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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

February 21, 2011

Song of the Week: Ain't Got a Dime to My Name

The Pax Plena Song of the Week became an instant favorite when I heard it while watching the 1942 Hollywood classic, Road to Morocco. By the by, Road to Morocco has been called the most stereotypical film ever to come out of Hollywood. This, of course, makes it a must-see film for anyone with a sense of humor.

Sung by the greatest singer that ever lived, Bing Crosby's Ain't Got a Dime to My Name is a whimsical musing on the things that are important in life. And despite grappling with fairly weighty subject matter, the song is wonderfully light and fun.

In the film, Crosby's character Jeff Peters has just sold his cousin "Turkey" Jackson (Bob Hope) into slavery. Having been properly chastised by his long-dead aunt (also played by Bob Hope), Bing walks the streets of the nameless Moroccan city looking for his cousin. I won't spoil the ending, but slavery has been mighty kind to Turkey.

Like any cousin with the voice of an angel, Jeff Peters begins to sing Turkey's favorite song in order to draw Turkey's attention, and facilitate his rescue. Enter the song of the week.

The genius of the Jimmy Van Heusen-arranged piece is that it combines Crosby as the lone soloist with an airy jazz assortment typical of the era's big band music. This gives the song a smooth, swing feel that immediately focuses the ear on Crosby's singing. From there, the performance is pretty much effortless, despite the silly dance number Bing performs in the middle of the song.

The piece itself has a balanced mix of brass and wind instruments, that are accented nicely by an up-tempo percussion line. The gem of the song is brief jazz harp solo after the fourth stanza.

The lyrics, written by Johnny Burke, tell the story of an impecunious person who 'ain't got a dime' to his name. But rather than sinking into the depths of despair, the man glibly replies, "ho, hum."

The incongruity of the response makes the song especially fantastic. For most, money will always be a worry of sorts. But the song reminds listeners that a 'shady ole tree' can be as tremendous a luxury as 'shirts made of silk.' The point is as well taken now as it was then. The roots of our consumer culture, apparently, run quite deep.

True to form, the song concludes with the simple observation that the singer will 'never get rich.' This prompts the greatest line of ho hums in the entire song.

Please, enjoy the Pax Plena song of the week, Ain't Got a Dime to My Name (Ho Hum) as performed by Bing Crosby.


Ain't Got a Dime to My Name
By Bing Crosby

Ain't got a dime to my name,
What a terrible shame
Ho Hum, ho ho Hum.

Just found a hole in my shoe,
And my stockin' shows through
Ho Hum, ho ho Hum.

I know that when you're as free
As a bird in a tree, life is a wonderful whim.
Look at the crank with his dough in the bank,
Don't you feel sorry for him?

Rolling along at a loss,
Never gathering moss,
Ho Hum, ho ho ho hoo Hum.

(Take it!)

I'm no terrific success,
I often worry I guess
Ho Hum, Wo ho ho Hum.

I like a shady ole' tree,
Whats a matter with me?
Ho Hum, ho hohoho Hum.

There's nothing quite as grotesque,
As a man at a desk,
Looking outside at the sun,
Shirts made of silk,
And a diet of milk,
Maybe he thinks he has fun.

I've got the vagabond itch,
Guess I'll never get rich
Ho Hum, ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho hmm...
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