Friday, November 19, 1982

50 years ago: “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” charted

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Bing Crosby with Lennie Hayton’s Orchestra

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

First Charted: November 19, 1932

Peak: 12 US, 8 GA, 9 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, -- video, -- streaming

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Rudy Vallee

First Charted: November 26, 1932

Peak: 12 US, 8 GA, 6 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.2 video, -- streaming

Awards (Bing Crosby):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Rudy Vallee):

About the Song:

“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” is “probably the song most associated with the Great Depression.” JA 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 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

The “deeply political” SS 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 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 Unlike most of his contemporaries, though, Harburg wrote songs which spoke to the underprivledged who hadn’t benefited from the American dream. LW

Harburg knew he wanted to write about the bread lines he’d seen throughout New York City. SS 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 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

Rex Weber performed the song in the revue while standing in a bread line. TY 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.


  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Rudy Vallee
  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Bing Crosby
  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for E.Y. “Yip” Harburg
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 28.
  • LW Alan Lewens (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 66.
  • SS Steve Sullivan (2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (Volumes I & II). Scarecrow Press: Lanham, Maryland. Pages 37-8.
  • TY Don Tyler (1985). Hit Parade 1920-1955. New York, NY: Quill. Page 63.

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First posted 11/19/2016; last updated 11/22/2022.

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