“Fifty Million Frenchmen” set in Paris (1929), a city very close to Porter’s heart as he was a lifelong admirer, featured this bittersweet song. In a New York Herald Tribune interview of the era, Porter commented that “he had written about thirty-five songs for the show and the ones that are in it now are the ones he had written during rehearsals”. Some critics of the era even harped that the show might have failed had Irving Berlin (who had originally been hired as the producer) not praised it profusely in a paid advertisement, which raised its public profile.
As Porter was to move back to New York in late 1929, “You Don’t Know Paree” seems to be his parting salute to the “City of Light”. Other evergreen songs from his first, major bid as a composer of a complete Broadway score without a collaborator that I’ve posted about in this blog include “You Do Something to Me” (3/6/16), “You’ve Got That Thing” (6/18/17), “Why Don’t We Try Staying Home” (1/14/18) & “Find Me a Primitive Man” (1/21/19).
The show’s storyline is boy sees a pretty girl on an ocean liner trip to Europe and falls immediately in love. He bets a friend that without his line of credit for a month in Paris he can nonetheless win her heart, but he has to jump through a lot of hoops to land her.
The lyrics are simple but poignant:
“You come to Paris, you come to play; You have a wonderful time, you go away. And, from then on, you talk of Paris knowingly; You may know Paris, you don’t know Paree” Here are two passionate & touching renditions by a female, Vicki Benet, & male, Lisandro Nesis, vocalist. Which do you prefer?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPnjDF1WtBM (Vicki Benet)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bzT7-86Kr4 (Lisandro Nesis)