If I Were A Rich Man

Album: Fiddler on the Roof (1964)
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • Composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick wrote this for Fiddler on the Roof's lead character, Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman on the brink of being evicted from his village in early-1900s Russia. In the song, Tevye contemplates what it would be like to be wealthy, how he could lavish his family with gifts and have more time to spend in the synagogue. Actor Zero Mostel, who originated the role of Tevye on Broadway in 1964, introduced the song.
  • Fiddler on the Roof was based on Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem's series of short stories about Tevye the Dairyman, and this song in particular was inspired by the 1899 short story "The Bubble Bursts" and the 1902 monologue "If I were a Rothschild." The Rothschilds were a wealthy family who amassed a fortune in the international banking business.
  • Gwen Stefani adapted this into the pop hit "Rich Girl" for her 2004 solo debut album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Stefani, who had already found fame and fortune as the lead singer of No Doubt, remembers when she was just a girl from Orange County yearning for the spotlight.
  • Massive Attack sampled this on "Daydreaming" from their 1991 debut album, Blue Lines.
  • Harnick told NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross that Bock was inspired to write the tune after he heard a mother and daughter perform a Hasidic chant at a Hebrew Actors Union benefit. He added: "I was very conscious of a phrase that kept recurring in the Sholom Aleichem stories. 'Ah, if only I were a rich man. Ah, if only I had money,' you know. And this song - I don't remember exactly why, but it seemed to be the right music for that."
  • Actor Topol performed this when he took on the role of Tevye for the 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof.

Comments: 1

  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaAmen to it's No great honor either. Loved the character of Tevya.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Eric Clapton

Eric ClaptonFact or Fiction

Did Eric Clapton really write "Cocaine" while on cocaine? This question and more in the Clapton edition of Fact or Fiction.

Ian Astbury of The Cult

Ian Astbury of The CultSongwriter Interviews

The Cult frontman tells who the "Fire Woman" is, and talks about performing with the new version of The Doors.

Danny Kortchmar

Danny KortchmarSongwriter Interviews

Danny played guitar on Sweet Baby James, Tapestry, and Running On Empty. He also co-wrote many hit songs, including "Dirty Laundry," "Sunset Grill" and "Tender Is The Night."

90s Metal

90s MetalFact or Fiction

Test your metal - Priest, Maiden, and Beavis and Butt-head show up in this one.

Lou Gramm - "Waiting For A Girl Like You"

Lou Gramm - "Waiting For A Girl Like You"They're Playing My Song

Gramm co-wrote this gorgeous ballad and delivered an inspired vocal, but the song was the beginning of the end of his time with Foreigner.

Christopher Cross

Christopher CrossSongwriter Interviews

The man who created Yacht Rock with "Sailing" wrote one of his biggest hits while on acid.