One Hit Wonders: Taco (1982)

Puttin' On the Ritz
Single: Taco
Album: After Eight
B-side: Livin' in My Dream World
Released: 1982
Genre: Synth-pop
Songwriters: Irving Berlin

The singer known as Taco released a synth-pop cover version of "Puttin' On the Ritz" from his 1982 album After Eight. It reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making the then 95 year-old Irving Berlin the oldest living songwriter with a hit in the  top ten.  It's Taco's only hit in the United States and ranks number 52 in VH1's 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80s. It's number 79 on their list of 100 All Time Greatest One Hit Wonders.

Taco

Taco Ockerse was born in Indonesia to Dutch parents on July 21, 1955, and raised in Germany. At twenty years-old, he took his first professional theatrical engagements in Hamburg. He became known on the European supper-club circuit for dressing in formal attire and performing dance versions of American standards. His repertoire comprised old standards, including Glenn Miller and George Gershwin tunes.

Singer Taco Ockerse

Harry Richman (1930)
"Irving Berlin set the tone and the tempo for the tunes America 
played and sang and danced to for much of the 20th century."
The New York Times after his death at 101 in 1989

May 1907: Dining room of the Ritz Hotel, London
May 1907: Dining room of the Ritz Hotel, London

Irving Berlin published "Puttin' On the Ritz" on December 2, 1929. The title comes from the expression "to put on the Ritz," meaning to dress stylishly, inspired by the lavish Ritz Hotel in London. Harry Richman introduced the song in the 1930 movie musical Puttin' on the Ritz and had a number 1 hit.  It was the first song in film to be sung by an interracial ensemble.


Clark Gable (1939)

Poster for the 1939 film Idiot's Delight

Have you seen the well-to-do
Up on Lenox Avenue?
On that famous thoroughfare,
With their noses in the air?

High hats and colored collars,
White spats and fifteen dollars.
Spending every dime
For a wonderful time.

The original lyrics referenced flashy dressed but poor black Harlemites parading up and down Lenox Avenue. According to the story, "Lulubelles," slang for black maids, hit the town every Thursday, typically their night off from work.  "Spangled gowns upon the bevy of high browns from down the levee"  refers to light-skinned African Americans. The song with the original lyrics was performed by Clark Gable in the 1939 film Idiot's Delight


Fred Astaire (1946)

Movie poster Fred Astaire Blue Skies

In May 1930, Columbia released a 78 RPM recording of Fred Astaire singing the original lyrics.  But in 1946, for Astaire's performance of "Puttin' On the Ritz" in the film Blue Skies, Irving Berlin revised the lyrics. The song became about affluent whites strutting "up and down Park Avenue." This second version was copyrighted and published on August 28, 1946.


Young Frankenstein (1974)

The 1974 Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein contains a scene where Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder, does a song-and-dance routine with his monster, played by Peter Boyle, using Fred Astaire's version of "Puttin' On the Ritz."

Taco (1982)

The Taco cover of "Puttin' On the Ritz" musically references other Irving Berlin songs, including "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," and "White Christmas." He also pays homage to Astaire by including a tap-dance solo in the middle of the song. Taco's version was accompanied by a music video. 

MTV didn't have many videos at the time and Taco's lavish costumes, glowing cane, and tap dance sequence made it very appealing to the fledgling network. They aired the clip in heavy rotation. The original version contained characters in blackface and has since been banned from many networks. An alternative version eliminated most shots of the blackface characters, though some remained. 


Taco (1983)

Taco's latest music video on YouTube is taken from a performance on the German TV show "ZDF Silvester-Tanzparty" aired on December 31, 1983, for their New Years Eve party.





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