Album Chart of 1940

<1939 1941>

  • This chart features albums released in 1940 and is limited to all of the albums in my collection which have “A-list” status.
  • Elsewhere, the Albums released in 1940 page shows the full range of albums in this sites' database, including the “B-list” records, although there are none more than the 2 Woody Guthrie sets at the time of writing, 1 September 2015.


It's a rather sparsely populated chart. Ok, there’s only Woody Guthrie. But I’m pretty sure he’d still be No.1 if I owned every album that was ever released in 1940. tells how the “Dust Bowl Ballads” came to be:

An RCA Victor recording producer, R. P. Weatherald, approached [Alan] Lomax about making some recordings for Victor. Woody was with him and Alan immediately pointed to Woody and said, “Here’s your man — record him.” It was Alan’s expression of his appreciation for Woody as a performer and a folk artist…. He saw in Woody the perfect, but not unique, example of the cross fertilization of Ozark culture with Southwestern culture as modified and adapted by parts of Texas and Oklahoma. Woody was the most talented and prolific of known folk poets. These recordings were Woody’s first commercial effort, and they are, with the exception of some imaginative exaggeration, an accurate historical depiction, through music, of the Dust Bowl. It is doubtful that any historical period has had comparable folk response.

The Jukebox Rebel

TJR says:

8.95 “A classic”

John Steinbeck’s realist novel “The Grapes Of Wrath” was just over a year old by the time “Dust Bowl Ballads” saw release. Almost, quite literally, the aural equivalent, Woody’s songs tell of the folks driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, these folks set out for “The Garden of Eden” that was California. Along with thousands of other "Okies", they sought jobs, land, dignity, and a future.

Woody Guthrie’s opening recorded statements stand today as great cultural artefacts; a period in time captured with all the earthy humour of an “Okie” who lived it like he talked it, and had the wit and the nous to tell the story which never fails to captivate from start to finish.

Talkin’ Dust Bowl Blues” gets proceedings off to an amazing start, charmingly telling the story of a hazardous family journey in their Ford machine full o’ gas Eileen. Starting out from the Dust bowl, they’re bound for the “Peach Bowl”, bouncin’ up and down like popcorn poppin’ in their old jalopy.

Pretty much following the adventures of the Joad family from Steinbeck’s novel, Woody’s songs relay the frustration felt by the displaced. Second song in is “Blowin’ Down This Old Dusty Road”:
“They say I’m A Dust Bowl refugee lord lord, but I ain’t gonna be treated this way, I’m a lookin’ for a job and honest pay lord lord and I ain’t gonna be treated this way”

Do-Re-Mi” makes it clear what’s happening from the point of view of the Californian state – their illegal borders were all about the green backs:
“Now, the police at the port of entry say, “You're number fourteen thousand for today”, Oh, if you ain't got the do re mi, folks, you ain't got the do re mi, Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee. California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see; But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot If you ain't got the do re mi.”

The seventeen verse magnum opus “Tom Joad” takes up sides E and F of the 3 disc set; with his last words on the album, Woody defines Steinbeck’s leading character thus:
“Wherever little children are hungry and cry, Wherever people ain’t free, Wherever men are fightin’ for their rights, Thats where I’m gonna be, ma, That’s where I’m gonna be”

He was a rough diamond that Joad feller. Much like that Woody Guthrie.

The Jukebox Rebel

TJR says:

8.55 “A classic”

With him having built up a strong repertoire over the preceding years, RCA got the maximum benefit when they fluked an album set from America’s most talented folk poet of the era. Any old folkie would have done for their commissioner – but they were in the right place at the right time to be offered the chance to record Woody. They got 14 songs from two sessions in April and May 1940 – enough to select 12 to make 2 triple disc sets of 78 shellac records.

Volume 2, released simultaneously with Volume 1 in early July, was another devastatingly effective set from the outsiders’ champion, a true working class hero.

In a column he wrote for the “People’s World” (a Communist newspaper of the day), Woody opined: “The Grapes of Wrath,” you know is about us pullin’ out of Oklahoma and Arkansas, and down south, and a driftin’ around over (to the) state of California, busted, disgusted, down and out, and a lookin’ for work. Shows you how come us to be that a way. Shows the dam bankers men that broke us and the dust that choked us, and comes right out in plain old English and says what to do about it. It says you got to get together and have some meetins, and stick together, and raise old billy hell till you get your job, and get your farm back, and your house and your chickens and your groceries and your clothes, and your money back. Go to see “Grapes of Wrath,” pardner, go to see it and don’t miss.”

The Great Dust Storm” and “Dusty Old Dust” paint the picture straight from the off:

“On the 14th day of April of 1935, there struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky. You could see that dust storm comin', the cloud looked deathlike black, and through our mighty nation, it left a dreadful track. From Oklahoma City to the Arizona line, Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande, It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down, We thought it was our judgement, we thought it was our doom.”

“A dust storm hit, an' it hit like thunder, it dusted us over, an' it covered us under, Blocked out the traffic an' blocked out the sun, straight for home all the people did run… so long, it's been good to know yuh. This dusty old dust is a-gettin' my home, and I got to be driftin' along.”

Howard Taubman in The New York Times, was highly astute with his instantaneous review at the time: “These albums are not a summer sedative. They make you think; they may even make you uncomfortable…. The albums show that the phonograph is broadening its perspective, and that life as some of our unfortunates know it can be mirrored on the glistening disks.”

It wasn't just RCA; the world at large got lucky when Woody was finally unleashed via the “Dust Bowl Ballads”. These are the folk records by which folk records should be measured.

The Jukebox Rebel

chart first published 1 Sep 2015; last edited 6 Dec 2015

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1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016