Puttin' On the Ritz
"Puttin' On the Ritz" is a song written by Irving Berlin. He wrote it in May 1927 and first published it in December 2, 1929. It was registered as an unpublished song August 24, 1927 and again on July 27, 1928. 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. The title derives from the slang expression "putting 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.
The song is in AABA form, with a verse. 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. 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."
Lyrics and race
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 UK, the song was popularized through the BBC's radio broadcasts of Joe Kaye's Band performing it at the The Ritz Hotel, London restaurant in the 1930s. 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 (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." This second version was published after being registered for copyright on August 28, 1946.
|"Puttin' On the Ritz"|
|Single by Taco|
|from the album After Eight|
|B-side||"Livin' in My Dream World"|
4:41 (Album version)|
3:22 (7" version)
6:08 (Extended 12" version)
|Taco singles chronology|
In 1982 singer Taco released a synthpop cover version of "Puttin' On the Ritz" as a single from his album After Eight, released on Polydor of Germany. The single was aided by its hugely popular music video (of which there are two versions) which includes a tap dance solo in honor of the late Fred Astaire. The original version contains characters in blackface and has since been banned from many networks. The alternate version eliminates many shots of the blackface characters; notably two who appear during the song's "super duper" line are replaced with a photograph of Gary Cooper, however the blackface characters can still be seen in a few shots.
The single was a global hit, reaching No. 1 in Cashbox as well as No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making Irving Berlin, then 95, the oldest ever living songwriter to have one of his compositions enter the top ten. It was certified Gold by the RIAA for selling over one million US copies. It was Taco's only hit in the States. This version of the song was ranked No. 53 in VH1's 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80s special.
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 Videot", a 1984 episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Weekly singles charts
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||5|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||3|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||13|
|Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)||1|
|Canada Top Singles (RPM)||2|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||20|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||12|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||18|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||1|
|South Africa (Springbok Radio)||3|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||6|
|US Billboard Adult Contemporary||12|
|US Billboard Hot 100||4|
|US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play||37|
|US Cash Box||1|
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||34|
|Canada Top Singles (RPM)||14|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||22|
|South Africa (Springbok Radio)||16|
|US Billboard Hot 100||31|
|US Cash Box||19|
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||100,000^|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||Platinum||20,000*|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||1,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
Other cover versions
A humorous duet in Mel Brooks' 1974 film Young Frankenstein is performed in character by Gene Wilder as Dr. Frederick (Von) Frankenstein and Peter Boyle as the inarticulate monster, which parodies Fred Astaire's 1946 film version. In 2004 voters in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs cited this rendition to list the tune at No. 89 in the survey of top songs in American cinema. This version was later used in the 2007 musical adaptation of the same name. The duet is referenced in the Family Guy episode "The Story on Page One", when Stewie takes control of an unknowing Chris via mind control (over a transceiver) and uses "Puttin' On The Ritz" as a test by singing "If you're blue and you don't know where to go to, why don't you go where fashion sits?" with Chris responding "Puttin' On The Ritz!" and Stewie commenting "Not my bit, but still funny".
The song is performed by Bertie Wooster (Hugh Laurie) in the 1990–1993 ITV Jeeves and Wooster TV series. The character at first struggles to sing the verses, until Jeeves (Stephen Fry) points out the song's peculiar time signature and syncopated delivery.
In Being Human, Hal covers this song when waking up the vampires.
Jiří Korn did his own version.
The retro, close harmony trio, The Puppini Sisters recorded and released their swing version of the song as a Free download in 2016.
- "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."
- Kimball & Emmet 2001, p. 262.
- Mueller 1986, p. 267.
- Montgomery-Massingberd & Watkin Collie, p. 97.
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- "Puttin' On the Ritz". International Lyrics Playground. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
- "Young Frankenstein- Putting on the Ritz." on YouTube
- "Jiří Korn - Hotel Ritz [Putting On The Ritz (1987)"] on YouTube
- Kimball, Robert; Emmet, Linda, eds. (2001). The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin. Knopf. ISBN 0679419438.
- Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh; Watkin, David; Collie, Keith (1980). The London Ritz: a social and architectural history. Aurum. ISBN 978-0-906053-01-0.
- Mueller, John (1986). Astaire Dancing – The Musical Films. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 0-241-11749-6.