Michael Lasser, lecturer, writer, broadcaster, critic, and teacher. Illustrated by period musical recordings.
After the giddy hedonism of the 1920s, the songs of the 1930s took on a new darker strain. Tin Pan Alley continued to crank out its full quota of love ballads but there were also popular songs about unemployment and social unrest. These songs were rooted in the city: its streets, skyscrapers, and people. Popular music was more engaged politically and socially than usual. Because popular songs always derive from the everyday experiences of ordinary people, there were also songs about getting your hands on some money, and even drinking coffee. And all of them were love songs.
Although songs rarely have much interest in class - they try to appeal to everybody - a genuine class-consciousness and even some class conflict appears in such songs as 'Easter Parade' and 'Slumming on Park Avenue.' It handled a sense of class conflict, not with protest, but usually with humor and mockery. The songs ranged from the desperate confusion of 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,' to the insistently optimistic, 'Happy Days Are Here Again,' to the satiric 'Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee." In its own time, even 'Over the Rainbow' (1939) was a quintessential Depression anthem. [Lasser uses] these songs to give listeners a feel for what [his] talk calls 'the Depression sensibility.'