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A Fine Romance

This well-loved number, along with Pick Yourself Up, is one of only two songs where Dorothy wrote the lyric without a melody. In this case, Jerome Kern told her that they needed a sarcastic love ballad.

The film for which they were composing the score was the classic Astaire/ Rogers film Swing Time. The frosty exchange in song between the two lovers takes place in an appropriately snowy outdoor setting. Each partner complains of the lack of affection and interest shown by the other.

A fine romance, with no kisses!
A fine romance, my friend, this is!
We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes,
But you're as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes.
A fine romance! You won't nestle!
A fine romance! You won't wrestle!
I might as well play bridge with my old maid aunts!
I haven't got a chance.
This is a fine romance.

As cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes is a typical Dorothy Fields touch. She trumps it later with the couplet....
You're calmer than the seals in the Arctic Ocean,
At least they flap their fins to express emotion.
... and we can forgive her the zoological inaccuracy (seals have flippers not fins). At the end of the song, there is the memorable complaint:
You never give the orchids I send a glance!
No, you like cactus plants.
This is a fine romance.

Altogether there are four choruses, but I've never heard anyone perform all four in a single recording. There's a lot of rearrangement of the order of the published lyrics, taking one part from one verse, and another part from another verse.

Surprisingly, in few of the recorded versions that I've heard do the performers really try very hard to capture the petulance and sarcasm of the lyrics. Most sing it fairly straight.

The most atmospheric of the recordings is the soundtrack. Ginger starts us off with two choruses, followed by Fred's chorus. At the end of the song, we hear a car door slam, and Ginger drives off in disgust. Ginger's phrasing (and to some extent Fred's) is a bit odd though, using long pauses between "fine" and "romance", between "no" and "kisses", etc.

Fred Astaire also made a contemporary studio recording which is fine. "Oh boy what a romance" he grumbles at the end of the song.

A particularly interesting recording is Michael Feinstein's version. He starts slowly on the first chorus, and then it becomes a more traditional, jaunty performance. What is surprising is that between the second and third choruses he performs an unknown verse. It does not appear in the film, was not published, and is in no other recorded version, and Feinstein discovered it when listening to an unreleased recording by Astaire. It's a very worthwhile rediscovery:

I don't need a moon, a nook, a tune for violins
Here with you, I need a book and tons of aspirins
Socially you must remember me
I seem to be the stranger on whose knee you sat
This great love, your love I'm speaking of
I've got it up to here my dear, and that is that.

I particularly like the heavy sarcasm in the line I seem to be the stranger on whose knee you sat. More on this recording.

Margaret Whiting and Ella Fitzgerald both benefit from great arrangements, by Russell Garcia and Nelson Riddle respectively, and the song benefits from their magnificent voices. I'll give Ella a clear edge however. She achieves a crescendo of exasperation, and following the line I never mussed the crease in your blue serge pants, she delivers the follow-up complaint I never get the chance! in a fine yowl of protest.

Marni Nixon rushes this one, and Dorothy Fields just gives us one chorus in her recorded performance.

This song has an unusual number of references to life in the 1930s which are somewhat obscure today (unusual as Fields did not pack her songs with topical allusions and famous names in the same way that Cole Porter did). These notes may help with a few of them:

We just fizz like parts of a Seidlitz powder. Seidlitz powders were a very popular remedy to be taken for indigestion. A Seidlitz powder was, in fact, two powders - one wrapped in blue paper and one in white paper. The powder in the blue paper, containing sodium
potassium tartrate and sodium bicarbonate, was thoroughly dissolved in half a pint (275ml) of water and the contents of the white paper, tartaric acid, added. The resulting solution was drunk while it effervesced. So that explains the two parts fizzing separately, like the lovers in the song. (The above information was found gratefully at a pharmaceutical site.) The reference must have been obscure by the 1950s when Margaret Whiting replaced it with "headache powder".

You're just as hard to land as the Ile de France. The Ile de France was the first major liner to be built after the first World War. She was one of the most revolutionary, modern, and beautiful liners when it came to interior decor. She was not the largest ship, nor the fastest ship, but she was by far the most beautiful. Although not the largest, she was still enormous, and therefore "hard to land".

You don't have half the thrills that the March of Time has. The March of Time was one of the most famous US weekly newsreel series. The voice of its leading narrator Westbrook van Voorhis became ingrained in the popular imagination. It was parodied by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. It started in 1935, a year before Swing Time was made.



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