Friday Fun: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Kern / Harbach)

Advent is over, and while we are technically in the Twelve Days of Christmas now, I suspect that we have all heard as many carols as we need to for one season. I myself have participated in three carol services, one midnight mass, one Christmas Day mass, and four rounds of workplace (and hospital) carolling, along with all the attendant rehearsals that these entail, so I’m feeling just nicely carolled out for the time being, and ready for something a bit different, musically speaking.

It’s rather adorable, isn’t it?

Actually, this is tangentially related to midnight mass, since the Carmelite brothers are *very* enthusiastic with their incense, and this song – and particularly Judy Garland’s version of it – was mentioned by a fellow chorister as we lined up behind the censer, ready to process in, all waving our music furiously in front of our eyes to clear the incense from them… I had heard the song before, but I’d never seen this performance, which I think is completely delightful – I love the way Garland simply ignores the smoke, the firemen, the sirens, and the furniture being carried out all around her, and sings every note perfectly, not faltering even when the last fireman hoists her over his shoulder and carries her out of the house.

I didn’t really know this song before setting out to write this post, so I went hunting about to find out more about it, and found the gorgeous original recording by Gertrude Niesen, who has the most amazing contralto voice I’ve heard in some time – I’ll have to go hunting for more of her songs, I think.  She also sings in that style that I always associate with World War 2 (and particularly Vera Lynn singing ‘We’ll Meet Again’).  It’s always interesting seeing how trends move in singing styles and techniques – you can tell, to an extent, when someone learned to sing, by their style.

This more recent version by Vic Damone is also rather gorgeous – his voice is almost perfect, though I don’t think his rendition has the same emotional depth as Niesen’s (and it’s hard not to be a little cynical about his choice of song, given the number of marriages he went through).

And finally, just for fun, here is the dance version by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  I tend to be rather a Gene Kelly fan, myself, but Rogers and Astaire do have a wonderful elegance and grace together, and who doesn’t love that ‘backwards and in high heels’ remark?

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