Blues All The Time: 20 Essential Songs from the Blues’ First Century

Over the past hundred years, blues music has mutated and transformed itself repeatedly, borrowing from other styles and traditions as it migrated from the South over to Texas and up to Chicago. Winnowing such a massive catalog down to a handful of tracks would be impossible, but here are 20 songs essential to the blues and its long, storied history. This article appears in the May/June 2015 "Blues Issue," now available on newsstands.  1. “Crazy Blues” by Mamie Smith (1920) Smith’s debut single looms impossibly large over popular music: It’s the first vocal recording by an African American, the first blues recording, and the first race record. Ninety-five years later, “Crazy Blues” has more than history to recommend it, as Smith’s jazzy delivery sounds just as sly and mighty as ever. 2. “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground” by Blind Willie Johnson (1927) This itinerant preacher and musician has traveled from the dusty streets of Texas to the very edge of the solar system. One of his biggest hits, an all-but-silent prayer based on an18th-century hymn, was included on the gold record that NASA shot into space on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. 3. “Stackolee” by Mississippi John…

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