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 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 He wrote it in May 1927 and first published it in December 2, 1929.[1] It was registered as an unpublished song August 24, 1927 and again on July 27, 1928.[1] It was introduced by Harry Richman and chorus in the musical film Puttin' On the Ritz (1930).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.

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]

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 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.[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 cover[edit]

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

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.[citation needed] 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[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 US copies.[9] It was Taco's only hit in the 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 Norway, Austria and Canada.[10][11]

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.

Chart positions[edit]

Weekly singles charts[edit]

Chart (1982–1983) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[12] 5
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[13] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[10] 13
Canada (CHUM)[14] 3
Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[15] 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[11] 2
France (IFOP)[16] 74
Germany (Official German Charts)[17] 20
Ireland (IRMA)[18] 24
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[19] 12
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[20] 18
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[21] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[22] 2
South Africa (Springbok Radio)[23] 3
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[24] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[25] 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)[26] 34
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[27] 14
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[28] 22
South Africa (Springbok Radio)[29] 16
US Billboard Hot 100[30] 31
US Cash Box[31] 19


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[32] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[33] Platinum 20,000*
United States (RIAA)[34] Gold 1,000,000^

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

Other cover versions[edit]

In addition to the Taco cover, this tune has enjoyed a number of revivals. A hit swing music version was recorded by Benny Goodman in 1939.[35] 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.[36] 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".

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.

Rufus Wainwright performed the song on his album Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall (released in 2007).

The song is also used in the title music for the Game Boy game Super Hunchback.

In Being Human, Hal covers this song 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.

Jiří Korn did his own version.[37]

Swing revivalists the Cherry Poppin' Daddies recorded a version of the song for their 2016 covers album The Boop-A-Doo.



  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]


  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 at the Wayback Machine (archived September 13, 2012)‹The template Wayback is being considered for merging.› . 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 "Ultratop.be – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  11. ^ a b "Top RPM Singles: Issue 6252." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  12. ^ "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – CHART POSITIONS PRE 1989". Australian-charts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  13. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  14. ^ CHART NUMBER 1382 – Saturday, July 09, 1983 at the Wayback Machine (archived February 13, 2006)‹The template Wayback is being considered for merging.› . CHUM.
  15. ^ "Top RPM Adult Contemporary: Issue 6308." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  16. ^ "Le Détail par Artiste" (in French). InfoDisc. Select "Taco" from the artist drop-down menu. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  18. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Taco". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  19. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Taco - Puttin' On The Ritz search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  20. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  21. ^ "Charts.org.nz – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  22. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz". VG-lista. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  23. ^ "South African Rock Lists Website SA Charts 1969 – 1989 Acts (T)". Rock.co.za. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  24. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz". Singles Top 100. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  25. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Taco – Puttin' On The Ritz". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  26. ^ "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – Top 100 End of Year AMR Charts – 1980s". Australian-charts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  27. ^ "The Top Singles of 1983". RPM. Vol. 39 no. 17. 24 December 1983. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  28. ^ "End of Year Charts 1983". Recorded Music New Zealand. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  29. ^ "Top 20 Hit Singles of 1983". Rock.co.za. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  30. ^ "Top 100 Hits for 1983". The Longbored Surfer. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  31. ^ The CASH BOX Year-End Charts: 1983 at the Wayback Machine (archived September 11, 2012)‹The template Wayback is being considered for merging.› . Cash Box magazine.
  32. ^ "Canadian single certifications – Taco – Puttin' On the Ritz". Music Canada. 
  33. ^ "New Zealand single certifications – Taco – Putting On the Ritz". Recorded Music NZ. 
  34. ^ "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
  35. ^ "Puttin' On the Ritz". International Lyrics Playground. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  36. ^ "Young Frankenstein- Putting on the Ritz." on YouTube
  37. ^ "Jiří Korn - Hotel Ritz [Putting On The Ritz (1987)"] on YouTube