Skip to main content

Songs Of Hard Times

June 2024
1min read

The Great Depression
American Music in the ’30s

Columbia/Legacy CK 57589 (one CD), $14.98 . CODE: BAT-7

The twenty-one selections on this album evoke all the common emotions of the depths of the Great Depression; it is a companion to the PBS documentary series of the same name. Rudy Vallee’s “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” leads off; nothing that follows is more bitterly stirring (“They used to tell me I was building a dream…”), but plenty is more surprising. Henry Ford’s factory orchestra indulges his immigrant work force with a “Hungarian Varsovienne” folk-dance number. Ted Lewis leads a stubbornly upbeat “There’s a New Day Comin’” (“While the cobbler’s shoein’, the baker will bake, although when the brewer’s brewin', we’ll all get a break”)—released six days after Roosevelt’s inauguration and three days before the new President asked Congress to repeal Prohibition. The blues queen Memphis Minnie offers “He’s in the Ring (Doin’ the Same Old Thing)” in triumphant tribute to Joe Louis. The jaunty theme song to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, “Dawn of a New Day,” is here; so are a lot of familiar standards, including Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call” and Louis Armstrong’s “All of Me.” An uncanny coincidence adds special poignance to the Casa Loma Orchestra’s cheery “Happy Days Are Here Again”: the band cut the tune on Monday, October 29, 1929.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.

Donate