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)

"Puttin' On the Ritz" is a popular song written by Irving Berlin. He wrote it in May 1927 and first published it in December 2, 1929.[1] It was registered as an unpublished song August 24, 1927 and again on July 27, 1928.[1] It was introduced by Harry Richman and chorus in the musical film Puttin' On the Ritz (1930).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 "putting on the Ritz," meaning to dress very fashionably. The expression was inspired by the opulent Ritz Hotel.

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, the rhythmic pattern in "Puttin' On the Ritz" is "the most complex and provocative I have ever come upon."[3]

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". 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 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][4] This second version was published after being registered for copyright on August 28, 1946.[1]

Hit phonograph records of the tune in its original 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 #1 selling record in America.[1]

Taco version[edit]

"Puttin' On the Ritz"
Single by Taco
from the album After Eight
B-side "Livin' in My Dream World"
Released June, 1983
Format 7", 12"
Genre New wave, synthpop
Length 4:41
3:22 (7" version)
Label RCA
Writer(s) Irving Berlin
Producer(s) Taco
Taco singles chronology
"Cheek to Cheek"
"Puttin' on the Ritz"
"Singin' in the Rain"

In 1983 Dutch singer Taco released a synthesized pop version of "Puttin' On the Ritz" as a single from his Polydor (Germany) album After Eight. Aided by a hugely popular MTV music video (of which there were two versions), this version includes a tap dance solo in the middle to honor the late Fred Astaire.[5][6] The original version contains many characters in blackface and has since been banned from many networks.

The single was a global hit, hitting #1 in Cashbox as well as #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.[7][8][9] It was certified Gold by the RIAA for selling over one million US copies.[8] It was Taco's only hit in the States.[10] This version of the song was ranked #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 Norway, Austria and Canada.[11][12]

The Taco version 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.

Chart performance[edit]

Other versions[edit]

In addition to the Taco version, this tune has enjoyed a number of revivals. A hit swing music version was recorded by Benny Goodman in 1939.[27] Ella Fitzgerald also performed a swing music version.

The song and a dance number were performed by Clark Gable in 1939's Idiot's Delight and by Fred Astaire in the 1946 film Blue Skies using the revised lyrics.

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 #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".

Harry Richman's version was made into an animated film in 1974 by Antoinette Starkiewicz, who gave special thanks to Walt Disney, Max Bannah, Christopher Robin, Mr. Smith Morris and Fred Astaire.

The Mighty Diamonds recorded this song, with some variations, on a 1988 12" produced by reggae producer Ossie Hibbert. 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.

Neil Diamond recorded the song on his 1998 album, The Movie Album: As Time Goes By. The song was recorded by Shiny Toy Guns on the first version of their album We Are Pilots in 2005 called just "Ritz". A speed metal version was recorded by the Finnish band Leningrad Cowboys in 2006 on their album Zombies Paradise. The song is also performed by Rufus Wainwright in 2007 on his album Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall.

The song is also used in the title music for the Game Boy game Super Hunchback. In Being Human, Hal covers this song for a humorous effect when waking up the vampires.

"Puttin' On the Ritz" has also been recorded by Robbie Williams, using the original 1929 lyrics, on his 2013 Swing/Pop album Swings Both Ways.

Herb Alpert recorded the song in 2013 and Pomplamoose made their version in 2014.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kimball, Robert; Emmet, Linda, eds. (2001). The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin. Knopf. p. 262. ISBN 0679419438. 
  2. ^ a b Mueller, John (1986). Astaire Dancing - The Musical Films. London: Hamish Hamilton. p. 267. ISBN 0-241-11749-6. 
  3. ^ Mueller, p.267, quoting Wilder
  4. ^ Mueller, p.267: "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."
  5. ^ http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1858, Retrieved on 2009-06-25.
  6. ^ The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits - Joel Whitburn - Google Boeken
  7. ^ "Hot 100: Week of September 10, 1983". Billboard magazine. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  8. ^ a b http://www.billboard.com/charts/1983-09-10/hot-100
  9. ^ "CASH BOX Top 100 Singles". Cashbox (magazine). Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  10. ^ "Search results: Taco". RIAA. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  11. ^ "Taco: Puttin' on the Ritz (song)". Hung Medien. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  12. ^ "RPM: 50 Singles (Volume 38, No. 16, June 18, 1983)". RPM (magazine). Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  13. ^ http://www.swisscharts.com/song/Taco/Puttin%27-On-The-Ritz-915
  14. ^ http://www.swisscharts.com/song/Taco/Puttin%27-On-The-Ritz-915
  15. ^ http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/rpm/028020-119.01-e.php?&file_num=nlc008388.6240&type=2&interval=50&PHPSESSID=c6btf3r8hs459qqt5ln3o3dcv5
  16. ^ http://www.swisscharts.com/song/Taco/Puttin%27-On-The-Ritz-915
  17. ^ http://www.swisscharts.com/song/Taco/Puttin%27-On-The-Ritz-915
  18. ^ http://www.swisscharts.com/song/Taco/Puttin%27-On-The-Ritz-915
  19. ^ http://www.swisscharts.com/song/Taco/Puttin%27-On-The-Ritz-915
  20. ^ http://www.swisscharts.com/song/Taco/Puttin%27-On-The-Ritz-915
  21. ^ http://www.swisscharts.com/song/Taco/Puttin%27-On-The-Ritz-915
  22. ^ http://www.swisscharts.com/song/Taco/Puttin%27-On-The-Ritz-915
  23. ^ http://www.top40db.net/lyrics/?SongID=83146&By=Title&Match=Puttin%27+On+The+Ritz
  24. ^
  25. ^ http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/rpm/028020-119.01-e.php?&file_num=nlc008388.6699&type=1&interval=20&PHPSESSID=fahept8f0khjvfddj06hvjch90
  26. ^ http://www.musicoutfitters.com/topsongs/1983.htm
  27. ^ "Puttin' on the Ritz" Lyrics at International Lyrics Playground