Happy Birthday, Cole Porter

Originally posted in 2011.

 

Today is the birthday of Cole Porter. I was introduced to Porter’s work as most people nowadays are I imagine, by doing a high school production of one of his shows (in this case 1934’s Anything Goes). The experience essentially spoiled me for all other Broadway composers. His level of musical and lyrical wit remains the unfair yardstick by which I measure songwriters, and naturally nearly all of them fail the test (including Porter himself. I like the Porter of the 20s and 30s, but am underwhelmed by the Porter of the 40s and 50s). (Songwriters who make the grade for me include Irving BerlinKalmar & Ruby, and Arlen & Harburg).

Rich, college-educated, effete, sophisticated, “European”, Porter hardly fits the profile of the kind of theatrical artists I usually celebrate or even like. But if he wasn’t one of those Lower East Side, working class immigrant Tin Pan Alley types, or the son of a sharecropper, he certainly drew inspiration from their music and now eternally commands a place in that artistic lineage. And as for the future? Hip hoppers could learn a thing or two from his rhyming skills:

At words poetic, I’m so pathetic
That I always have found it best,
Instead of getting ’em off my chest,
To let ’em rest — unexpressed,
I hate parading my serenading
As I’ll probably miss a bar,
But if this ditty is not so pretty
At least it’ll tell you
How great you are.

You’re the top!
You’re the Coliseum.
You’re the top!
You’re the Louvre Museum.
You’re a melody from a symphony by Strauss
You’re a Bendel bonnet,
A Shakespeare’s sonnet,
You’re Mickey Mouse.
You’re the Nile,
You’re the Tower of Pisa,
You’re the smile on the Mona Lisa
I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop,
But if, baby, I’m the bottom you’re the top!

Your words poetic are not pathetic.
On the other hand, babe, you shine,
And I can feel after every line
A thrill divine
Down my spine.
Now gifted humans like Vincent Youmans
Might think that your song is bad,
But I got a notion
I’ll second the motion
And this is what I’m going to add;

You’re the top!
You’re Mahatma Gandhi.
You’re the top!
You’re Napoleon Brandy.
You’re the purple light
Of a summer night in Spain,
You’re the National Gallery
You’re Garbo’s salary,
You’re cellophane.
You’re sublime,
You’re turkey dinner,
You’re the time of a Derby winner
I’m a toy balloon that’s fated soon to pop
But if, baby, I’m the bottom,
You’re the top!

You’re the top!
You’re an arrow collar
You’re the top!
You’re a Coolidge dollar,
You’re the nimble tread
Of the feet of Fred Astaire,
You’re an O’Neill drama,
You’re Whistler’s mama!
You’re camembert.

You’re a rose,
You’re Inferno‘s Dante,
You’re the nose
On the great Durante.
I’m just in a way,
As the French would say, “de trop”.
But if, baby, I’m the bottom,
You’re the top!

You’re the top!
You’re a dance in Bali.
You’re the top!
You’re a hot tamale.
You’re an angel, you,
Simply too, too, too diveen,
You’re a Boticcelli,
You’re Keats, You’re Shelley!
You’re Ovaltine!
You’re a boom,
You’re the dam at Boulder,
You’re the moon,
Over Mae West’s shoulder,
I’m the nominee of the G.O.P.
Or GOP!
But if, baby, I’m the bottom,
You’re the top!

You’re the top!
You’re a Waldorf salad.
You’re the top!
You’re a Berlin ballad.
You’re the boats that glide
On the sleepy Zuider Zee,
You’re an old Dutch master,
You’re Lady Astor,
You’re broccoli!
You’re romance,
You’re the steppes of Russia,
You’re the pants, on a Roxy usher,
I’m a broken doll, a fol-de-rol, a blop,
But if, baby, I’m the bottom,
You’re the top!

(c) 1934 Cole Porter

To find out more about the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And

To learn about silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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