Saturday, November 19, 2016

11/19/1932: “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” hits the charts

image from

Rudy Vallee “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

Writer(s): E.Y. “Yip” Harburg/ Jay Gorney (see lyrics here)

First charted: 11/26/1932

Peak: 12 US, 8 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” is “probably the song most associated with the Great Depression.” JA-28 When it was released, thirteen million Americans – a quarter of the working population – were out of work, a ripple effect created by the 1929 stock market crash. LW-66 Mainstream pop songs largely steered clear of the uncomfortable subject area, but when E.Y. “Yip” Harburg was penning tunes for Broadway revue New Americana, the topic was unavoidable. SS-37-8

The “deeply political” SS-38 Harburg, who also wrote the classic Wizard of Oz tune “Over the Rainbow,” crafted lyrics which were simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and illustrative of his social consciousness. TY-63 Along with Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, and Lorenz Hart, he was a gifted lyricist born around the turn of the century who was inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan’s light operettas. LW-66 Unlike most of his contemporaries, though, Harburg wrote songs which spoke to the underprivledged who hadn’t benefited from the American dream. LW-66

Harburg knew he wanted to write about the bread lines he’d seen throughout New York City. SS-38 Composer Jay Gorney said that he and Harburg were walking in Central Park and were approached by a well-dressed man who said, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” SS-38 The idea for the song was born. Harburg tapped President Roosevelt’s campaign imagery of the Forgotten Man as the focal point for the song. SS-38

Rex Weber performed the song in the revue while standing in a bread line. TY-63 The show opened on October 5, 1932, and three weeks later, Bing Crosby recorded it. SS-39 A week after his version charted, Vallee followed suit. Both songs topped the charts for two weeks, with Rudy’s version unseating Bing’s. Rudy’s is the higher-ranked version according to Dave’s Music Database.

Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


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