Happy Days Are Here Again

Words by Jack Yellen; music by Milton Ager, 1929

What is the mood of this song? What aspects of the song deliver that mood? Bright melody, fast tempo, optimistic lyrics.

What verb tense is used in this song? Present tense. Why is that significant? When are "happy days" arriving? They are here now. When are the sad times? In the past. How does using present tense, rather than future tense, change the mood of the song? Celebration instead of anticipation; affirmation rather than hope.

Why was this song so appealing to people in the early years of the Great Depression? How realistic was this song in 1932? What evidence might be used to argue with it in 1932? How realistic is it anytime? Is it optimistic or wishful thinking? Why?

Why do you think Franklin D. Roosevelt chose this as his campaign song in 1932? What did he pledge to do that promised to bring happy days back? Aid to farmers, public development of electric power, a balanced budget, repeal of prohibition.

After ninety years, the Democratic Party still uses this as their theme song. Why haven't they replaced it with something more "modern"? Why might they consider this a "campaign song for all seasons"?

"Happy Days Are Here Again" performed by Ben Selvin & His Orchestra on Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? Great American Songs of the Depression, Minneapolis, MN: ProArte/ Fanfare [CD486], © 1989. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

Ben Selvin (1898–1980), who leads the orchestra in this recording, was famous for directing some of the best dance bands of the Swing Era. His ensembles, mainly organized for recording purposes, were among the first to popularize several hits from the early 1900s. Many of the performers he hired to play in his bands are now more famous than Selvin, including Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Red Nichols.

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Jack Yellen (1892–1991) was an immigrant, like many songwriters of the period, born in Poland and brought to the United States at an early age. Milton Ager (1893–1975) was born in Chicago. After serving in World War I, Ager began his career as a sheet-music song plugger and arranger for the publishing companies of George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin. Yellen wrote many lyrics that were set to music by Milton Ager, including the classic "Ain't She Sweet." Their collaborations were so successful that they founded the publishing firm of Ager, Yellen and Bornstein in 1922.

A banner touting Roosevelt in New York City.

In 1929 they moved to Hollywood to write songs for the movie Chasing Rainbows. Toward the end of their film contract, discouraged with the film and each other, Yellen and Ager were asked to write a song for the Armistice scene when the doughboys get the news that World War I has ended. They wrote "Happy Days Are Here Again." Although the song was introduced on the eve of the Great Depression, it became a huge success and helped to brighten people's spirits during these hard times. Franklin D. Roosevelt adopted it as a campaign song for the 1932 election, promising better times ahead via a bright melodic line and optimistic lyrics. It has been associated with the Democratic Party ever since.

Compare this song to other campaign songs:

"The Hunters of Kentucky" (Unit 3)

"God Bless the U.S.A." (Unit 9)

List characteristics of a good campaign song. Evaluate this song and other campaign songs using your criteria. Rank them from best to worst.

Choose another, more contemporary song that expresses as much optimism as "Happy Days Are Here Again." Compare them and decide whether the new song would make a better campaign song for either party.



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