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Friday, June 8, 2012

Musical Appreciation ► Cole Porter


An example of a "coal porter,"
a man who delivers the coal.
© 2012 Friedrich Seidenstücker,
from the MoMa collection
Another example of a coal
porter is a rail car for coal.
It’s my opinion that no ‘Merkin songwriter has ever been more deft at the lyric than Cole Porter. While there are many wonderful things to praise in his music, I would like to praise his wordplay and his sense of the rhythm of the syllables of spoken, contemporary English, while imbuing that honest, simple language with more than a hint of sophistication. His love of language is clear in his lyrics. I have always wondered whether he got his penchant for playing with words because his name is, in fact, a pun, not unlike Aunty Em Ericann.

With a string of songs ranging from "I Get A Kick Out Of You" to "You're The Top" to "Don't Fence Me In" to "When We Begin The Beguine" to "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)" to "Night and Day" to "Anything Goes" to "Let's Misbehave" there are so many wonderful Porter lyrics, so let's get started and break some of them down to celebrate Cole's 121st birthday.

Ella Fitzgerald has agreed to help me out with this first set of lyrics with "Anything Goes." Take it away, Ella:










Look at the cadence of these words and the tune, which we all know by heart, just fall into place, that's how closely locked the words are with the actual rhythms of the song. And, look at where the rhymes fall: both at the ends of lines and within the middle. And, in the middle of the middles are other rhyming words. Look:

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
was looked on as something shocking.
Now heaven knows, anything goes.
Good authors too who once knew better words,
now only use four-letter words writing prose,
anything goes.
The world has gone mad today,
and good´s bad today, and black´s white today,
and day´s night today,
When most guys today that women prize today
are just silly gigolos.
So though I´m not a great romancer,
I know that you´re bound to answer
when I propose, anything goes.
Isn't that tasty?

Louis Armstrong and my fellow Canadian Oscar Peterson will be demonstrating a whole different sly word play with "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)," which, in 1928, was considered quite risqué for its time. Armstrong sings more different verses than anyone else in this almost 9 minute version and every one of them is clever as all hell.








One of my favourite Cole Porter tunes has to be "You're The Top" also from the Broadway show "Anything Goes." It's filled with clever wordplay, funny pop cultural references which would have, in its time, been known by everyone in the audience, and a wonderful sentiment all wrapped up in that wonderful sense of cadence that the words have on their own. This time Cole Porter has agreed to sing his own song for us and he's asked us all to sing along:










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 Louver 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 Shelly!
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 flop,
But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top!

That's poetry. And it's such a clever use of the English language. They don't make songwriters like that anymore.

Here are some more classic interpretations of Cole Porter songs. I've also included a few instrumentals, one parody, a few unearthed gems sung by Cole himself (who wasn't much of a singer), and two totally different versions and arrangements by Julie London, so you can also hear what a terrific tunesmith he was. Cole Porter is The Tops!