Whatever type of music you’re listening to, the love story seems to take centre stage. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that there is a smaller but fascinating collection of great songs about time too.

Whether running late, relaxing or reminiscing about the past, we’ve highlighted 10 legendary songs about time with a whole bunch of different versions to discover.

As you might have expected, we’ve focused on the jazz arena for these choices, but many of them have transcended that genre, being performed by pop artists including Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Bob Dylan.

So here, in no particular order, are 10 classic songs about time! 

As Time Goes By

Written in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld, As Time Goes By rose to fame a decade later for its performance by Dooley Wilson in the iconic movie Casablanca.

A first dance wedding classic, it talks of love and romance never going out of fashion, despite the passing of time.

Some of the most famous versions of this classic time song include those by Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Natalie Cole and even the great Shirley Bassey.

As a side-note, the Rolling Stones wrote a song of the same title which was later renamed “As Tears Go By” to avoid confusion with the original – you can hear that here.

Time After Time

This song about time is unique in our list in that there are two different tunes with the same title.

Perhaps more famous in the modern pop era is Cyndi Lauper‘s 1981 pop song which was her first US #1 hit and went on to inspire versions by singers including Eva Cassidy and Sam Smith.

Whilst this version has also been covered in the jazz arena (most notably by Miles Davis on his album You’re Under Arrest) there is another song of the same name which is performed more often around the world.

Written in 1947 by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, the romantic jazz standard Time After Time was initially recorded by legendary jazz singer Sarah Vaughan before becoming a staple of the jazz standards catalogue with versions by Chet Baker and John Coltrane.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

It’s hard to write a piece about songwriting without mentioning Bob Dylan. This tune, one of his most famous, transcends the a mere theme of ‘time’ to become an anthem for change.

So influential are the lyrics to this great song that the original manuscript was reported by Rolling Stone magazine to be up for sale at $2.2 million back in 2020.

Whilst the Bob Dylan original is undeniably the most popular version of this song, it has had some notable covers including by jazz singer Nina Simone and American singer-songwriter Tracey Chapman.

Get Me to the Church on Time

“I’m getting married in the morning”

Whilst it might have fallen out of popular use in the modern era, this is perhaps the ultimate time-sensitive love song dealing with that fear of being late for your wedding.

As with many songs in the Great American Songbook, it started its life as a musical theatre tune for the broadway show My Fair Lady in 1956.

Famous versions of this Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner song include Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra (Live at The Sands) and Shelly Manne.

Time on My Hands

“With time on my hands and you in my arms, And love in my heart all for you”

Published in 1930, Time on My Hands was written by Vincent Youmans, Harold Adamson & Mack Gordon for the musical Smiles.

It talks of the joy of spending long nights alone with the subject of our love and was popularised by cool jazz trumpeter-singer (and ultimate jazz romancer) Chet Baker.

It’s popped up on albums by many of the great jazz musicians in history, including Django Reinhardt, Ben Webster, Glenn Miller and Keith Jarret.

Time Remembered

Something of a modern jazz standard, pianist Bill Evans wrote Time Remembered in the 1960s for his album of the same name.

Performing alongside Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker, it wasn’t released until 20 years later, in 1983.

Without lyrics, though, you’ll need to make your own mind up about the exact meaning of the title…

I Didn’t Know What Time It Was

The song was composed by the classic Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart songwriting team for the 1930s show Too Many Girls.

I Didn’t Know What Time It Was hit the charts over the coming decades through versions by Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Stan Getz, Chick Corea and more.

Maintaining its popularity well into the modern era with performances including Brad Mehldau, Cassandra Wilson and Shirley Horn, the song was more recently thrown back into the spotlight by jazz singer Cecile Mclorin Salvant.

Her album Woman Child, featuring the track, was nominated for a Grammy award and her live version has received upwards of half a million views on Youtube.

Now’s the Time

Forget doing it later: now’s the time!

That was the rallying call of bebop pioneer Charlie Parker who wrote and recorded this tune in 1945.

Unlike the rest of the songs on this list, all famous versions of the song are instrumental, meaning we don’t have lyrics to give us some deeper meaning on a plate.

One listen to the up-tempo, forward-pushing melody and subsequent solos on top of the 12-bar blues chords leaves us in no doubt of the message making the most of the present time!

Not a fan of bebop jazz? Check out later versions of this grooving version of the tune by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers or a more introverted take on it by Keith Jarrett.

When It’s Sleepy Time Down South

Whilst a large majority of songs deal with the topic of love (and, as we’ve seen here, time) there is another strand of songwriting that deserves a mention: places.

Forget New York, New York, April In Paris or A Foggy Day In London Town, ‘When It’s Sleepy Time Down South‘ is a song reminiscing about times gone by in the Southern States of America.

There’s a deeper historical context – it was written during the Great Migration when many were trying to relocate North to escape oppression and find better working conditions – but taken at face value it’s a beautiful song about time.

Written by Clarence Muse and Leon & Otis René in the early 1930s, it became something of a signature song for jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong who recorded it regularly throughout his career.

It’s kept its place in the modern era with versions by Texan singer Hailey Tuck and modern jazz trumpet great Wynton Marsalis.

Summertime

One of the most famous songs of all time, Summertime talks of those long, lazy days spent in the sun.

Written by George Gershwin, it actually started its life in the mid-1930s as an opera song, before going on to become a staple part of the classic jazz repertoire.

It was popularised by legendary jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Ella Fitzgerald, but it’s appeal was not restricted to jazz…

Janis Joplin, Chaka Kahn and Sam Cooke have contributed vocals to this legendary song which is credited by Guinness World Records as having more than 50,000 versions recorded!

Thanks for reading! 

Hope you enjoyed this themed-look at some classic songs from the jazz world! 

If you’re looking for more, check out our expanded edition of The Best Jazz Songs of All Time or find them on our round up of the 50 greatest jazz albums in history.

Matt Fripp
Matt Fripp

International jazz booking agent, manager and host of Jazzfuel.
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