5 Songs You Didn’t Know Charlie Chaplin Wrote

Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp ran with a traveling circus, into the Klondike gold rush, and took on dozens of mishappen professions—fireman, store clerk, waiter, and more—throughout his cinematic adventures. Before his time, Chaplin later lifted the veil of his vagabond character for one of his most poignant roles, and the first time he spoke in a talkie, The Great Dictator, and its still-relevant final speech calling for peace, unity, and compassion.

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Throughout his Keystone days to co-founding United Artists, Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, starred in, and composed the score for the majority of his films. Born Charles Spencer Chaplin on April 16, 1889, in London, England, Chaplin was performing as a child since the Victorian era and became a self-taught musician and composer. First tinkering on the violin and cello, and teaching himself both, Chaplin published his first three songs, “Oh! That Cello,” “There’s Always One You Can’t Forget,” and “The Peace Patrol” in 1916. 

As a composer, once sound came into the pictures, technically, Chaplin couldn’t read nor notate music, but he was the consummate arranger. Along with the emphatic and humanistic nuances Chaplin incorporated into his films, he also understood the power music had to transform a scene and an emotion.

In 1936, Chaplin composed the music for “Smile,” which appeared in his film Modern Times, starring Paulette Goddard. Inspired by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca, the lyrics to “Smile” were written by Geoffrey Parsons and John Turner, and the song has been covered dozens of times since its release, most notably by Nat King Cole in 1954 and later by Michael Jackson in 1995. 

[RELATED: “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin with Turner & Parsons, and, most likely, Raksin]

“I tried to compose elegant and romantic music to frame my comedies in contrast to the tramp character, for elegant music gave my comedies an emotional dimension,” said Chaplin in his 1964 autobiography. He added that he didn’t just want the music accompanying his films to be funny. “Musical arrangers rarely understood this,” he added. “They wanted the music to be funny. But I would explain that I wanted no competition, I wanted the music to be a counterpoint of grave and charm, to express sentiment, without which, as Hazlitt says, a work of art is incomplete.

Chaplin penned numerous songs, mostly scores from his films, including “Terry’s Theme,” (also known as “Eternally”), featured in his 1952 film Limelight, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Score.

In a career spanning more than 75 years, Chaplin’s musical compositions were just as striking, sentimental, and humorous as his legendary films. Here’s a look behind five Chaplin wrote throughout his career.

1. “There’s Always One You Can’t Forget” (1916)

Along with “Oh! That Cello” and “The Peace Patrol,” Chaplin’s third debut release, “There’s Always One You Can’t Forget” is also his first love song. Perhaps a tribute to Chaplin’s first love dancer Hetty Kelly, “There’s Always One You Can’t Forget” runs through the story about someone lost but never forgotten.

I sit alone at twilight gazing in the firelight glow
And my memory takes me back again
To days of long ago
Those happy days when you and I
Would share the sun and rain
Ah! What would I give,
if I could live those happy days again

There’s always one you can’t forget
There’s always one, one vain regret
Tho grief is dead, memory survives
Fate linked we two, mated our lives
Why did we meet only to part
Love comes but once into the heart
Tho it may cause pain and regret
There’s always one you can’t forget.

2. “Swing Little Girl” (1928)

Though the song was recorded by Chaplin 40 years after the release of the film, it added to an integral scene in his 1928 hit The Circus. In 1969, Chapin composed new music for The Circus when it was rereleased, along with several other films from his silent era. “Swing Little Girl” was recorded when Chaplin was 79 years old.

Swing little girl
Swing high to the sky
And don’t ever look at the ground
If you’re looking for rainbows
Look up to the sky
You’ll never find rainbows
If you’re looking down

Life may be dreary
But never the same
Some day it’s sunshine
Some day it’s rain

3. “Nonsense Song” (1936)

By the time Modern Times was released, the talkie era had already been around for nearly a decade, but Chaplin was adamant about keeping his Tramp silent. Mostly silent throughout the film, addressing the effects of industrialization in America, Modern Times marks the first time viewers could hear the Tramp’s (Chaplin’s) voice, but only in song.

Though it sounds Italian, the genius of Chaplin’s “Nonsense Song” is that it wasn’t written in a real language.

Se bella giu satore
Je notre so cafore
Je notre si cavore
Je la tu la ti la twah

La spinash o la bouchon
Cigaretto Portabello
Si rakish spaghaletto
Ti la tu la ti la twah

Senora pilasina
Voulez-vous le taximeter?
Le zionta su la seata
Tu la tu la tu la wah

4. “The Spring Song” (1952)

Featured in Limelight, Chaplin’s character of Calvero is a washed-up former stage clown, who saves a young dancer from ending her life. “The Spring Song” is a musical poem of new beginnings.

Spring is here
Birds are calling
Skunks are crawling
Wagging their tails for love

Spring is here
Whales are churning
Worms are squirming
Wagging their tails for love

5. “This is My Song,” Petula Clark (1967)

Chaplin originally wrote “This is My Song” for his 1967 film A Countess from Hong Kong, starring Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Tippi Hedren, and Chaplin’s son Sydney Chaplin. Instead, Petula Clark recorded the song and released it on her album These Are My Songs. Clark topped the UK charts with Chaplin’s hit.

Why is my heart so light?
Why are the stars so bright?
Why is the sky so blue
Since the hour I met you?

Flowers are smiling bright
Smiling for our delight
Smiling so tenderly
For the world, you and me

I know why the world is smiling
Smiling so tenderly
It’s just the same old story
Through all eternity

Photo: Witzel/Getty Images

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