Smile (Charlie Chaplin song)

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Song by Nat King Cole
Published1936 (theme), 1954 (song)
WriterJohn Turner
Geoffrey Parsons
ComposerCharlie Chaplin
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Song by Nat King Cole
Published1936 (theme), 1954 (song)
WriterJohn Turner
Geoffrey Parsons
ComposerCharlie Chaplin

"Smile" is a song based on an instrumental theme used in the soundtrack for the 1936 Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times. Chaplin composed the D minor music, while John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added the lyrics and title in 1954.[1] In the lyrics, based on lines and themes from the film, 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.

Original version[edit]

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.

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). Jeff Lynne recorded it for his album "Long Wave (2012), along other old standards.

Michael Jackson version[edit]

Single by Michael Jackson
from the album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I
ReleasedJanuary 20, 1998
FormatCD single, 12" single
Recorded1995 at the Olympic Studio, London, England (UK)
Length4:55 (album version)
4:10 (short version)
Writer(s)Charlie Chaplin (music)
John Turner, Geoffrey Parsons (lyrics)
Producer(s)David Foster
Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"On the Line"
"You Rock My World"
HIStory Continues track listing
"Little Susie"

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South Africa (where the record distribution was started previous to the withdrawal) were saved as the other copies were withdrawn.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 rarest pressings include the CD maxi single (estimated value over €500) and the single track promo (the promo single CD was going for AU$1,725 in February 2011).

The remixes on this release have never been released commercially since, but some can also be found on the "Is It Scary" promotional 12" records from the UK. The "Downtempo Groove Mix" is the rarest mix of this song because it was only released on the maxi. The remix was uncredited, but was actually done by Eddie Arroyo.[2]

Jackson had never performed this song live; an HBO special was once planned with the song being performed, but Jackson collapsed during the concert's rehearsals. During the final concerts of his HIStory World Tour, the song was played at the beginning of each concert in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales. In Living with Michael Jackson, he mentioned the song while at Neverland Ranch and sang it while he was in Las Vegas.

Around November 2005, a number of bootlegged 12" records appeared on eBay and some record fairs in Germany and The Netherlands. This explains why the 12" presses are the most common, although the original is still considered the most rare. The short version of "Smile" was later re-issued on the deluxe United Kingdom edition of King of Pop in 2008.

Diana Ross also recorded a version on both her self-titled Top 5 album in 1976 and then as part of her Tony Award winning, "An Evening with Diana Ross" cast album, show and television special. Diana's version was classic and lush in a template that Michael Jackson seemed to follow closely on his version.

Michael Jackson's brother, Jermaine Jackson, sang "Smile" at his memorial service on July 7, 2009, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, shortly after Michael Jackson's friend Brooke Shields mentioned it had been Jackson's favorite song. He also sang it in an interview with Today at Neverland before the memorial and only days after Michael had passed. During the internationally televised public memorial, Jermaine switched the words "gladness" and "sadness" in the lyrics, possibly in an unintentional flub of the lyrics.

The song has since charted at #74 in the UK, #71 in Germany, #70 in Switzerland and at #56 in Australia.

James Hunter of Rolling Stone wrote a negative review: "the climactic version of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" has zero point of view on itself; its blend of rampaging ego and static orchestral pop is a Streisand-size mistake."[3] Robert Christgau highlighted the song.[4] Entertainment Weekly called this song "destined-for-Disney rendition."[5]

Track listing[edit]

CD maxi single[6]

  1. "Smile" (short version) – 4:10
  2. "Is It Scary" (radio edit) – 4:11
  3. "Is It Scary" (Eddie's Love Mix Edit) – 3:50
  4. "Is It Scary" (Downtempo Groove Mix) – 4:50
  5. "Is It Scary" (Deep Dish Dark and Scary Radio Edit) – 4:34

12" maxi single[6]

Promotional single

  1. "Smile" (short version) – 4:10

Promotional CD single

  1. "Smile" (short version) – 4:10
  2. "Is It Scary" (radio edit) – 4:11


Chart (2009)Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Digital Songs56[7]
Chart (2009)Peak
UK Singles Chart74[8]
Swiss Singles Chart70[9]

Robert Downey Jr. version[edit]

In the 1992 film Chaplin, a version of the song by Actor Robert Downey, Jr. can be heard during the closing credits, and later released in 2004 as an alternative ballad take on his debut album The Futurist.

Hollywood Bowl Performances, 2013[edit]

During the 2013 Hollywood Bowl summer season, the song was performed by no less than six different singers at different concerts. These included: Josh Groban with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Dr. John in his tribute to Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, Kristen Chenoweth with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and George Benson in his tribute to Nat King Cole.[10]

Other versions[edit]


  1. ^ Linda Wada. "Smile". Edna Purviance, Charlie Chaplin's Leading Lady - Welcome to Paradise. Retrieved 2010-05-02. Scans of the sheet music clearly attribute authorship of the music and lyrics. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ (Posted: Aug 10, 1995) (1995-08-10). "Michael Jackson: HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone". Retrieved 2014-02-03. 
  4. ^ "CG: Artist 932". Robert Christgau. 1983-12-20. Retrieved 2014-02-03. 
  5. ^ Reviewed by David Browne on Jun 23, 1995 (1995-06-23). "HIStory: Past, Present, and Future Book I Review | Music Reviews and News". Retrieved 2014-02-03. 
  6. ^ a b "MICHAEL JACKSON - SMILE (SONG) - CD Info". 
  7. ^ U.S. Billboard Hot Digital Songs
  8. ^ "Michael Jackson | Artist". Official Charts. Retrieved 2014-02-03. 
  9. ^ Steffen Hung. "Michael Jackson - Smile". Retrieved 2014-02-03. 
  10. ^ Alvin Wilson, Property Master, Hollywood Bowl

External links[edit]

External video
Chaplin's original sound on YouTube: Modern Times. (0:40:22-, 0:42:44-, 0:52:16-, 1:06:39-, and full version 1:21:25-)