About The Song

Background

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is a classic ballad popularized by the American doo-wop vocal group The Platters. While the song is forever linked to their smooth harmonies and poignant delivery, its origins lie decades earlier. The music was composed in 1933 by Jerome Kern, a prolific Broadway composer, with lyrics penned by Otto Harbach for the musical “Roberta.” The original version, titled “If I Had You,” was a love song with a more optimistic tone.

However, the version we know today underwent a transformation in 1958. British songwriter Ivor Novello completely revamped the lyrics, imbuing them with a melancholic sentimentality that resonated with a new generation. He retained the core melody but crafted a story of lost love and lingering heartbreak. This revised version, under the title “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” was introduced in a British musical called “The Windbag.”

The Platters, then a rising doo-wop group, stumbled upon the song during their British tour in 1958. Their lead singer, Tony Williams, was immediately captivated by the song’s emotional depth and potential. Upon returning to the US, The Platters secured the rights to record “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Their rendition, released in 1959, became an instant smash hit, eclipsing the popularity of the original version.

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Musical Style

The Platters’ version of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is a prime example of doo-wop, a vocal style that emerged in the African American communities of the US in the 1940s. Characterized by smooth, close harmonies with a focus on tenor vocals, doo-wop often employed percussive elements like handclaps and finger snaps to create rhythm. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” perfectly showcases these elements. The opening features a gentle a cappella harmony before the piano and bass subtly enter, providing a foundation for the melancholic melody.

The Platters’ signature vocals take center stage. Tony Williams’ rich tenor delivers the heartfelt lyrics with a touch of vulnerability, perfectly conveying the pain of lost love. The backing vocals by Herb Reed, Paul Robi, David Lynch, and Zollie Volmaire blend seamlessly, creating a lush and evocative soundscape. The tempo is slow and deliberate, allowing the emotional weight of the song to fully resonate. The arrangement is sparse, relying on the power of the vocals and the poignant melody to carry the listener through the emotional journey.

Lyrics

The lyrical shift by Ivor Novello is what truly set “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” apart. The original version spoke of finding solace in love, but Novello’s lyrics painted a picture of heartbreak and lingering memories. The opening line, “They asked me how I knew my love was gone,” immediately sets the melancholic tone. The singer reminisces about a past love, the “smoke” in his eyes a metaphor for the tears he can’t hold back.

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The lyrics are full of vivid imagery. Lines like “Fills my heart with the old familiar sting” and “The music plays, but there’s no heart in it” capture the raw emotions of loss and the hollowness left behind. The song cleverly utilizes the title as a recurring motif. “Smoke gets in your eyes” not only signifies the physical tears but also the emotional haze that clouds judgment and makes it difficult to move on.

Cultural Impact

The Platters’ recording of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” became a cultural phenomenon. It topped the Billboard charts in 1959 and remained a popular choice for slow dances and romantic occasions. The song’s enduring appeal lies in its universal theme of heartbreak. It resonated with listeners across generations and cultural backgrounds, offering a relatable narrative about the pain of losing love.

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” transcended its doo-wop origins and found a place in various media. It has been featured in countless films, including “The Graduate” (1967) and “Diabolique” (1955). The song’s iconic status also led to numerous covers by artists across genres, from Perry Como and Ella Fitzgerald to Art Garfunkel and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Each rendition offered a new perspective on the song, solidifying its place in popular music history.

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Beyond its musical influence, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” became a cultural touchstone. Its title phrase found its way into everyday language, used to describe situations that evoke sadness or nostalgia. The song continues to be referenced in literature, television shows, and even political speeches. Its ability to evoke strong emotions and encapsulate the universality of heartbreak ensures its continued relevance for generations to come.

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Lyrics

🎵 Let’s sing along with the lyrics! 🎤

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
I of course replied
Something here inside
Can not be deniedThey, said some day you’ll find
All who love are blind
When your heart’s on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyesSo I chaffed them, and I gaily laughed
To think they could doubt my love
And yet today, my love has flown away
I am without my loveNow laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyesSmoke gets in your eyes

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