Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Your grandmother probably slow danced to this song at her cotillion, if you’re from a certain type of background. The Platters’ version of this Jerome Kern tune was a number one hit in 1958, making millions of nice white debutantes swoon chastely to the vocal stylings of Tony Williams, who was neither white nor a debutante. In other words, it was exactly the kind of sexless, corny-as-Iowa romantic treacle that rock’n’roll set out to obliterate from the cultural landscape. By the 70’s being a fan of vocal groups like The Platters was crippingly uncool. Enter Bryan Ferry, with a well-honed sense of irony and an understanding that yesterday’s uncool is tomorrow’s cool again. Ferry was, of course, one of the first rock singers to cherry pick the corny golden oldies of yesteryear for gems ripe for reinvention. He was not above being utterly campy in his choices, but in this case, he picked something he could sing with a straight face. It’s a love ballad that just needed to be stripped of its pop-hit-of-58 arrangement for its emotional depth to shine through. (A sappy male chorus was very much the trendy production gimmick of the late 50’s.) And honestly, without the cultural context of segregated cotillions and the no-sex-no-fun social mores of 1958, The Platters’ song is not bad. In fact, The Platters were actually one of the best vocal groups of their time and among the first all-black groups to gain mainstream popularity.