Puttin' On the Ritz

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Fred Astaire and a chorus of Fred Astaires performing "Puttin' On the Ritz" in Blue Skies (1946).
Clark Gable's deliberately corny performance of the song in Idiot's Delight (1939), his only musical performance.

"Puttin' On the Ritz" is a song written by Irving Berlin. He wrote it in May 1927 and first published it on December 2, 1929.[1] It was registered as an unpublished song August 24, 1927 and again on July 27, 1928.[1] It was introduced by Harry Richman and chorus in the musical film Puttin' On the Ritz (1930). According to The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin, this was the first song in film to be sung by an interracial ensemble.[1] The title derives from the slang expression "to put on the Ritz", meaning to dress very fashionably. The expression was inspired by the opulent Ritz Hotel.

Hit phonograph records of the tune in its original period of popularity of 1929–1930 were recorded by Harry Richman and by Fred Astaire, with whom the song is particularly associated. Every other record label had their own version of this popular song (Columbia, Brunswick, Victor, and all of the dime store labels). Richman's Brunswick version of the song became the number-one selling record in America.[1]

The song received renewed popularity and became known to a new generation of fans in 1983 when Taco, a Dutch musician, recorded and released a new version of the song. Taco's version was accompanied by a music video, which aired on MTV and other music video networks and programs.

Musical structure[edit]

The song is in AABA form, with a verse.[2] According to John Mueller, the central device in the A section is the "use of delayed rhythmic resolution: a staggering, off-balance passage, emphasized by the unorthodox stresses in the lyric, suddenly resolves satisfyingly on a held note, followed by the forceful assertion of the title phrase." The marchlike B section, which is only barely syncopated, acts as a contrast to the previous rhythmic complexities.[2] According to Alec Wilder, in his study of American popular song, for him, the rhythmic pattern in "Puttin' On the Ritz" is "the most complex and provocative I have ever come upon."[2]

Lyrics and race[edit]

The original version of Berlin's song included references to the then-popular fad of flashily-dressed but poor black Harlemites parading up and down Lenox Avenue, "Spending ev'ry dime / For a wonderful time". In the United Kingdom, the song was popularized through the BBC's radio broadcasts of Joe Kaye's Band performing it at The Ritz Hotel, London restaurant in the 1930s.[3] The song was featured with the original lyrics in the 1939 film Idiot's Delight, where it was performed by Clark Gable and chorus, and this routine was selected for inclusion in That's Entertainment (1974). Columbia released a 78 recording of Fred Astaire singing the original lyrics in May 1930[4] (B-side – "Crazy Feet", both recorded on March 26, 1930). For the film Blue Skies (1946), where it was performed by Fred Astaire, Berlin revised the lyrics to apply to affluent whites strutting "up and down Park Avenue".[1][A] This second version was published after being registered for copyright on August 28, 1946.[1]

Taco version[edit]

"Puttin' On the Ritz"
Taco Puttin on the Ritz.jpg
Single by Taco
from the album After Eight
B-side "Livin' in My Dream World"
Released 1982
Format 7", 12"
Genre Synth-pop[5]
Length 4:41 (Album version)
3:22 (7" version)
6:08 (Extended 12" version)
Label RCA
Songwriter(s) Irving Berlin
Producer(s) David Parker
Taco singles chronology
"Cheek to Cheek"
(1982)
"Puttin' On the Ritz"
(1982)
"Singin' in the Rain"
(1992)
Music video
"Puttin' On the Ritz" (TopPop, 1983) on YouTube

In 1982, singer Taco released a synth-pop cover version of "Puttin' On the Ritz" as a single from his album After Eight, released on Polydor of Germany. The single was accompanied by a music video, the original version of which contains characters in blackface and has since been banned from many networks. An alternative version eliminates many shots of the blackface characters, though some remain.

The single was a global hit, reaching No. 1 in Cashbox[6] as well as No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart,[7] making Irving Berlin, then 95, the oldest ever living songwriter to have one of his compositions enter the top ten.[8] It was certified Gold by the RIAA for selling over one million copies.[9] It was Taco's only hit in the United States.[5] This version of the song was ranked No. 53 in VH1's 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80s special.

The song topped the charts in Sweden and New Zealand, and it entered the Top 5 in numerous countries including Australia, Norway, Austria and Canada.[10][11][12]

The Taco cover of the song was used in Baby Geniuses (1999) and The Call (2013). Alvin and the Chipmunks covered Taco's version of the song for "Don't Be a Vidiot", a 1984 episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Chart history[edit]

Weekly singles charts[edit]

Chart (1982–1983) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[10] 5
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[13] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[11] 13
Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[14] 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[12] 2
France (IFOP)[15] 74
Germany (Official German Charts)[16] 20
Ireland (IRMA)[17] 24
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[18] 12
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[19] 18
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[20] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[21] 2
South Africa (Springbok Radio)[22] 3
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[23] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[24] 6
US Billboard Adult Contemporary[7] 12
US Billboard Hot 100[7] 4
US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[7] 37
US Cash Box[6] 1

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1983) Rank
Australia (Kent Music Report)[25] 34
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[26] 14
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[27] 22
South Africa (Springbok Radio)[28] 16
US Billboard Hot 100[29] 31
US Cash Box[30] 19

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[31] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[32] Platinum 20,000*
United States (RIAA)[33] Gold 1,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "In the original version it told of the ritzy airs of Harlemites parading up and down Lenox Avenue. For the 1946 film, the strutters became well-to-do whites on Park Avenue. The patronizing, yet admiring satire of the song is shifted, then, and mellowed in the process. The change may have had to do with changing attitudes towards race and with Hollywood's dawning wariness about offending blacks."[2]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Kimball & Emmet 2001, p. 262.
  2. ^ a b c d Mueller 1986, p. 267.
  3. ^ Montgomery-Massingberd, Watkin & Collie, p. 97.
  4. ^ "Puttin' On the Ritz / Crazy Feet". Rate Your Music. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Ankeny, Jason. "Taco – Artist Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  6. ^ a b "CASH BOX Top 100 Singles – Week ending SEPTEMBER 17, 1983". Archived from the original on September 13, 2012.. Cash Box magazine.
  7. ^ a b c d "Taco – Awards". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  8. ^ "Irving Berlin". Russian Heritage Museum. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  9. ^ "RIAA – Gold & Platinum Searchable Database – Puttin' On the Ritz". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – CHART POSITIONS PRE 1989". Australian-charts.com. Hung Medien. Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  11. ^ a b "Ultratop.be – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  12. ^ a b "Top RPM Singles: Issue 6252." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  13. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  14. ^ "Top RPM Adult Contemporary: Issue 6308." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  15. ^ "Le Détail par Artiste" (in French). InfoDisc. Select "Taco" from the artist drop-down menu. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  16. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  17. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Taco". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  18. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Taco - Puttin' On The Ritz" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  19. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  20. ^ "Charts.nz – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  21. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz". VG-lista. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  22. ^ "South African Rock Lists Website SA Charts 1969 – 1989 Acts (T)". Rock.co.za. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  23. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz". Singles Top 100. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  24. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  25. ^ "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – Top 100 End of Year AMR Charts – 1980s". Australian-charts.com. Hung Medien. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  26. ^ "The Top Singles of 1983". RPM. Vol. 39 no. 17. 24 December 1983. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  27. ^ "End of Year Charts 1983". Recorded Music New Zealand. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  28. ^ "Top 20 Hit Singles of 1983". Rock.co.za. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  29. ^ "Top 100 Hits for 1983". The Longbored Surfer. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  30. ^ "The CASH BOX Year-End Charts: 1983". Archived from the original on September 11, 2012.. Cash Box magazine.
  31. ^ "Canadian single certifications – Taco – Puttin' On the Ritz". Music Canada.
  32. ^ "New Zealand single certifications – Taco – Putting On the Ritz". Recorded Music NZ.
  33. ^ "American single certifications – Taco – Puttin' On the Ritz". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 

Bibliography[edit]