2 Famous Broadway Songs by Cole Porter

Of all the great composers who flourished during Broadway’s first “Golden Age,” I think the most gifted and creative of them was Cole Porter. Mind you, when I say that, I am slighting some very famous names, such as Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Rogers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, Rogers and Evans, (No, wait, they were television cowpeople.), and the Three Stooges, also not in the Broadway musical composition business, but whom I have chosen to slight nonetheless. So, there.

Perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had in my avocation as a ham, was performing, with my partner-in-crime, the song “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” from what was possibly Porter’s best musical, “Kiss Me Kate.” In that show, the two Shakespeare-smitten leg-breakers who are trying to collect a gambling debt from the wrong guy, throughout, get to sing that number, just before they make their final exit. The song does nothing whatsoever to advance the plot of the show, and it goes on for three verses and two encores, all of which we sang and danced. But, while the duet was no help to the plot, it was perhaps the most artistic stall for time, ever. The two thugs do their number in front of the curtain, while everyone else is backstage frantically changing costumes and scenery for the grand wedding scene to follow.

But, for all the humor and romance to be found in “Kiss Me, Kate,” I want to direct your attention to another song, from another of Porter’s Broadway shows: “Anything Goes.” The particular song I have in mind is called, “You’re the Top.” It is probably the cleverest number in a show chock-full of clever songs, and, in tribute to the artistry of this gifted composer, whose music I admire so much, I decided to lampoon it. Or, should I say, my alter ego, Glub Dzmc, lampooned it, inasmuch as it is contained in The Lost Songbooks of Glub Dzmc.

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At the time I wrote my parody, I thought I was making a singular contribution to music and the arts. I later found out that “You’re the Top” is probably the most lampooned Broadway show tune ever. In 1934, when the show was going strong and the song was a huge hit (Back then, Broadway show tunes were well-represented on the hit parade), Porter would get sent an average of 300 parodies a month.

The original song was performed by Ethel Merman in the role of Reno Sweeney, a sometime evangelist, sometime nightclub hostess, on board a luxury liner, sailing from New York to Europe. Reno is not the leading lady, but, rather, the leading troublemaker in the show’s actually quite flimsy plot. She sings “You’re the Top” to the leading man to buck up his spirits when he is most pessimistic about his budding romance with the leading lady.

In a way, it is not at all fair to make fun of that song, because its lyrics are probably a lot smarter and funnier than any parodist could dream up. All I was trying to do was update the things a more modern society noticed (as opposed to what was in fashion in 1934); change it from a woman’s perspective, singing to a guy, to a guy’s perspective, singing to a woman, and, finally, make it a lot less flattering, without seeming to do so.

My version is nowhere nearly as long as the original, which goes on and on and on, so, to make what little I composed count, I focused on some of Porter’s better lines. Such lyrics as:

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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!

Or, in another instance:

You’re sublime,

You’re a turkey dinner.

You’re the time

Of the derby winner…

At the end of each verse when the singer finishes comparing the guy to all things bright and beautiful, she finds a poetic way to put herself down, as I do in my parody, but nothing I wrote could match the way Porter ended some of his verses. Keeping in mind, this was 1934, when the Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the Democratic Party in general were at the height of their power and popularity, this verse closing was way beyond anything I could think up:

I’m the nominee

Of the G.O.P.

Or Gop,

But, if, baby, I’m the bottom,

You’re the top!

As I said, I don’t know how far back in line my effort at this project was, but the most famous parody of this song would not have been fitting material for the Broadway stage until quite recently. In fact, I am going to dance around the lyrics a bit myself, as they may not be altogether suitable for this medium in their raw state:

You’re the top!

You’re Miss Pinkham’s tonic.

You’re the top!

You’re a high colonic.

You’re the burning heat of a bridal suite in use.

You’re the mound of Venus,

You’re King Kong’s (thing that rhymes with “Venus”),

You’re self-abuse!

You’re the arch

In the Rome collection.

You’re the starch

In a groom’s (thing that sounds like “election”)…

A great many of the music world’s wittiest composers were suspected of being the architect of those bawdy lyrics, and, at one point, the finger of suspicion pointed straight at Cole Porter himself, but, in the end, no one ever came clean.

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All right, then, I’ll come clean, not to King Kong and that bunch, but the verses to follow. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so, this is me, being sincere.

Porter Parody #66,532

You’re the top, you’re the big banana.

You’re the slop in a pig’s nirvana.

You’re the nimble splat of a pratfall by a clown.

You’re Mr. T’s best jewelry,

You’re Tinseltown.

You’re the best, you’re the BeeGee’s rocking.

You’re the test of a queen size stocking.

I’m the news that lines the shoes

Of some whisky sop,

But if, baby, I’m the bottom,

You’re the top.

You’re so great, you’re a TV dinner.

You’re the weight of the derby winner.

You’re the driven snow up in Buffalo at night.

You’re a race-car crash, you’re succotash,

You’re hockey fights.

You’re Champale, you’re the Ruffles’ ridges.

You’re the sale of Old Brooklyn’s bridges.

I’m a wasted shot at an empty

Can of pop,

But if, baby, I’m the bottom,

If, baby, I’m the bottom,

If, baby, I’m the bottom,

You’re the top.

Sources

Timothy Slate

Poetic Parodies and Pastiches

The Wondering Minstrels

Theophilus Crouton LaBonza

Glub Dzmc

Reference: