14 Greatest Nat King Cole Songs, Maestro of Jazz and Pop

With an alluring voice as smooth as honey and unparalleled piano abilities, Chicago-born Nat King Cole would go on to become one of America’s most important artists of the 20th century. Though he was active in the music business from the 1930s to the 1960s, his music has a timeless feel to it, with a dynamic sound that spanned everything from jazz and big band to swing stylings and early pop numbers.

In a truly rare feat, more than 150 of Cole’s singles charted on Billboard. His high-powered hits earned him the reputation of being the one who “built Capitol Records.” During his tenure on their roster, he was their best-selling artist. From his early days with his formidable trio to his solo career, the music he recorded was beautiful, elegant, and perfectly curated for his effortless style. He passed away at only 45 years of age in 1965, but his daughter Natalie carried on his legacy and re-released some of his most notable work with a flare all her own. Dive into one of jazz and pop’s most celebrated musicians below with our pick of the best Nat King Cole songs of all time.

14. Straighten Up And Fly Right

A breakout hit for Nat King Cole’s trio, ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’ was inspired by Cole’s father, who was a pastor. The tune is a playful retelling of a sermon his dad used to preach, and it took the top spot on Billboard R&B charts along with placing high on several others. The single made quite a splash in the pop world when it was released in the mid. 1940s. Many artists went on to cover it, including a hit rendition by female vocal group The Andrews Sisters.

13. Mona Lisa

“You’re so like the lady with the mystic smile.” Renaissance polymath Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting, the Mona Lisa, is used as a metaphor for Cole’s song by the same name. The romantic track features a sparkling orchestral theme as he compares his love’s mystery and charm to one of Da Vinci’s most beloved works. One of his many hit singles, it was penned by songwriters Ray Evans and Jay Linvingston for a film. ‘Mona Lisa’ is one of Cole’s releases that helped him become well-known as a singer after he had gained fame as a skilled pianist.

12. Ramblin’ Rose

A huge hit for Cole late in his career, this top 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 was second only to The Four Seasons’ smash hit, ‘Sherry.’ A swingy ballad featuring Nat lamenting on a lost lover, ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ is a shining example of his range. With an angelic female choir rounding out the chorus, hints of early country-western and easy listening pop stylings are incorporated into his signature sound. Released in 1962 by Capitol Records, this King Cole single was written by songwriting brothers Noel and Joe Sherman.

11. Quizás, Quizás, Quizás (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps)

A popular song written by Cuban native Osvaldo Farres, many American artists have gone on to record his sensual ‘Quizas, Quizas, Quizas’ single. Translated to ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,’ the sexy, languid number featuring an airy flamenco-style rhythm features an in love protagonist pining for a woman’s affection. While the song was translated into English, Nat recorded it in Spanish, featured on his Spanish-themed album, Cole Espanol.

10. Too Young

Young love is at the center of this hit song. Written by composer Syndey Lippman and lyric writer Sylvia Dee, Cole took their romance track all the way to number one on the charts. Released in 1951, ‘Too Young’ went on to become that year’s best-selling tune. It’s a classic that remains evergreen. Many people choose it as their first dance song at their wedding. Though Capitol Records had tried to turn the single into a hit with other artists, it was the masterful Cole who got the job done. His version garnered the attention of younger audiences, which helped spark the fledgling flames of the Rock and Roll movement.

9. The Very Thought of You

Originally released by Ray Noble and his orchestra in England in 1934, ‘The Very Thought of You’ soon became a hit in Europe and a beloved track across the pond as well. Cole covered the romantic ballad in 1958, and his swooning, velvety vocals add the perfect touch to soaring string work and an overall dreamy feel. Now considered to be a pop standard due to its enduring legacy, Nat’s rendition appears on his ‘58 album by the same name. His cover proved to be a grand success as well, climbing into the top 20 on Billboard album release charts.

8. Orange Colored Sky

It’s love at first sight for Nat King Cole in ‘Orange Colored Sky’ as he plays a lovestruck protagonist taking a walk through the park. This big band swinging number utilizes the orchestra of Stan Kenton, one of the jazz movement’s key figures from the 1940s into the 1960s. While the hit single has been covered by artists from Doris Day to Lady Gaga, Cole’s inspired rendition remains a listener favorite.

7. Stardust

Legendary Tin Pan Alley songwriter Hoagy Carmichael wrote ‘Stardust’ in 1927, and the jazz standard has gone on to become one of the genre’s most popular tunes of all time. Listed in The Great American Songbook due to its historic significance, the slow, moving ballad has been recorded over 1,500 different times. While Nat’s producer convinced him to include it on his 1957 album Love is the Thing, due to its oversaturation, the jazz singer and jazz pianist was actually apprehensive about including it on the track listing. While the cover was another successful release with it receiving a significant amount of airplay, this popular tune remained one in the Nat King Cole canon he tried to avoid playing when he could. Though not one of his preferred live tracks, his recording sports a dazzling take with his sultry vocals and sensual delivery proving to be perfect components for the heart-wrenching essence of the tune.

6. Let There Be Love

A big hit in Europe, ‘Let There Be Love’ is a happy-go-lucky track celebrating the joys of life. From the main character’s significant other by his side to oysters and the sea, this gentle jazzy tune was written back in 1940 by Lionel Rand and Ian Grant and Cole released his rendition in 1962. While it celebrates the many wonderful things about life, love is proclaimed to be the most important. This feel-good single has since become a standard among jazz-pop enthusiasts and has been covered countless times by greats like The Andrews Sisters and The Supremes.

5. (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons

This commanding yet breezy jazz-pop track has been a mainstay in Cole’s discography. He first released ‘(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons’ in 1946 with his founding band, The Nat King Cole Trio. They had a few hits, including this one, which went all the way to number one on the Billboard Best Seller chart. Cole’s trio setup would go on to influence live jazz ensembles for decades to come. He re-released the track solo years later in 1961 on one of his popular albums, The Nat King Cole Story. This album was a concept project which featured the musician revisiting some of his favorites from over the years with a few guest musicians on the track listing to help reimagine the hits.

4. Unforgettable

Written by acclaimed songwriter Irving Gordon, ‘Unforgettable’ is another easygoing ballad that’s perfect for Cole’s smooth as silk vocals. A big early ‘50s hit for the artist, while Nat was signed to Capitol Records he became their best selling artist. The sentimental track stood the test of time, with Cole’s daughter Natalie becoming an accomplished singer in her own right and releasing a cover duet version of it alongside her father’s original recording. Unfortunately, he had passed away before they could record the track together so a little studio magic had to happen for the release. The touching tune was included on Natalie Coles’ early ‘90s album Unforgettable: With Love, along with a few other of her father’s famous gems. The project brought home several awards, including Grammys, for both Natalie and those who worked on the album.

3. When I Fall In Love

One of Cole’s most enduring tracks, ‘When I Fall In Love’ is a dynamic pop number with a heavy orchestral presence. As always, Nat’s smooth vocals soften it up. Originally released by other artists and included in films like One Minute to Zero, it was, like many of his other covers, Nat’s release that gained the tune international attention. A huge UK hit for Cole, he also sang it onscreen for the mid. ‘50s film, Istanbul. His recording has also been used in many other creative projects, from samples for other songs to TV advertisements. Cole’s daughter Natalie won multiple Grammys after releasing a duet version of it on her critically acclaimed album, Unforgettable: With Love.

2. Smile

Funny man Charlie Chaplin wrote ‘Smile’ in 1936 as an instrumental track for his final silent film project, appropriately titled Modern Times. With lyrics added later, Cole released an updated version in the early ‘50s. As much success as he had in America, he had even more in the UK at times. This single became a huge hit for him in Europe. It’s another strong addition to the classy Cole repertoire, with uplifting lyrics reminding you to smile through all of life’s challenges.

1. L-O-V-E

Arguably Cole’s most commercially successful single, ‘L-O-V-E’ was a big success for the singer just before his passing in 1965 and has remained a prominent song in pop culture to this day. The lovey-dovey number has been used in many hit romantic films, including Sleepless in Seattle and The Parent Trap. Debuting on his album by the same name the day after Valentine’s Day in 1965, this signature track has all of Cole’s trademark attributes, from silky vocals to glittering production. He even recorded the popular number in several different languages, including French and Italian.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Nature Boy
  • Almost Like Being In Love
  • It’s Only A Paper Moon
  • Sweet Lorraine
  • I Found A Million Dollar Baby (In A Five And Ten Cent Store)
  • Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You
  • (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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