If I only had a brain lyrics mystery

I was listening to the extended version of “If I Only Had a Brain” the other day (it's the version that didn't make it into the film, with an extended instrumental bit (while the Scarecrow dances) followed by a final verse), and I was struck by the ending, in which the Scarecrow sings:

And perhaps I'll deserve ya

And be even worthy erve ya

If I only had a brain.

My first thought was (as usual when I hear that verse) that it seemed odd to me that both this song and “If I Only Had the Nerve” would involve Brooklynesque accents, though I'm not clear on whether the latter was written intentionally that way or not, and I suppose that a song that rhymes “nuffin” with “stuffin'” may stretch pronunciation in all sorts of ways for a rhyme.

But that wasn't sufficient reason for a blog entry. The reason I'm posting this is my second thought, which was:

Is he courting Dorothy?

I mean, doesn't “deserve you” and ”worthy of you” sound like he's talking about romance? And there's nobody else around. There's Toto, and a crow—but I just checked the video (the extended number is an extra on the Blu-ray of the movie), and he sings those lines looking directly at Dorothy.

So what's that all about? There's no hint of anything romancey in the presentation of those lines, and I don't think we're meant to assume the Scarecrow is romancing her (Garland was 16, but I think Dorothy was meant to be younger), but I'm having a hard time interpreting the words any other way.

4 Responses to “If I only had a brain lyrics mystery”

  1. Vardibidian

    I don’t know the answer, but if I had to guess (and I suppose I don’t have to guess, but am guessing anyway) I would say that Yip Harburg had been carrying around that terrible, terrible rhyme for some time, and tried to pass it off here. It’s not uncommon for songwriters of that style to have a bunch of couplets in the bottom drawer that they have been trying to sneak into songs for years—I’ve been reading Lieber/Stoller’s book, and I think Stephen Spielberg talks about other people doing it in his book, too.

    I’m not sure about the Brooklynese, but would it have been better if young Yipsel had written the jokes in Oirish? ‘Cos he really liked dialect jokes. I mean really liked dialect jokes.


  2. owlsalltheway

    I vaguely recall hearing about a romance subplot dropped from the movie. The interwebs back this up (albeit without much in the way of documentation) talking about the implication of a long-distance relationship with the scarecrow’s college-bound real world counterpart. It’s a believably Hollywood addition.

    Dorothy was about 9 in the book, if I recall correctly. I’ve always read the Garland version as aged-up, and assumed the original audience would, too, but I don’t have enough knowledge of 1930s cinema expectations and conventions to say for sure.

  3. debbie.notkin

    I hear what you’re saying, but to me it feels more general–“be worthy of your friendship/attention/respect.”

    I really would like owlsalltheway to be wrong, because it would hurt my love for the movie, but what zie is saying sounds entirely plausible.

  4. Jed

    Vardibidian: Heh—good point. And now that you say that, I’m reminded that Harburg reused some other lyrics; for example, he took a couplet from “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” that got cut from the movie, and reused it in a song in Finian’s Rainbow.

    owlsalltheway: Wow—I had never heard of the dropped romance subplot, but I went looking, and you’re right, there are a bunch of web pages that mention it. Some of them say that the info is from a DVD extra; I’ll have to see if I can find it. That’s fascinating.

    Debbie: I think your interpretation is a valid one, but to me the phrases “deserve you” and “worthy of” are a little too strongly affiliated with romance for me to interpret them in other ways.

    …I should also add that I don’t think the people making the movie cared a lot about details in some ways. For example, in “If I Only Had a Heart,” a mysterious woman’s voice says “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”—she’s not a character in the movie, and there’s no other reference to her, and they don’t bother to attempt to explain it; her voice is treated as if it’s just a sort of a sound effect. So there may’ve been a lot of decisions that were made because they seemed like a good idea at the time rather than for any deep story-internal reason.


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