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1920s: “Rhapsody In Blue,” Paul Whiteman
Denver-born bandleader Paul Whiteman’s most significant contribution to music came in 1924 during his New York concert An Experiment In Modern Music. As part of the show, Whiteman conducted George Gershwin’s jazz/classical composition “Rhapsody In Blue,” a groundbreaking score that, to date, remains one of the most popular American concert works of all time.
1930s: “Moonlight Serenade,” Glenn Miller
Fort Morgan resident and University of Colorado Boulder student Glenn Miller secured his place in the pantheon of swing greats in the 1930s with his slow signature tune, “Moonlight Serenade,” which was first played around 1938 and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1991.
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1940s: “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” Glenn Miller
Yep. Glenn Miller again. With 23 number one hits, the guy had more chart toppers than Elvis or the Beatles. In 1942, one of those hits—“Chattanooga Choo Choo,” a big-band classic—sold more than a million copies, earning Miller the first gold record ever.
1950s: “Lonely For You,” Gary Stites
In the age of Elvis, Wheat Ridge’s Gary Stites managed to sneak onto the charts with his 1959 Top 40 hit “Lonely For You,” a ballad that’s every bit (well, almost, anyway) as sweet, sappy, and quintessentially ’50s as anything by the King himself.
1960s: “Both Sides Now,” Judy Collins
Joni Mitchell may have penned the angelic folk song “Both Sides Now,” but when Judy Collins, a graduate of East High School in Denver, recorded the tune in 1967, it became a top 10 hit on the U.S. singles chart.
1970s: “Rocky Mountain High,” John Denver
As one of two official state songs of Colorado (the other being “Where the Columbines Grow”), John Denver’s Perseid meteor shower–inspired masterpiece isn’t just the song that defined Colorado in the ’70s—it’s the most memorable Colorado song ever.
1980s: “When You’re Cool,” Chris Daniels & The Kings
Chris Daniels, a 2013 Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee, entered the local music scene in the 1980s with his band’s rock/funk/jazz fusions, including the bluesy 1987 number “When You’re Cool,” the title track to one of the group’s most popular albums.
1990s: “Whoomp! (There It Is),” Tag Team
When north Denverites Steve RollN and DC the Brain Supreme set out to make a hit single in 1992, they admittedly envisioned fame and fortune. The duo got it, but even they couldn’t predict how big “Whoomp” would get. The ’90s party jam still generates between $250,000 and $500,000 a year in royalties thanks to appearances in movies, TV shows, and sports stadiums.
(Read more about this one-hit wonder’s Denver roots)
2000s: “How To Save A Life,” The Fray
Formed in 2002 by Arvada classmates Isaac Slade and Joe King, the band’s 2005 hit single “Over My Head (Cable Car)” propelled the pop rock group to fame in the United States. That same year, their second single, “How To Save A Life,” caught on worldwide.
2010s: “Ho Hey,” The Lumineers
With perhaps the catchiest hook ever to come out of Colorado (“I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweet-HAR-art”), it’s impossible not to sing along with the Denver indie folk band’s 2012 single. Equally impossible? Not rocking out to “Ophelia,” the group’s piano- and tambourine-laced 2016 hit from its sophomore album, Cleopatra.