Tuesday, March 31, 2009

#98: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Now, laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes

This song is a precious little heartbreaker. With a few short lyrics, we go from budding romance ("They asked me how I knew / my true love was true") to dramatic irony to wistful acceptance of the truth. I love how, to the singer, the smoke isn't about a blinding naivete, but rather a tearful acknowledgement of a tragedy. I also love that the jilting lover is never really mentioned, and that those know-it-all friends are the real villains of the tale.

Moviewatchers may remember "Smoke" from American Graffiti, covered by doo-wop group, The Platters, but the song is from the Depression Era. Composer Jerome Kern apparently wrote the melody as a tap-dance number for his landmark musical Show Boat with Oscar Hammerstein II, but it went unused until lyricist Otto Harbach recovered it from Kern's trunk and convinced him to slow it down for their 1933 show, Roberta. The result was a haunting, unforgettable tune in a banal show about an American footballer who inherits a Parisian dress shop. It is much better as a standalone when someone like Dinah Washington wails it. Listen to Dinah on YouTube.

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