1001 Songs Challenge,  1930s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #10: Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? (1932)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!


Bing Crosby – Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? (1932)

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

” Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” is one of the best-known American songs of the Great Depression. Written by lyricist Yip Harburg and composer Jay Gorney, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” was part of the 1932 musical revue ; the melody is based on a Russian-Jewish lullaby.

Lyrics (via Genius)


We remain in America for our next song which captures the struggles of the Great Depression which began in 1929 and continued into the 1930s. Written by E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and composed by Jay Gorney, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? was included in the 1932 musical, Americana, and was frowned upon at the time as anti-capitalist in some political circles.

The song tells the story of a man who has been a dutiful American citizen. He has worked hard and erected buildings, built railroads, fought in the army and lived the American Dream. However, all of this has been forgotten and he is now going around cap in hand begging for a dime to see him through the day. Is it one individual or is the song a collective one about everyone affected by the Great Depression. You could argue it either way.

This version by Bing Crosby is considered the most famous and the man we often associate firstly with White Christmas offers a memorable rendition. The words become increasingly desperate the further in we venture and it resonated with me in the current UK climate where poverty is rife yet the government are seemingly oblivious to the many thousands in need. Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? is a reminder that so many of us can see our fortunes soon turn ill and sanctuary is not always easy to find when we’re in the gutter.


Favourite song so far:

Cab Calloway & His Orchestra – Minnie the Moocher (1931)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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