“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” — The Anthem of the Great Depression

Breadline in Great Depression

Breadline in Great Depression

In 1932, a young New York City lyricist named E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, together with composer Jay Gorney, penned what is considered the anthem of the Great Depression, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” It was part of the 1932 musical Americana. The melody is based on a Russian-Jewish lullaby Jay Gorney’s mother had sung to him as a child. It was considered by Republicans to be anti-capitalist propaganda, and almost dropped from the show; attempts were also made to ban the song from radio. However, the song became best known through recordings by Bing Crosby, Al Jolson and Rudy Vallee. Their versions of the song were released just before Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election held on Tuesday, November 8, 1932. The Bing Crosby recording became the best-selling record of its period, and came to be viewed as an anthem of the shattered dreams of the era.

In the song a beggar talks back to the system that stole his job. Jay Gorney said in an interview in 1974 “I didn’t want a song to depress people. I wanted to write a song to make people think. It isn’t a hand-me-out song of ‘give me a dime, I’m starving, I’m bitter’, it wasn’t that kind of sentimentality”. The song asks why the men who built the nation – built the railroads, built the skyscrapers – who fought in the war, who tilled the earth, who did what their nation asked of them should, now that the work is done and their labor no longer necessary, find themselves abandoned and in bread lines.

“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,”

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don’t you remember, I’m your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don’t you remember, I’m your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

  • Songwriters:
    lyrics by Y.E. “Yip” Harburg, music by Jay Gorney
  • Published by
    Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., SHAPIRO BERNSTEIN & CO. INC., NEXT DECADE ENTERTAINMENT,INC.
  • Sources:
    Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brother,_Can_You_Spare_a_Dime%3F
    Songs of the Great Depression: http://csivc.csi.cuny.edu/history/files/lavender/cherries.html
 

2 Responses to “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” – 1932

  1. Theresa C Lynn says:

    Something to think about at this time in our life.

    • admin says:

      Ms. Lynn: I apologize for the fact there is no source listed for this entry. I have written a number of books and articles and I will try and locate some sources I used for this article and provide you an answer. Regards, Jack Hansan

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