicals were brought to the stage and several were adapted into films. Composers and lyricists continued to collaborate to create beautiful love songs, and among them were Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and Richard Rodgers.

01
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"Begin the Beguine" - Cole Porter

Cole Porter
Cole Porter. Sasha / Getty Images

The song "Begin the Beguine" was written by one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century: Cole Porter. The song was performed in 1935 by Jane Knight in the musical Jubilee. In 1938, the song became popular when Artie Shaw released it as a single. The lyrics follow:

When they begin the beguine
it brings back the sound
of music so tender
it brings back a night
of tropical splendor
it brings back a memory of green

Listen to Thomas Hampson's beautiful rendition of this song.

02
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"But Not For Me" - Gershwin Brothers

Gershwin At Work
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

"But Not For Me" was written in 1930 by the brilliant Gershwin brothers George (music) and Ira (lyrics) Gershwin.

This song was performed by Ginger Rogers in the stage musical Girl Crazy and it was also included in a 1932 film of the same title. In 1942, Judy Garland sang this song in another film bearing the same title. The lyrics follow:

They're writing songs of love, but not for me,
A lucky star's above, but not for me,
With love to lead the way,
I found more clouds of gray,
Than any Russian play could guarantee.

Listen to Eileen Farrell sing "But Not for Me."

03
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"Cheek to Cheek" - Irving Berlin

Berlin Plays Piano
Henry Guttmann / Getty Images

This unforgettable tune was written by the equally unforgettable songwriter Irving Berlin. It was first performed by Fred Astaire in the 1935 film Top Hat.

Other singers who recorded this song include Julie Andrews, Louis Armstrong, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, and Sarah Vaughan. Read the lyrics:

Heaven, I'm in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek

04
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"Easter Parade" - Irving Berlin

Easter Parade
Judy Garland in Easter Parade. John Kobal Foundation / Getty Images

"Easter Parade" is a song written in 1933 by the great Irving Berlin. It was also included in a 1948 film of the same title starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.

Additional vocalists who have also recorded this song in a duet form include Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine. An excerpt of the lyrics follow:

In your easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.
I'll be all in clover and when they look you over,
I'll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade.

Watch this YouTube video of Al Jolson singing "Easter Parade."

05
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"How Deep is the Ocean" - Irving Berlin

Julie Andrews
Julie Andrews. Photoshot / Getty Images

This Irving Berlin song was published in 1932 and eventually became a huge hit.

Musicians who recorded this include Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, Etta James, Frank Sinatra, and Julie Andrews. The lyrics follow:

How much do I love you?
I'll tell you no lie
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

Listen to Julie Andrew's version of this song from YouTube.

06
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"Isn't It Romantic" - Richard Rodgers

Love Me Tonight
Still from Love Me Tonight. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

"Isn't It Romantic" is one of the many song collaborations between Richard Rodgers (music) and Lorenz Hart (lyrics). This song was included in the 1932 film Love Me Tonight starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald.

Several other musicians who have recorded this song include Carmen McRae, Peggy Lee, and Ella Fitzgerald. An excerpt of the lyrics is included below.

Isn't it romantic?
Music in the night,
a dream that can be heard.
Isn't it romantic?

Watch this short YouTube clip from the movie Love Me Tonight featuring the song "Isn't It Romantic."

07
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"I've Got You Under My Skin" - Cole Porter

Frank Sinatra
Art Zelin / Getty Images

Cole Porter wrote the song "I've Got You Under My Skin" in 1936 and it was performed by Virginia Bruce in the musical Born to Dance.

Dinah Washington recorded this song as well as many other performers, but the one that remains "under our skin" is Frank Sinatra's rendition. View the lyrics below:

I've got you under my skin
I've got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart, that you're really a part of me
I've got you under my skin

Listen to Frank Sinatra's memorable recording of this song.

08
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"My Funny Valentine" - Rodgers and Hart

Photo of Lorenz HART and Richard RODGERS
Lorenz Hart and Richard Rogers. Redferns / Getty Images

This is a Rodgers and Hart collaboration written in 1937 and sung by Mitzi Green in the musical Babes in Arms. Many singers and instrumentalists recorded this song, but Chet Baker's version remains a favorite. Follow an excerpt of the lyrics below:

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
Yet you're my favorite work of art

Listen to Chet Baker's sweet voice singing "My Funny Valentine."

09
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"Night and Day" - Cole Porter

Photo of Fred ASTAIRE and Ginger ROGERS
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Redferns / Getty Images

In 1932, Cole Porter wrote this hit song and it was performed by Fred Astaire in the musical Gay Divorce. A film version of the play was released in 1934 and retitled The Gay Divorcee starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The lyrics to this song follow:

Night and day, you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me or far
It's no matter darling where you are
I think of you day and night

10
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"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" - Jerome Kern

The Platters Performing
The Platters. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

This timeless song was written by Jerome Kern (music) and Otto Harbach (lyrics) in 1933 for the musical Roberta. A film version of the play was released in 1935 featuring Irene Dunne singing.

This song was also recorded by various artists including Nat King Cole and The Platters. Follow an excerpt of the lyrics below:

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
Oh, I of course replied
Something here inside cannot be denied

Reminisce the past by listening to The Platter's version of this song.

11
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"The Song Is You" - Jerome Kern

Jerome Kern and Ira Gerswhin Discussing Musical Score
Jerome Kern and Ira Gerswhin. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

The melody of this song was composed by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It was first performed in the 1932 musical Music in the Air. The following includes lyrics:

I hear music when I look at you,
A beautiful theme of ev'ry dream I ever knew.
Down deep in my heart, I hear it play,
I feel it start then melt away.

Listen to Frank Sinatra singing this song from YouTube.

12
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"The Way You Look Tonight" - Jerome Kern

Billie Holiday performing at Newport Jazz Festival, 1957
Billie Holiday performing at Newport Jazz Festival, 1957. Bill Spilka/Getty Images

This popular song was a Jerome Kern hit with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It was included in the 1936 film Swing Time starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Singers who recorded this song include Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. "The Way You Look Tonight" was also featured in several films including the romantic comedy My Best Friend's Wedding. The lyrics follow:

Some day, when I'm awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight.

13
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"They Can't Take That Away From Me" - George Gershwin

Ella Sings
Ella Fitzgerald. George Konig / Getty Images

This memorable song was written by Ira and George Gershwin in 1937. It was first performed by Fred Astaire in the film "Shall We Dance."

"They Can't Take That Away From Me" was also recorded by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Sarah Vaughan, amongst others. The following excerpt shares the lyrics:

The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No they cant take that away from me

Watch the great Tony Bennett and Elvis Costello perform this song.

14
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"This Can't Be Love" - Richard Rodgers

Nat 'King' Cole Recording
Nat 'King' Cole. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

This well-received song collaboration is between Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The song "This Can't Be Love" was featured in the 1938 musical, The Boys from Syracuse. The lyrics follow:

This can't be love because I feel so well
No sob, no sorrow, no sight
This can't be love I get no dizzy spells
My head is not in the skies

Nat King Cole's version of this song.

15
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"Where or When" - Rodgers and Hart

Stan Getz 1990
Stan Getz. Redferns / Getty Images

Rodgers and Hart were on a roll during the 1930s. This song was performed by Ray Heatherton in the 1937 musical Babes In Arms.

Many singers recorded this song, including Peggy Lee and Julie Andrews; instrumentalists like Stan Getz and Benny Goodman also recorded this song. The lyrics include:

It seems we stood and talked like this before
We looked at each other in the same way then
But I can't remember where or when

Listen to Ray Heatherton's classic recording of this song.