The song uses the well-known term "rags to riches," meaning to rise from poverty to wealth. Fictional examples of this are Cinderella, Little Orphan Annie, and Oliver Twist. It is about valuing the love of a particular person over wealth. Even though the singer doesn't have money, he/she still feels like a millionaire. In the end, we never know if the singer's dream of love actually comes true, going from rags to riches, or remaining a beggar forever.
This was written in 1953 by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, who first started writing songs together in 1950. Together they wrote the Broadway shows The Pajama Game (1954) and Damn Yankees (1955). Combined, the original Broadway productions of all of their musicals won a total of 11 Tony Awards. Many of their songs became part of the Great American Songbook (such as "Hey There," a #1 hit for Rosemary Clooney in 1954). Their massive success was unfortunately cut short when Jerry Ross died of bronchiectasis in 1955 at the age of 29.
Tony Bennett's recording of "Rags to Riches" did not chart in the UK, but British singer David Whitefield recorded the song in the same year and brought it to #3. Bennett did reach #1 in the UK with his follow-up single "Stranger in Paradise."
After sitting at #1 for 6 weeks (November 21 - Deceber 26), Eddie Fisher's "Oh My Pa-Pa (O Mein Papa)" knocked Whitefield's "Rags To Riches" out of the top spot. Fisher's recording didn't chart in the UK, either.
Bennett recorded this with Percy Faith and His Orchestra.
In the television show Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983) this is the signature song of Carmine Ragusa (Eddie Mekka). He regularly bursts into song, usually belting "Rags to Riches" in the style of Tony Bennett. He even matches Bennett's vibrato.
Elvis Presley reached #33 US with his recording in 1971. Other artists to chart with the song in America are Sunny & The Sunliners (#45, 1963) and Lenny Welch (#102, 1966).
In 2012 Tony Bennett released a duet recording with Romeo Santos, who sings his lines in Spanish.