Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” — a joyous walk through almost a century of music at home and abroad

My recent post about the best flash mob ever reminded me of a post I did in 2009 about Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” a song that lives on and on, around the world. Today seems like a good day to expand upon that post.

Irving Berlin composed “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in 1929. Although he wrote it about blacks in Harlem who dressed up for a night on the town, the American public first saw it in 1930, when Harry Richman sang it with arch “high class” inflections while plump chorines bounced and trotted woodenly behind him:

Fred Astaire also recorded the song in 1930, and his staccato presentation put a lasting imprint on people’s perceptions of the song:

In 1937, Clark Gable, as part of his delightful turn as a two-bit vaudeville player, turned in a wonderfully camp and charming version of the same song. Indeed, this is my favorite version of the song:

By 1946, Fred Astaire once again was “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” this time on film, as opposed to just a sound recording:

Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the divine Ella Fitzgerald brought her particular brand of music to the song:

In the mid-1970s, Michael Jackson — Michael Jackson! — along with his brothers tackled the song (it starts at about the 1:20 marks):

Also in the 1970s, there was a delightful version of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Sadly, I can’t track down any video of that segment.

The 1980s saw Taco’s somewhat boring, and very creepy, un-PC version (complete with black-face performers). As I recall, it was a surprise hit.

In addition, in 1988, The Mighty Diamonds did a reggae version:

“Puttin’ on the Ritz” made an appearance in the 1990s, as the theme music for Nintendo’s Super Hunchback:

Rufus Wainwright, a millennial heart-throb did a version sometime after 2000. If only he could carry a tune…. I recommend no more than 10 seconds of this one. I include it just to show how eternal Irving Berlin is:

More recently, Club des Belugas, a cutting edge NuJazz group in Germany, fired up Puttin’ on the Ritz a few years ago with a remix of Fred Astaire’s 1946 version:

The endlessly cool Herb Alpert did a version last year:

2013 was a good year for “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” since Robbie Williams recorded it too, with the original 1929 lyrics:

And then, of course, there’s the “best flash mob ever” version, from Moscow, in 2012, with love:

How does one account for the enduring, world-wide popularity of this 85-year-old song? I think my teenage son put it best. After watching the flash mob, he turned to me and said, “You know, Mom, that’s a really catchy tune.”

Just Because Music: The Kinks’ “Come Dancing”

I loved this song when I was young and I still like it now that I’m not so young:

Wikipedia says there’s a story behind the song:

“Come Dancing” is a tribute to Davies’ sister Rene who bought him his first guitar, with the song’s lyrics affording Davies’ sister a happy life denied her in reality. Living in Canada with her (reportedly abusive) husband, the 31-year-old Rene was visiting her parental home in Fortis Green at the time of Ray Davies’ thirteenth birthday — 21 June 1957 — on which she surprised him with a gift of the Spanish guitar he’d tried to persuade his parents to buy him. On the evening of the same day, Rene — who had a weak heart as a result of a childhood bout of rheumatic fever — suffered a fatal heart attack while dancing at the Lyceum ballroom.

Just Because Music: Imagine Dragons’ “On Top Of The World”

Sorry I haven’t written today.  I just haven’t been inspired, and the nice thing about blogging on a volunteer basis, as opposed to blogging for a boss, is that one inspiration vanishes, I can vanish too.  I wasn’t useless, though.  Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I’ve assembled and am editing another collection of my past posts.  The last one I did netted me about 10 cents per hour of work, so I’m not sure what compulsion is driving me, but I am still driven.

While I’m driving myself a little crazy, I’ve got an unusually happy song for you:

Just Because Music — Israeli “X Factor”

I’ve reconnected with an old high school acquaintance who, as I did, made the journey from Left to Right.  He made it with style, though, as he now lives with his family in Israel.  That Israel part means that I haven’t been able to figure out from all the Hebrew posts and comments whether this young man is my old classmate’s son or a nephew.  I think he’s the former.  Anyway, I just thought it was awesome that this young man performed on the Israeli X Factor and did so with such poise, style, and warmth:

Just Because: “Make ‘em laugh”

It’s not actually “just because.”  I’ve had this gosh darn cold long enough that I’m feeling a little blue.  I needed some cheering up, so I thought I’d pass it along:

And if you’re interested in the song that Singing In The Rain borrowed, here’s “Be A Clown” from The Pirate:

Hollywood knew how to do musicals in those days, that’s for sure, with MGM at the top of the hill.