Cole Porter died fifty years ago today. If you’re under age 50, chances are you don’t know Cole Porter from cole slaw….which is sad in a way, because if you don’t know what you don’t know, you may think what you know is all that’s worth knowing. You know?
To those of us who are into America’s “Golden Age of popular music,” Cole Porter was one of a kind. In those days, few song writers wrote both words and music, and of those few, no one wrote lyrics with more wit and sophistication. Consider this refrain from YOU’RE THE TOP:
You’re the top!
You’re the Coloseum.
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 sonnet,
You’re Mickey Mouse!
….about which John Updike wrote, “In the urbane, top-hat fantasy world wherein Fred Astaire and Cole Porter reign as quintessential performer and creator, love is wry, jokey, casual, and even weary but nonetheless ecstatic: you’re Mickey Mouse! He [Porter] brought to the traditional and somewhat standardized tasks of songsmithing a great verbal ingenuity, a brave flexibility and resourcefulness, a cosmopolitan’s wide experience in mundane matters including foreign lands and tongues, and a spirit that always kept something of collegiate innocence about it.”
Porter wrote over eight hundred songs, more than half of which were never published. I will mention but a few of my favorites: BEGIN THE BEGUINE, LOVE FOR SALE, EASY TO LOVE, and practically the entire score of KISS ME KATE. Of these, perhaps this one best epitomizes the sole Cole Porter: