Cab Calloway was one of the best jazz musicians of the 20th century. His music made frequent appearances on the Billboard Hot 100. Furthermore, Calloway was a ground-breaker who became the first African-American musician to sell a million copies of a single. Even now, his music remains enjoyable despite its dated sound, meaning interested individuals might want to check it out to see if it connects with them.
Here is our opinion of the ten best Cab Calloway songs ever released:
10. “You Rascal You”
Calloway was one of several artists to have recorded this song. The lyrics are different from version to version. However, the general gist remains consistent. The narrator welcomed someone into his home who ran off with his wife. As a result, he’s furious, so much so that he wishes the ingrate was dead. Some versions have even been known to express stronger sentiments than this.
9. “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”
“Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea” is a relationship song. Specifically, the narrator seems sick of his significant other. Despite that, he isn’t capable of letting go. As a result, the narrator is stuck between two unpalatable choices, represented by the titular figure and location. Calloway was the first to record this song. His version reached the number 15 position on the Billboard Hot 100.
8. “I’ve Got the World On a String”
The early 1930s was a very productive period for Calloway. For proof, “I’ve Got the World On a String” is another hit from the same time. Calloway’s version peaked at the number 18 position in the United States. Still, it made a strong impression, as shown by its subsequent recordings by other famous artists. Subject-wise, “I’ve Got the World On a String” is a much happier relationship song than the last one. It’s unmistakably about the soaring excitement of someone in love.
7. “Blues in the Night”
Calloway was one of the first wave of artists to record “Blues in the Night” in the early 1940s. Funny enough, the song was involved in an Oscar controversy in its year. It was one of the two candidates expected to win Best Original Song. Unfortunately, neither “Blues in the Night” nor its rival won. Instead, “The Last Time I Saw Paris” claimed the victory. The whole thing was so unexpected that neither the composer Jerome Kern nor the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II had shown up for the occasion. Moreover, Kern was annoyed because he thought “Blues in the Night” deserved the win. As a result, he pushed for an originality requirement for the award, which would’ve excluded “The Last Time I Saw Paris” because it had been recorded before the movie it was featured in.
6. “Moon Glow”
“Moon Glow” peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1934. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a love song. The curious thing is that moonlight isn’t a metaphor for the narrator’s feelings in this song. Instead, it’s responsible for bringing him and his significant other together. Regardless, the song retains much of its power to move the heart.
5. “(Hep! Hep!) The Jumpin’ Jive”
Calloway topped the Billboard Hot 100 once. However, he came close to repeating the feat on more than one occasion. “(Hep! Hep!) The Jumpin’ Jive” was one of those times because it soared to the number two spot in the United States before stopping there. Still, it was an incredible success by any reasonable standard. The song sold more than a million copies, which was much more impressive in the late 1930s than the same number would be in modern times.
4. “Reefer Man”
“Reefer Man” is more or less what one would expect based on the name. It’s a lighthearted song that pokes fun at someone who has been smoking marijuana. The song didn’t become a Top 10 hit but came close by peaking at the number 11 position.
3. “Saint James Infirmary”
“Saint James Infirmary” is a jazz standard. No one knows for sure where it came from. The popular belief is that it originated as a folk song. Unfortunately, tracing it beyond that point is difficult, which isn’t helped by how one version can be quite different from another. Calloway wasn’t the one who popularized “Saint James Infirmary.” That was Louis Armstrong back in 1928. Still, Calloway’s version from the early 1930s stands out for two reasons. First, it was popular enough to reach the number three position in the United States. Second, it was used for Betty Boop in Snow White, one of the best-known works from the Golden Age of American Animation. Indeed, Calloway worked on the movie by contributing the character Koko’s voice and dance moves.
2. “The Honeydripper”
“The Honeydripper” came from a later point in Calloway’s career. To be exact, Joe Liggins and His Honeydrippers had an enormous hit with the song in 1945 and 1946. It was so popular that it remained at the top of the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Song Songs for 18 weeks. Calloway was one of the artists who released covers in the aftermath. His version didn’t match the original’s success. Still, it says much that it reached the number three position on the same chart, thus showing that it could stand out in its own right.
1. “Minnie the Moocher”
Of course, there can be no doubt that “Minnie the Moocher” would top this list. It dominated the charts in 1931. Something reflected by how “Minnie the Moocher” is thought to have been the first jazz record to sell a million copies. Funny enough, the song retained its magic for decades after its initial release. We know this because Calloway also did a disco version in the 1970s. That recording didn’t match the numbers of the original. Despite that, it placed on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs at number 91. As such, it’s no wonder that “Minnie the Moocher” is included in the National Recording Registry in recognition of its immense impact on the cultural landscape.
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