Puttin' On the Ritz
by Taco

Album: After Eight (1983)
Charted: 4
Play Video


  • This was originally written in 1929 by legendary composer Irving Berlin ("God Bless America"). Harry Richman introduced it in the 1930 movie musical Puttin' on the Ritz and had a #1 hit. It famously became a hit for Fred Astaire in 1946 when he performed it in the movie Blue Skies. Taco pays homage to Astaire by including a tap-dance solo in the middle of the song.
  • The expression "Puttin' On The Ritz" means to dress fashionably. The saying comes from the upscale Ritz-Carlton hotel company.
  • Born in Jakarta, Indonesia to Dutch parents on July 21, 1955, Taco Ockerse (yes, it's his real name) was raised in Germany, where he studied dance and theater. He made a name for himself on the European supper-club circuit by dressing in formal attire and performing dance versions of American standards. This song was on his first album, and it became an unlikely hit when MTV picked up the video, which showcased Taco's distinctive look and performance that he had perfected in the supper-clubs. MTV didn't have many videos at the time, and this one had lavish costumes, a glowing cane and a tap dance sequence, making it very appealing to the fledgling network. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Rob - Jemseg, NB
  • The well-known version is about the upper-crust citizens of New York's glitzy Park Avenue, but the song has a racially charged backstory. In the 1930s it was fashionable for affluent white folks to go "slumming" in Harlem, a poor black neighborhood where the jazz scene was hot. The original lyrics, heard when the song was performed throughout that decade, reference the locals who pretended to be wealthy by donning their flashy duds (i.e. puttin' on the ritz) and hanging out on Lenox Avenue in Harlem:

    Have you seen the well-to-do
    Up on Lenox Avenue?
    On that famous thoroughfare,
    With their noses in the air?
    High hats and colored collars,
    White spats and fifteen dollars.
    Spending every dime
    For a wonderful time

    The story continues with Lulubelle hitting the town every Thursday (Lulubelle was a slang term for black maids and Thursdays were typically their nights off). The lyrics also mention the "Spangled gowns upon the bevy of high browns from down the levee." High browns refers to light-skinned African Americans.

    Another Berlin tune, "Let's Go Slumming on Park Avenue," flips the narrative and has Harlemites descending on the swank avenue to spy on the rich ("They do it, why can't we do it, too?"). Not everyone bought into the slumming fad, though. In the high society spoof "The Lady is a Tramp," the title lady refuses to go to Harlem driving "Lincolns or Fords" or dressing in "ermine and pearls."
  • Taco's entire repertoire was comprised of older songs including some by jazz bandleader Glenn Miller and show tune writer George Gershwin. He played the role of "Chico" in a Marx Brothers stage show in Germany.
  • Taco's follow-up album was also named after an Irving Berlin song he covered, "Let's Face the Music and Dance." He also did Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek."
  • The year after this song was released, a cheesy TV show appeared called Puttin' On The Hits. In the show, a forebear to shows like Lip Sync Battle, contestants would lip-synch for prizes. It could only have happened in the '80s.
  • In the 1974 Mel Brooks movie Young Frankenstein, there's a scene where Dr. Frankenstein (played by Gene Wilder) does a song-and-dance act to this song with his monster.
  • The success of Taco's cover made 95-year-old Irving Berlin the oldest living songwriter ever with a single in the Top 10 of the Hot 100. Berlin was 101 when he died in 1989.
  • In his first and only song-and-dance number, Clark Gable takes a crack at this in the 1939 movie Idiot's Delight.
  • This appeared in the West German stage remake of West Side Story.

Comments: 30

  • Chase from FloridaI always loved this song, and still do. But you really need to listen to the original version of it, sang by Harry Richmond. There is a video floating around somewhere of Harry Richmond performing this song on stage and it was phenomenal! The video quality wasn't that good since it was recorded in early 1930s, but the performance will have you in awe!
  • Tony from CaArrow collars, not "narrow collars"
  • Jimbooie from Brunswick, GeorgiaI can't take my eyes off the dancers. I know it was almost forty years ago, but I'm still in love with the pretty one whose face shows up at the beginning, middle & end. I'll marry her now, sight un-seen, no questions asked.
  • Chris Bell from Nova Scotia, CanadaWhat about the sitcom Top of the Heap version sung by Kenny Yarbrough? It is so jazzy, but the singer I found by that name seems to be someone else.
  • J.c. Coleman from Bellingham, Wa, WaPuttin' on the Ritz was #1 on Cashbox, and #4 on Billboard, making Irving Berlin the oldest songster to have a top ten song at 95 years old.
  • Reyos from Windsor, On@ Mary, Phoenix, AZ
    Outfit asside, Taco looks just like Frankenfurter from RHPS in this video.
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxIrving Berlin was still alive, but in his nineties, when this cover came out. I always wondered if he was amused, appalled, intrigued or outraged. Of course, the inflow of cash royalties must have felt good.
  • Roland from Vienna, AustriaIf you really want to know everthing about Taco, just join his

    Roland Colerus - Taco's manager
  • George from Tampa, FlThe song hit the Billboard "Hot 100" chart on 7/23/83 and peaked in September, 1983 at #4.
  • Charlie from Nyc, Nythe line is park ave not lenox ave. i just listened to it on the video on songfact.
    Charlie Muller Bronx NY.
  • Mary from Phoenix, AzI don't know why, but in the video he reminds me of Tim Curry.
  • Brad from Barry, TxI believe this was my first favorite song. I was three years old and heard it on the radio and fell in love with it. Today, I still like it, but not as much as back then.
  • Andrew from Los Angeles, CaThere are other Irving Berlin songs sampled into this song at the end.

    Right after he's done singing, you can hear:

    Always (yes, the same Always that Patsy Cline did)
    Alexander's Ragtime Band
    There's No Business Like Show Business

    then the "Gotta Dance" is from Singin' In the Rain (Broadway Rhythm Medley), but Irving Berlin did not right that.
  • Madalyn from Greensburg, Pai love playing this song when i'm getting dolled up to go some where...and i'm glad taco in finding sucsess in broadway cause he is sooo talented
  • Madison from Norway, MeI'm pretty sure the middle part "Gotta Dance..." is from a Gene Kelly movie (I think Singin' in the Rain) but there is a dream/fantasy sequence in one of Kelly's films where he's a dancer going to different agents looking for work...
  • Beth from Pittsburgh, PaI love everything about this song..that hint of nostalgia, that Gary Cooper line. those hand claps..that voice..those footsteps, walking away, ever so slowly..out the door...they just don't make songs like this ..every day.
  • Josh from TorontoI don't like Taco...
    But it's a great song and oh my god the version in Young Frankenstein was my highlight of the month...and what're you talking abotu 3 good films, Jeff?
  • Brad from Knoxville, Tnif your blue, and you dont know were to go, why dont you go were fashion sits . . .PUTTIN ON THE RITS!!!!!!
  • Lynn from The Village, OkThe original Irving Berlin song actually is refers to the rich visiting Harlem. The original lyrics include the lines:

    Have you seen the well-to-do
    Up on Lenox Avenue
    On that famous thoroughfare
    With their noses in the air
    High hats and colored collars
    White spats and fifteen dollars
    Spending every dime
    For a wonderful time.

    Lennox Ave is one of the main thoroughfares in Harlem.
  • Logan from Troy, MtI love when Wilder and Boyle sing this, it's so funny;

    Puttin on the RIIITZZZ!
  • Ralph from Newton, MaSong was also featured In the film "Young Frankenstein", one of the three good films by Mel Brooks, in which it was performed by Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle. Film archivists should note that it was shortly after this film that the careers of both Brooks and Wilder went downhill.

    Good observation except that Brooks made more good movies after YF than before. It was actually only the third movie he wrote and directed and "The Producers" (his first) was actually a pretty lame movie.

    Though Blazing Saddles (before Young Frankenstien) is probably the funniest movie ever, he still made Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World Pt. 1, To Be or Not to Be and Spaceballs after.
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhI'm pretty sure Taco slipped in another Berlin song "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" into this song. It sounds weird but listen closely to the middle-end part. Taco also did the soundtrack to a Tom Selleck movie back in the 80's.
  • Jess from New York, NyTaco.... what a genius! This song has gotten me through the best and worsts of times. Pure brilliance! I reccomend it to anybody who has the chance of listening to this hit. My that taco had an artistic way of filming his clips. The suit and white face were very ahead of his time! BRING BACK TACO!!!!!
  • Dee from Indianapolis, InI was a freshman in H.S. when this was a hit. I always found it to be a little odd for the style of music, but liked it never the same. It was extremly crisp in it's sound quality, which you don't find often.
  • Colby from Kansas, KsFalco remixed the song first, but Taco translated Falco's version from German to English
  • Kyle from Stl, Moyou have to admit tho the movies Brooks did make were very hillarious before he stopped thought id mention that even tho its off topic
  • Ted from Poway, CaI have a friend named Taco... just thought everyone should know
  • Kent from Latrobe, PaTaco... The name sounds more Mexican or Spanish than German if you ask me...
  • Harmless from Barrington, Ri80s artist Falco also did a version of this song with a more pop and synth sound to it while still having a very jazzy rhythm to it.
  • Jeff from Haltom City, TxSong was also featured In the film "Young Frankenstein", one of the three good films by Mel Brooks, in which it was performed by Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle. Film archivists should note that it was shortly after this film that the careers of both Brooks and Wilder went downhill.
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