As mentioned by KCRW’s Rachel Reynolds on Twitter today, the song “You Are My Sunshine” is in actuality not the happy sing-along it seems at first glance, but instead a heartbreaking, Depression-era, “unbearably sad song” of lost love. This makes it doubly ironic that it has been repurposed for everything from the state song of Louisiana to mustard commercials, with few remembering its true nature.
Here’s the first verse, which is rarely sung. It sets the tone for the whole song:
The other night, dear,
As I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms.
When I awoke, dear,
I was mistaken
And I hung my head and cried.
So when the plaintive “You are my sunshine / My only sunshine” is sung next, there is sorrow being expressed.
You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are grey.
You’ll never know, dear,
How much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.
That last line always gets me. And she’ll never know how much you love her because she’s off loving another. Check out the complete lyrics.
Here’s the classic Jimmie Davis version:
Norman Blake did a rendition on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack in 2000:
And the 1980 French’s Mustard advert: