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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (1933)

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Origin and Chart Information
...it was Harbach who added the lyrics based upon the Russian proverb, “When your heart’s on fire, smoke gets in your eyes,”

- JW

AKAWhen Your Heart's on Fire Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Rank 99
Music Jerome Kern
Lyrics Otto Harbach

On November 18, 1933, the Broadway musical Roberta opened on the stage of the New Amsterdam Theater and, despite mostly negative reviews, managed to run for 295 performances. The show’s longevity was due in no small part to the Kern/Harbach songs, of which “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” stood out among such other tunes as “I’ll Be Hard to Handle,” “Yesterdays,” and “Let’s Begin.”

Despite the popularity of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and the fact that it is the first song mentioned when speaking of Roberta, nearly twice as many jazz artists currently cover “Yesterdays.”

Roberta, based on Alice Duer Miller’s novel, Gowns by Roberta, told the story of a college football player who inherits a dress shop in Paris. The plot was panned as overly romantic and just plain ridiculous; however, the songs purportedly saved what was to be Jerome Kern’s last successful Broadway show. The Herald Tribune reported that there was a “sudden outburst of public whistling, humming, and crooning of its score.”

Another major strength of the original Broadway run was a stellar cast that included Fay Templeton, Lyda Roberti, Sydney Greenstreet, George Murphy, Bob Hope, and Fred MacMurray. Tamara was given the honor of performing the lovely “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”


More on Tamara at JazzBiographies.com

An instant hit with the public, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” made the pop charts four times in 1934:

  • Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (Bob Lawrence, vocal, #1)
  • Leo Reisman and His Orchestra Tamara, vocal, #3)
  • Emil Coleman and His Riviera Orchestra (Jerry Cooper, vocal, #4)
  • Ruth Etting(#15)


  • Artie Shaw and the Gramercy Five (1941, #24)
  • The Platters (1959, million-seller #1)
  • Blue Haze (1973, #27)

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

The Platters’ best-selling version has been collected in The Platters Universal Masters Collection. This compilation contains a crisp version of The Platters’ number one hit. This doo-wop arrangement is probably the best known of all versions.

Hot on the heels of its Broadway success, Roberta found new life as a 1935 Hollywood musical. The film starred Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers and was again well-received on the strength of the Kern/Harbach score* as well as the Astaire/Rogers dance routines. The 1952 remake, Lovely to Look At, was not as well reviewed.

Described as “incomparable” and “immortal,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” was written by Kern as a tap dance number to be performed between scene changes during his Broadway hit Showboat. Originally up-tempo and based on a radio commercial, Kern turned it into a ballad at the request of the producer. Otto Harbach later claimed that he suggested the tempo adjustment, which reportedly irritated Kern. Regardless of who came up with the ballad idea, it was Harbach who added the lyrics based upon the Russian proverb, “When your heart’s on fire, smoke gets in your eyes,” The song was an instant hit.


More on Jerome Kern at JazzBiographies.com

More on Otto Harbach at JazzBiographies.com

*According to Clive Hirschhorn’s book Hollywood Musicals the film Roberta retained four of the show’s original numbers, “Let’s Begin,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Yesterdays,” and “I’ll Be Hard to Handle,” the latter with new lyrics by Bernard Dougall. Three more were used as background music and two were commissioned from Kern and lyricist Dorothy Fields: “Lovely to Look At” and “I Won’t Dance” which was originally written by Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II for a London show called Three Sisters.

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages

(Author/educator Forte devotes four pages to a musical analysis of the song.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Artie Shaw
The Complete Gramercy Five Sessions
RCA Label 7637
Original recording 1940
This lightly swinging hit version of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” documents the first incarnation of clarinetist and bandleader Shaw’s small group, the Gramercy Five. Billy Butterfield is featured on trumpet and Johnny Guarnieri, normally a pianist, plays some surprisingly funky harpsichord.
Thelonious Monk
1991 Original Jazz Classics 16
Original recording 1954
Thelonious Monk is heard here at a transitional point between his heralded stints on the Blue Note and Riverside record labels. The front line of Ray Copeland on trumpet and Frank Foster on tenor saxophone plays Monk’s arrangement, but Monk is the featured soloist. With the assistance of bassist Curly Russell and drummer Art Blakey, Monk provides a solo that is alternately lyrical and jarring, but always compelling.

- Noah Baerman

Sarah Vaughan
No Count Sarah
1991 Polygram 824057
Original recording 1958
Vocalist Vaughan offers a wonderful performance here. Her backing band is made up of the Count Basie Orchestra, with pianist Ronnell Bright taking Basie’s place, and the lush arrangement is courtesy of Luther Henderson.
Freddy Cole
2000, Telarc

While the familial connection is there, pianist/vocalist Cole is his own man and an adept interpreter of some great tunes on this CD in the company of young horn players Steve Davis and Eric Alexander.
Keith Jarrett
2000 ECM 847135
Original recording 1989
Pianist Jarrett is heard here with his “Standards Trio,” also featuring bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, paying tribute to saxophonist Coleman Hawkins with a characteristically lyrical reading of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”
Harvey Mason
With All My Heart
2004, RCA

Drummer Mason breathes new life into the song on this all-star trio album. Joined by Bob James and Charlie Haden, Mason makes “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” a highlight of an already impressive album.
Pearl Django
2000 Modern Hot Records

This quintet of violin, bass, and three guitarists (sometimes playing unusual models) has brought the lively sound of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France into the 21st century. They swing “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” at a joyous tempo.
Jacky Terrasson
1996 Blue Note Records 35739

Always innovative and engaging, pianist Terrasson bends the song into new shapes. On this album he bookends the song in an arrangement with the title track.
Duke Jordan
As Time Goes By
1994, Steeplechase
Original recording, 1985
Hard bop pianist Jordan delivers a “cool” version of the song in an arrangement with “Lush Life.”

- Ben Maycock

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