Friday, February 7, 2014


I have a lot of favorite songs, but I think one of the most brilliant songs ever written was a song simply titled "Smile". "Smile" is a song based on an instrumental theme used in the soundtrack for the 1936 Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times. Chaplin composed the music, while John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added the lyrics and title in 1954. In the lyrics, the singer is telling the listener to cheer up and that there is always a bright tomorrow, just as long as they smile. "Smile" has become a popular standard since its original use in Chaplin's film.

The song, originally sung by Nat King Cole, charted in 1954. Singer Sunny Gale also covered the song, sharing sales with Cole, as shown in the music trade Cashbox. It was also covered by Cole's daughter, Natalie, on her 1991 album, Unforgettable... with Love. Other great versions of the song include recordings done by Jimmy Durante, Dinah Washington, and Dean Martin.

In Britain, rival versions were released by Lita Roza and Petula Clark in 1954. Clark later re-recorded it for her 1968 album The Other Man's Grass Is Always Greener, by which time she was a personal friend of Charlie Chaplin. Jazz guitarist Royce Campbell recorded it on his album, "Get Happy (2007).

Singer Michael Jackson recorded the song for his 1995 double album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. It was planned to be released as the eighth and final single from the album in 1998 but was canceled days before its release date. Only a few copies from the Netherlands, Germany and South Africa (where the record distribution was started previous to the withdrawal) were saved as the other copies were withdrawn.

The song was also featured extensively in the 1992 biography film Chaplin which starred Robert Downey Jr. Downey also later recorded an updated version of this great song. The song has always spoken to me because it talks about smiling and keeping a happy front even though you may be torn up inside. It has summed up how I felt a lot of times during my life...


  1. As is the case perhaps with many music lovers, quite often a song’s author goes unnoticed in our love affair with a particular piece of music. Such was the case with “Smile” for me.

    Being a bit of a musician myself I decided to add “Smile” to my published repertoire so I proceeded with procuring a Mechanical License from the Harry Fox Agency and was completely shocked when I ‘finally’ noticed who had written the song. I was very familiar with many of the versions of the song released my mainstream artists, The Letterman’s version being my own personal favorite, but again clueless as to who had penned such a great song.

    There’s no way I thought that the “Charlie Chapman” I was familiar with could have written this song but of course with a short historical investigation the shocking truth was revealed. And after all, I think it is somewhat well known that when we roll back the packaging of most comedians, generally speaking, there is a palatable sensitivity and compassion there that allows more of who they really are to emerge.

  2. Recently, I played the piano on a restoration of Modern Times with full orchestra. I'm curious about the history of the how the tune developed from what's actually in the movie to what it became. In the movie the tune never goes to the minor IV chord ( in this case E-flat) since the tune is usually always in G during the movie. Also, it never has the 'classic' ending in the movie that became the 1954 version. Do you know if Charlie Chaplin rewrote and developed the theme from it's 1936 version in the 1954 version or did someone else? I've been curious about this for some time. Thank you...Bryan Pezzone.

  3. I was aware there was an 18 year span between the music composition and the lyrics. It is such a beautiful song, and it part of our American Cultural Experience. The Gershwin, Harold Arlene, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, are names generations have lost, along with teams like Rodgers and Hammerstein. Brilliant songwriters and composers, many who overcame tenement childhoods, and followed their talents and hard work. Americans should be proud.