A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 05, 2005
“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” (1932)
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?

"Brother, can you spare a dime?" (1932), with music by Jay Gorney and words by E. Y. Harburg, is the most famous song from the Great Depression of the 1930s. It's often mistakenly titled "Buddy, can you spare a dime?"

Begging (even this exact phrase) had existed before the Depression. In the 1930s, people began to beg for "a penny, nickel, dime, or quarter" for "a cup of coffee." People still do that today. It is illegal on the subway, but it's still done there.

(Why always "a cup of coffee"? And a penny, nickel, dime or quarter, for Starbucks??)

(OCLC WorldCat)
Title: Brother, can you spare a dime /
Author(s): Gorney, Jay, b. 1896. ; Harburg, E. Y.; 1898-1981. ; (Edgar Yipsel),
Publication: New York; Harms,
Year: 1932
Description: 1 vocal score (5 p.) ;; 32 cm.
Language: English
Music Type: Musical revues & comedies
Standard No: Publisher: 8859; Harms
SUBJECT(S)
Descriptor: Popular music.
Revues -- Excerpts -- Vocal scores with piano.
Note(s): From the musical revue: Americana./ For voice and piano./ Caption title./ Includes ukulele chord diagrams and chord symbols./ First line of text: They used to tell me I was building a dream./ First line of refrain: Once I built a railroad.
General Info: In E-flat, (g to e).
Other Titles: Americana. Brother, can you spare a dime. Vocal score
Responsibility: words by E.Y. Harburg ; music by Jay Gorney.
Document Type: Score

6 December 1908, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. C8:
"Beg pardon, but can you spare a dime for me, mister?"

24 August 1930, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. F6:
"Can you spare a dime, mister?" he whined.

6 October 1932, New York Times, review of "Americana" by Brooks Atkinson, pg. 19:
For Mr. Gorney's plaintive and thundering "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" is the first song of the year that can be sung. Mr. Weber sings this one, too, renouncing ventriloquism for the moment. And as he and a parcel of breadline vagrants rise to the occasion you are likely to feel that Mr. Gorney has expressed the spirit of these times with more heart-breaking anguish than any of the prose bards of the day. If Mr. Hoover had asked for a song instead of a poem the other day, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" would have been what the President ordered.

Posted by Barry Popik
Music/Dance/Theatre/Film • (0) Comments • Tuesday, April 05, 2005 • Permalink