Our Top 10 Billie Holiday Songs list is about one of music’s most classy and sophisticated jazz singers. She is known for singing jazz and swing music. Her nickname was “Lady Day.” She was a pioneer of jazz and pop music. Billie Holiday had a unique voice and a way of manipulating phrasing as well as tempo. She became an innovator when she became the first African American woman to work with a Caucasian orchestra. She was also an actress. Billie Holiday won four Grammy Awards during her career. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It’s time to get to know Billie Holiday a little better.
Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959. She got her start singing in nightclubs in Harlem. Legendary producer named John Hammond discovered her. Hammond loved her voice and signed her to a contract in 1935. Holiday got her first name from an actress named Billie Dove. She recorded two songs in 1933 before she met John Hammond. The songs were “You’re Mother’s Son-In-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch.” The former song sold 300 copies while the latter song sold 5,000 copies. “Riffin’ the Scotch” was a hit for Holiday.
In 1935, Billie Holiday was in a musical short film with Duke Ellington called Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life. Holiday released successful singles before the release of her first album. She had her first number one pop hit with the single “Carelessly.” Her next single “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” was also a hit. Her biggest hit singles were yet to come. She released “Strange Fruit” in 1939. The song was number 16 on the Billboard 200 charts. Billie Holiday released “God Bless the Child” in 1941. It sold over one million copies. In 1942, she released the hit singles “Trav’lin’ Light” and “Lover Man.”
Billie Holiday released her first album in 1952 called Billie Holiday Sings. It features the singles “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “Blue Moon,” “You Turned the Tables on Me,” “These Foolish Things” and “You Go to My Head.” An Evening with Billie Holiday was released in 1953. The album features the singles “Stormy Weather,” “Lover, Come Back to Me,” “Yesterdays,” “Tenderly” and “Remember.”
In 1954, Billie Holiday released her eponymous album. It features the singles “Love for Sale,” “Moonglow,” “Everything I Have Is Yours,” “Autumn in New York,” “How Deep Is the Ocean” and “I Cried for You.” Music for Torching was released in 1955. It features the singles “It Had to Be You,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “I Don’t Want to Cry Anymore,” “A Fine Romance,” “Gone with the Wind” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.”
Velvet Mood was released in 1956. The project features the singles “Prelude to a Kiss,” “When Your Lover Has Gone,” “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and “I’ve Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.” Lady Sings the Blues was also released in 1956. It features the singles “Lady Sings the Blue,” “Trav’lin’ Light,” “I Must Have That Man,” “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” “Good Morning Heartache” and “Willow Weep for Me.”
Body and Soul came out in 1957. It features the singles “Body and Soul,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Darn That Dream,” “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” and “Embraceable You.” Holiday released Songs for Distingue Lovers in 1958. The album features the singles “Day In, Day Out,” “A Foggy Day,” “Stars Fell on Alabama,” “One For My Baby” and “Just One of Those Things.”
Stay with Me came out in 1958. It features the singles “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “I Wished on the Moon,” “Everything Happens to Me,” “Say It Isn’t So” and “Always.” She released All or Nothing at All in 1958. The album features the singles “Cheek to Cheek,” “Speak Low,” “We’ll Be Together Again,” “All or Nothing at All” and “Sophisticated Lady.”
Lady in Satin came out in 1958. It features the singles “The End of a Love Affair,” “I’m a Fool to Want You,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “For All We Know,” “You’ve Changed” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” This album was the last one released before her death in 1959. Holiday’s album Last Recording was released after she died. It came out in 1959. It features the singles “All of You,” “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “You Took Advantage of Me,” “All the Way,” “I’ll Never Smile Again,” and “It’s Not for Me to Say.”
Billie Holiday was able to achieve success in an era that wasn’t easy for African Americans. She was successful during the segregation era. She was able to achieve success in music as well as in movies. Unfortunately, she dealt with personal demons such as abuse and numerous arrests due to prostitution and drug possession. She was able to maintain a career despite her personal problems until her death. She has recorded successful songs during her career. She became so successful that a movie was made about her. There aren’t too many artists who have movies made about their lives. This Top 10 Billie Holiday Songs list will be about her best songs.
# 10 – Them There Eyes
The first song on our Top 10 Billie Holiday Songs list is the sentimental “Them There Eyes” from the Billie Holiday & Friends album. This song has a jazz, traditional pop and blues sound. This is a love song about her expressing how much she loves a person based on their eyes. This song is a cover of Louis Armstrong’s song. Holiday made this song famous. The music has a classic sound to it. The pianist sounds excellent. The person sounds like a musical magician behind the keys. The alto saxophonist sounds brilliant. The person has an amazing solo that shouldn’t be missed.
There is someone playing a horn solo during the musical pause that’s also worth a listen. The musicians do an excellent job supporting Billie Holiday. It’s time to talk about her vocals. Billie Holiday’s vocals sound divine. She sounds like an angel while she’s pouring her heart out in the song. Her phrasing of the lyrics is absolutely fantastic. Her rich and smooth voice could melt all of the ice in the world. Her version of the song is just as good as Armstrong’s version of it. She makes the song her own.
# 9 – Lover, Come Back to Me
The next song on Our Top 10 Billie Holiday Songs list is “Lover, Come Back to Me” from the An Evening with Billie Holiday album. The song has a jazz, soul and r&b sound to it. This aching song is about her losing a lover and wanting the guy to come back to her. She’s eager to have him back in her life and wants to know if he’ll return to her. The piano chords are flawless. The pianist doesn’t miss a note. The piano dominates the music. The music is a little misleading because it sounds upbeat, but she’s singing about a lost love.
The music is good for slow dancing. There’s a little tempo included in the song that allows you to finger snap while listening to it. If you close your eyes, you can feel like you are in a jazz club. It’s very hypnotic and will make you feel like you stepped into a time capsule to relive the time she recorded the song. It definitely sounds like a classic track, but it can be appreciated today. Billie Holiday’s voice is very angelic. She sings the song in a higher pitch from her natural tone. She didn’t have vocal training so it’s impressive how she was able to switch things up with ease. She proved that she had a true gift when it came to singing.
# 8 – Blue Moon
The metaphoric song is from the Billie Holiday Sings album. The song has a jazz beat to it. This is a song that has been covered quite a bit over the years. A lot of artists must enjoy singing this song because there are a lot of covers of it. This is a comforting song about someone being miserable and finding solace in the beautiful blue moon. It’s a creative way to describe not giving up and finding comfort in unusual places. Billie Holiday doesn’t stray from the lyrics of the song. She does change the style and melody of it. Her version of the song has more tempo to it. The piano and horn section dominate her version of the song.
The other versions of the song seem slower than this one. The change makes her version stand out from the others. The track has a musical pause that will give you a chance to enjoy the rhythmic horn section. We dare you not to be moved by the sound the musicians create in the musical pause. Billie Holiday’s rich vocals are fire. She nails the song. She speeds up the lyrics without taking a breath. Her delivery of each line is superb. She has amazing control as she belts out each lyric. There weren’t too many artists around at her time that could do what she could do without any formal vocal training.
# 7 – I Only Have Eye For You
The romantic song is from the Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra album. It has a jazz and soul sound to it. The enchanting love song is about her letting her lover know that she’s only interested in him. She has no intention of being with anyone else. She “only has eyes for him.” This is a cover song. It has been done other times before. It’s a beautiful song that never gets old. The Flamingos’ version is probably the best-known version of this song. Their version is slowed down. Billie Holiday’s version is closer to Dick Powell’s version of the song. Her version has tempo like Powell’s version of the song. Her version sounds joyous and upbeat.
The saxophone and trumpet are brilliant. They sell the music wonderfully. The rhythm section is absolutely sparking and sizzling. The instrumental pause was soothing and melodic. She really makes the song her own. Her vocals are out of this world. She sounds great and crystal clear as she spouts out each lyric. She sounds breathtaking while she sings the song. Her voice sounds like a musical instrument. She blended in with the horn and became one with it.
# 6 – Trav’lin’ Light
The breakup song is from the Lady Sings the Blues album. The song has a jazz sound to it. This is a metaphoric way to end a relationship. She doesn’t want the baggage of a bad relationship holding her down anymore. She wants to be light and free. It was written decades ago, but the theme is relevant to this day. People want to have less baggage when they move on from relationships. They want to be light and free. This is one of Holiday’s signature songs and it’s easy to see why it is one. She convinces the listeners that she wants to be free of everything that’s tying her down. Most people can relate to this anthem and want to sing the lyrics right along with her.
The music is appropriate for the theme of the song. It has a somber and mellow beat. The song opens with a saxophone solo that is absolutely breathtaking. The trombone portion of the song will send you on a musical journey and gives the song an emotional tone. The horn section is magnificent and there aren’t enough words to compliment how good they sound. The music compliments her voice very well. Billie Holiday’s voice blends in with the trombone. Her vocals are soulful and smooth. She doesn’t sing in the song too much. The music dominates the lyrics in the song so it appears shorter than it is.
# 5 – Lover Man
The next song on our Top 10 Billie Holiday Songs list is “Lover Man” from her greatest hits album. The song has a jazz and soul sound. The longing song is about her wanting someone to be there for her to make her feel like a woman. She wants to be loved. The simple song is deep and relatable to anyone who wants to have love in their lives. The music is cool and mellow. It starts with the string section and builds from there. It has a classic jazz sound. It’s easy to tell that the song was recorded decades ago, but it can still resonate now.
This sound can be appreciated throughout time. The musical arrangement is enticing. The orchestral background is phenomenal and moving. It might bring tears to your eyes as you get lost in the instrumentation. Billie Holiday is a pure genius when it comes to phrasing. She sounds sensual and sweet while she sings the lyrics. She belts a little and holds little notes while she sings after the bridge. She sings the song with so much feeling. She wears her heart on her sleeve. Here is some trivia about the song. This song is one of Billie Holiday’s favorite songs. She sings it as if she enjoys it.
# 4 – I’ve Got Love to Keep Me Warm
The heartfelt song is from the Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra album. It has a jazz sound to it. This is an emotional song about not caring about what’s going on outside because she has the love of her man to keep her warm. The lyrics are sensual especially for the time it was recorded. She wants the world to know she only needs love to keep her warm. This song has been covered quite a bit throughout the years. The lyrics are timeless so it’s understandable that artists wanted to cover it. The musical arrangement gives the song a jazzy Christmas feel to it.
The upbeat music was perfect for the theme of the song. The musical arrangement is enthralling and captivating. The horn section stands out the most in the song. The violin is also a treat in the song. Holiday’s vocals shine on this track. She sounds like an angel once again. She could sing almost anything and make it sound good. You can get lost in her hypnotic vocals. You can practically hear her smiling while she sings the sensual lyrics.
# 3 – When You’re Smiling
The optimistic song is from her greatest hits album. It has a jazz sound to it. The positive song is about the world being happy when you’re happy. It sends a great message that the world is happy along with you. When she recorded this song the war happened. People needed this hopeful message to keep going. Her version of the cover song was needed for the people who were suffering at the time. The song is appropriate for what’s going on in the world today. People need a positive message today just like they did when it was recorded.
The tenor saxophone solo is marvelous. Lester Young does a fantastic job with his solo. Teddy Wilson is playing the piano and the maestro sounds brilliant. Wilson’s solo will grab your attention. Let’s talk about Billie Holiday’s vocals. Listening to her voice will make you smile as she says in the lyrics. Her infectious vocals will definitely grab your attention until the song is done. Her voice is truly magical and special. It’s amazing what she can accomplish vocally considering she didn’t have formal training. She was dealing with her personal problems when she recorded the song, but she remained a true professional.
# 2 – Strange Fruit
The social song is from the Lady Sings the Blues album. It has a blues and jazz sound. “Strange Fruit” is an anthem about protesting the lynching of black people. The lyrics compare the victims to fruit in trees. The track was initially a poem. The song helped lead to the civil rights movement. The song is powerful and moving. The lyrics of the song are just as relevant today as they were when the song was recorded. The song had such a huge impact on people.
It was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978. The music is somber and haunting and fits with the moving message behind the track. The piano dominates the music and that was a wise choice. The song has a deep meaning and doesn’t need to be flooded with different instruments. It’s an acoustic sound so it gives listeners a chance to focus on the powerful lyrics. Billie Holiday’s vocals are passionate. You can hear the pain as she describes the people who were tortured and lynched. The song was banned because of the controversial lyrics. It’s hard to believe someone would stop this song from being played. People needed to know what was going on and Billie Holiday was the right person to do it. Her deep vocals were perfect for the somber theme.
# 1 – God Bless the Child
The number one song on our Top 10 Billie Holiday Songs list is “God Bless the Child” from her eponymous album. The song has a jazz sound. The profound song is based on a proverb about the treatment of people. Religion doesn’t make people treat others any better. It tells the story about someone being there for you when you have everything, but disappears when you have nothing. Here is some trivia about the song. Billie Holiday came up with the theme of the song because of an argument she had with her mother. She said “God bless the child that’s got his own” came from the argument she had with her mother.
The song has a poignant message that is still relatable to this day. You will know who your friends are based on how much you have in your life. The music will blow your mind. It has a pure jazz sound. The musical arrangement is spectacular. The music contradicts the message behind the song. It sounds like it would be a romantic song and not a song about treating people a certain way. The music is moving and may bring you to tears. Holiday’s voice is phenomenal. She sings the song with a lot of meaning. She co-wrote the song so she’s personally connected to it. You can hear her passion as she sings each lyric. This song is one of her signature songs and it should be. It was honored by the Grammy Hall of Fame and was well deserved. It also deserves to be number one on our list.
Top 10 Billie Holiday Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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