How Dry I Am

Album: Greatest Big Band Classics (1919)

Songfacts®:

  • "How Dry I Am" is part of a lost song by Irving Berlin called "The Near Future" that debuted in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1919. The show hit Broadway in June, just a few months before the Volstead Act was enacted to establish Prohibition in the United States. The future that Berlin spied was a thirsty one, without the satisfaction of spirits and other intoxicating liquors. Several tunes on the playbill concurred with his vision, with titles like "Prohibition," "You Cannot Make Your Shimmy Shake on Tea," and "A Syncopated Cocktail." Prohibition came into full swing in January 1920, and "How Dry I Am" became a popular refrain for a nation in need of a stiff drink.
  • The title phrase predated Berlin's tune. The 1874 edition of the book Gem of the West and Soldiers' Friend includes the tale of a woman who annoys her fellow train passengers by whining about how dry she is until she's finally given water and sighs, "How dry I was."
  • The melody is often linked to the hymn "Oh Happy Day." The two songs sound so alike that a chime-ringer faced the wrath of several irate Minneapolis citizens during a 1931 Lenten program when he played the hymn on the courthouse chimes, only to be accused of blasphemously banging out an alcoholic tune.
  • During the Prohibition era (1920–1933), musical liquor decanters and other alcohol-themed trinkets were sold that played the tune. According to Daniel Okrent's Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Mayor James Michael Curley of Boston outfitted his car horn to play the first few notes of the song.
  • In pop culture, this became an ironic drinking song, most notably on Warner Bros. cartoons like Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies that featured drunken characters belting out the refrain. In the short "Naughty But Mice," an intoxicated Sniffles the mouse sings it after getting smashed on potent cold medicine.
  • This played over the opening credits of the 1932 film Three On A Match, starring Bette Davis.
  • This was prominently featured in the Twilight Zone episode "Mr. Denton On Doomsday," when the town drunk (Dan Duryea) is forced to sing the tune in exchange for swigs of alcohol.
  • Westinghouse put a new spin on the phrase by making their 1953 model clothes dryer trill the song when the clothes were dry.
  • In 2019, the Milwaukee County Historical Society named its Prohibition exhibit after the song.
  • This became a popular big band instrumental, with renditions from Harry James and Artie Shaw.

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