At the age of 15, Nat King Cole dropped out of school to pursue a music career. A risky move perhaps, but one that more than paid off. By the time he passed away in 1965 at the tragically young age of 45, he’d established himself as one of the most gifted singers and pianists of his generation. Even today, his legacy of work still resonates with millions of fans around the world. Here’s our pick of the 10 best Nat King Cole songs of all time.
Described by Medium as one of the most romantic songs of all time, Stardust has proved a hit for numerous artists over the year. Cole’s interpretation wasn’t the biggest hit from a chart perspective, but his sympathetic treatment of the lyrics and masterful performance quickly became the standard.
9. Let’s Face the Music and Dance
Let’s Face the Music and Dance was written by Irving Berlin for the film “Follow the Fleet,” in which it provided the soundtrack to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ iconic dance duet. It’s since become one of the most covered jazz songs of all time, with everyone from Frank Sinatra and Doris Day to Willie Nelson and Robbie Williams releasing versions. The bulk of those later covers were inspired by Nat King Cole’s 1964 swing rendition, which helped popularise the song with a wider audience. Forty years after it was first recorded, it was re-released as a single after featuring in an advert for Allied Dunbar. This time around, it reached No. 30 in the UK charts.
8. Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer
Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer was composed by Hans Carste and first recorded by Willy Hagara. In 1963, the song landed in Cole’s lap, whose creamy vocals inject the lyrics with a wistful nostalgia that’s almost tangible. A chart success, Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer reached No. 6 on the Hot 100 and No. 3 on the US Middle-Road Singles chart
Named as one of the best feel-good songs of all time by theodysseyonline.com, L-O-V-E was written by Bert Kaempfert and Milt Gabler. It was first recorded by Cole for his 1965 studio album of the same name. While most artists wouldn’t have bothered, Cole went to the effort of learning the song in multiple languages for its international release, with the result that you can hear it in Japanese, Italian, German, Spanish, and French.
6. Sweet Lorraine
Nat King Cole didn’t write Sweet Lorraine – Mitchell Parish and Cliff Burwell get the credit for that – and he wasn’t the first artist to record it. He was, however, the one who not only popularized it, but who turned it into a jazz standard that’s since been performed by legions of other artists. He first began performing the song during his time touring clubs, and it became one of the first songs he recorded after winning a record deal.
5. Send for Me
In 1957, Cole released Send for Me, a song written by Ollie Jones and performed alongside the McCoy’s Boys. It was a huge success, reaching No. 1 on the US R&B chart, No. 6 on the US Pop chart, and No. 40 on Billboard’s Year-End top 50 singles of 1957. In the years since, numerous artists have attempted to better the original, including Marvin Gaye, Paul Anka, Sammy Davis Jr., and The Stylistics. Suffice to say, none have succeeded
4. Looking Back
Over the years, Looking Back has been covered by more artists than you can name. Dinah Washington, Marty Robbins, Nancy Wilson, Gregory Issacs, Don Williams, The Blind Boys of Alabama.. the list goes on. Some of the versions have been terrible, others have been good, and a select few have even been excellent. But even the best don’t come close to matching Cole’s inimitable original. First released as a single in 1958, it soared to No. 2 on the US R&B chart and No.5 on the pop chart. In 1965, he re-released it, this time peaking at No. 27 on the adult contemporary chart.
As maggysimonsings.com notes, Smile is considered by many to showcase Cole at the peak of his vocal abilities. It’s also a song that more than lives up to its name – as the orchestra swells and Cole’s vocals soar, it’s almost impossible not to break into a smile – even if your heart is aching. Released as a single in 1954, the song peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard charts and No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart. When Sammy Davis Jr. was invited to contribute to the tribute album The Nat King Cole Songbook in 1965, this was the song he chose.
2. Ramblin’ Rose
Ramblin’ Rose was written in 1962 by brothers Noel and Joe Sherman. Numerous artists have covered it over the years, but Cole was the first… and most successful. Released in July 1962, the song soared to No. 2 on both the Billboard and Cash Box charts and spent 5 weeks at No. 1 on the Easy Listening chart, selling over a million copies in the US alone. It was also a major hit in Australia, where it spent five weeks at the top of the chart. As much of a critical success as it was a commercial one, it scooped a nomination for a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
Unforgettable was written by Irvin Gordon. Gordon had originally wanted to call the song Uncomparable but was convinced to change it by the music publishing company. In Nat King Cole’s hands, it became both. The low strains of the violin pitched against Cole’s silky vocals is sublime, while the slow dreaminess of the song allows Cole to showcase his impressive range. He first recorded it in 1951 for the album of the same name, but it’s also worth checking out the posthumous release from 1992, in which the original recording was re-worked as a duet with his daughter Natalie Cole.