Frank Sinatra – ”The Lady Is A Tramp” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“The Lady Is a Tramp” is a satirical description of a genuine woman who gets insulted by people in high society. The lyrics focus on how this “tramp” (woman of questionable morals, a vagrant, or general good-for-nothing) is actually just an unpretentious and honest individual.

Frank Sinatra’s 1957 version (the basis for this article) has become a classic recording in American culture. Contextually, this version was done for a movie called “Pal Joey,” in which Sinatra was a star. This film was based on a musical of the same name, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

However, the original 1937 version was for a different musical altogether, Babes in Arms, which was also created by Rodgers and Hart. The lyrics can fit both plots but were crafted for Babes in Arms originally.

In this article, we’ll take a look at these comical lyrics to decipher their intended meaning.

We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the underlying message that give this song its timelessness. Without further ado, let’s get started!

“The Lady Is a Tramp” Lyrics Meaning

Sinatra’s version opens with a zinger. We’re introduced to a woman who just “gets too hungry for dinner at 8:00,” meaning she doesn’t eat at a late, fashionable time. She eats when she’s hungry, which shouldn’t be a crime, but this doesn’t give her social credit.

She’s also a straight-shooter – she “likes the theatre and never comes late,” unlike her fashionably unpunctual counterparts in high society. Socially, she keeps to people she actually likes, and avoids “people she’d hate.” All of these seemingly wholesome things are the reason, Sinatra jokes, that “the lady is a tramp.”

Sinatra continues, citing the woman’s social activities as additional evidence. She doesn’t gamble “with barons or earls” and doesn’t “go to Harlem in ermine in pearls.” Barons and earls are just examples of high-society titles, and ermine (an expensive fur) and pearls are clothing for the wealthy. She doesn’t feel the need to look, feel, or even be rich.

The comparisons between the woman and wealthy socialites continue. Instead of costly entertainment, she gets by with the “free, fresh wind in her hair.” It’s also revealed that she’s “broke,” but this is fine by her. She knows what she’s about and doesn’t care too much about her detractors’ opinions.

In the fourth verse, things get even more specific. Instead of “barons and earls,” the high-society card players are now called “sharpies and frauds.” The lyrics are now letting you in on the joke – all of the sneering elite are really just fake people. Even though the woman may not have a “Lincoln or Ford,” she has integrity which the others lack.

Another important reason she doesn’t fit in with the high-society people is that she won’t join them in being judgmental. She doesn’t “dish the dirt with the rest of the broads,” so they turn on her. It seems like she’s fine with this; she continues to live her “tramp” lifestyle happily.

In summary, “The Lady Is a Tramp” is a criticism of elitist judgment and rigid, condescending norms. It demonstrates that a person can be fulfilled outside of the fanciest circles. This funny, populist message is at the core of this track’s status as a standard.

The Story Behind “The Lady Is a Tramp”

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart created this show tune in 1937 for Babes in Arms, a musical. The original version of this musical contains heavy use of social commentary about class, equality, and even marxism (mostly in the form of overtones). This gives some context to the criticism of the bourgeoisie that the lyrics deliver so lightheartedly.

The 1937 version also includes some different lyrics, including many time-specific cultural references. However, the general description of the “lady” is the same. She’s independent, free-spirited, and unconcerned with people who look down their noses at her.

It wasn’t until 1957 that Sinatra would take up the tune for another Rodgers and Hart brainchild, Pal Joey. He won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor as a result of his performance in the film adaptation, and the impact of his rendition on general culture was massive (like most things Sinatra did). This version was changed to fit the corresponding film, but the main theme was still preserved.

It’s hard to imagine that Rodgers and Hart would’ve known what a popular music standard “The Lady Is a Tramp” would become. For a long time, any artist worth their salt had a version ready to perform. This isn’t an extinct trend, either. As an example, Tony Bennet and Lady Gaga released a duet version of this tune as recently as 2011.

The next time you play this happy standard, let these little pieces of music history make it even more special!