“Happy Days Are Here Again” is the title of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s official campaign song in 1932. The song remained the unofficial anthem of the Democratic Party for many years.
In 1932, America was mired in the Great Depression. “Happy Days Are Here Again,” with its upbeat lyrics and melody, helped set the mood for FDR’s optimistic candidacy and his promise that good times were coming again.
The song’s lyrics are not subtle. The chorus sings,
Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again
The song, written by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager, was first performed by the George Olsen orchestra on Black Thursday, at the very onset of the stock market crash of 1929. Ironically, Yellen, who wrote the song’s lyrics, considered himself a Republican. Yellen and Ager wrote the song for a movie titled “Chasing Rainbows,” about World War I; the song was supposed to evoke the soldiers’ joy when they heard that peace had been made. However, the studio delayed release, so Yellen and Ager shopped it around to different performers. That’s how it came to be performed at New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel, in front of a crowd of ruined stock speculators.
As Time Magazine has pointed out, “Happy days” became FDR’s campaign song almost by accident. The campaign was originally planning to use “Anchors Aweigh,” the fight song of the US Navy, as its theme. However, the man who introduced FDR at the 1932 Democratic convention delivered a strikingly dull speech and then walked off stage to the strains of Anchors Aweigh. FDR’s team desperately wanted to change the mood before the candidate walked onstage, so they asked for a new song. The one chosen was, of course, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
This was the first time that a pre-existing pop song had been chosen for a political campaign’s theme music. Prior to 1932, campaigns usually hired musicians to write songs for them. William Howard Taft’s campaign, for example, came up with a tune called “Get on a Raft with Taft,” extolling the candidate as
“The man to lead
Our strong and mighty craft
Through storm at sea
It’s William Howard Taft.”
The old campaign songs may seem hokey now, but they were certainly full of drama. James Madison’s campaign used a song called “Huzzah for Madison” to tout their candidate and to warn voters that Satan was always on the prowl:
And should the Tories all unite
And join again with British foes;
Though Satan might applaud the sight,
The heavens would soon interpose.
While Jefferson to shade retires
And Madison like morn appears
Fresh confidence and hope inspires
And light again the nation cheers.
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson split the difference between pop and original. His campaign took the new and popular “Hello Dolly” and reimagined it as “Hello, Lyndon,” urging the candidate to “promise you’ll stay with us in ’64.”