“Happy Days Are Here Again,” the Perfect Song for Now

Written 91 years ago, it became the theme song for FDR’s campaign and the New Deal for America

Annette Hanshaw, “Happy Days Are Here Again”

By PAUL ZOLLO

This was the first song that came to mind upon hearing the news – real news – that Joe Biden has been elected President today. It is a day in America for celebration. Regardless of party affiliation, today is proof that America is not broken. Democracy, our form of it, though far from perfect, did not collapse. Although it’s got age-old cracks in it, like that big liberty bell, it continues to sing. Because as Leonard Cohen reminded us in his song about song and human hope, “Anthem,” “there is a crack in everything; it’s where the light gets in. ”

Which brings us back to “Happy Days Are Here Again,” as it is perfect – again – for this moment of national celebration. Democracy survived and triumphed. This is a day to rejoice. To sing along – and dance even – to this song. Even if nobody wants to dance with you, grab a cat, or a dog. They always love a good reason for a happy dance.

Songwriters Jack Yellen and Milton Ager wrote “Happy Days Are Here Again” before the big stock market crash in 1929. But as songwriters often do, they seemed to know what was coming. It’s one of many famous songs to be prophetic, as the crash triggered the Great Depression. It became a theme song then for hope, as it has many times since. Also an anthem of celebration and gratitude when that hope is realized.

Like our current moment of lockdown, unemployment and loss, America in the Depression-era Thirties was a country in need of hope: there was widespread unemployment, bread-lines everywhere, factories shut down, farms foreclosed. A long season of darkness and despair persisted through most of the 1930s. As it is said, Democracy dies in darkness. This song offered some light, a real-time ray of hope. It wasn’t unreal, pie-in-the-sky – or pie anywhere – hope. It wasn’t about pretending everything is peachy. It was about keeping hope alive. Not giving up. We’re going to get through.

Which is why it’s all about now.

Annette Hanshaw

The outgoing leadership helped spread the fires of division – between the political parties, the classes, the races, the nationalities, even the genders.
During which our already fractured society was burdened by the pandemic of virus, but also the ongoing war on truth, endless misinformation, propaganda, race hatred, ignorance, intolerance, police brutality, riots, fires in our cities and in our forests, hurricanes, earthquakes and national house arrest. And at a time when Americans were in dire need of clarity, the leadership intentionally disseminated daily barrages of lies, even about the lethal virus destroying countless America lives everyday.

Disinformation about the election itself in tandem with perpetual attacks on the press and truth itself, although formidably persuasive to millions of Americans, failed to derail the election. If anything, it empowered the populace to take action, and vote.

So this song, some 91 years past the season of its creation, still works, and better than most. It’s the reason it has endured for nearly a century now. It’s been born and reborn many times, and perhaps due to the ongoing human need for hope, sounds new every time.

Milton Ager and Jack Yellen not only wrote the song, they recorded its first incarnation. It was an immediate hit. Because of its universal theme and jubilant spirit, it fits perfectly in endless occasions, when it steps up to be the the perfect theme song. Besides the Depression and its end, it was the theme first for the end of Prohibition, when drinking alcohol was legalized again in America. Through other periodic times of darkness it’s been brought back with hope, and with gratitude at the end of those times. Such as now.

Annette Hanshaw, who was one of the most famous and most beloved singers of the 30s, had a hit with it that she recorded with Ben Selvin and his Orchestra. In the 50s came Judy Garland’s many records of it and then those of Barbra Streisand. On several occasions the two of them performed it live together.

So in honor of America and our ongoing existence, and the hopeful health of our ongoing experiment in Democracy, here’s an old song for you. But a good one.

Judy Garland & Barbra Streisand, “Happy Days Are Here Again”


“Happy Days Are Here Again”
By Jack Yellen & Milton Alger

As recorded by Leo Reisman and His Orchestra,
with Lou Levin, November, 1929 for
the 1930 MGM movie Chasing Rainbows.

So long sad times, go long bad times,
We are rid of you at last
Howdy gay times, cloudy gray times,
You are now a thing of the past

Happy days are here again,
The skies above are clear again
So, let us sing a song of cheer again,
Happy days are here again

All together, shout it now,
There’s no one who can doubt it now,
So let’s tell the world about it now,
Happy days are here again

Your cares and troubles are gone,
There’ll be no more from now on, from now on!

Happy days are here again,
The skies above are clear again
So, let us sing a song of cheer again,
Happy times, happy nights, happy days are here again

Leave a Reply

Bringin’ It Backwards: Interview with Roger Day

Bringin’ It Backwards: Interview with Zoe Nutt