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You're the Top -- Cole Porter

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1730) You're the Top
 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 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!

 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 a 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
 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
 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 Zuid-
 -er 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!
-- Cole Porter
Was listening to my old Ella Fitzgerald recordings [1] of the Cole Porter
songbook, and decided to see if he was represented on Minstrels. Discovered
that he doesn't feature on the site at all, so figured would send in one of
my favourite songs of all time. "You're the Top", is, of course, one of the
many classic jazz standards that Porter has given us (other familiar tunes
include: 'I Love Paris', 'Begin the Beguine' 'I've got you under my skin'
'Easy to Love' 'You do something to me' 'De-lovely' 'I get a kick out of
you', etc., etc.) - but it's the one that, IMHO, best shows off his
incredible skill as a songwriter.

What makes the song particularly brilliant is the fact that it's at once a
parody and an exquisitely crafted piece of music (I'm reminded of Mozart in
Cosi fan tutte - all those stunning arias for what is essentially a false
love). This is a song that is (forgive the pun) completely over the top -
Porter takes the fine art of paying extravagant compliments / making
exaggerated comparisons to ridiculous extremes, but it's a parody done with
such good will, such conscious self-ridicule, such amazing quickness of wit,
that you can't help being a little moved even as you're laughing out loud.

And laughing out loud you should be - this is a truly hilarious song. What I
love about it most is the way it constantly fluctuates between the sublime
and the mundane ("you're a Bendel bonnet / A Shakespeare sonnet / You're
Mickey Mouse" or "You're Botticelli / You're Keats, You're Shelley / You're
Ovaltine!) so that the very contrast between the different things the loved
one is compared to is incredibly funny. Plus, of course, the references are
thrilling in themselves - forget bright copper kettles and warm woolen
mittens, if there was a ever a list of my favourite things (well, maybe not
Bendel Bonnets, but Dante and Shakespeare and Keats and Shelley and Berlin
ballads and O'Neill dramas and Strauss and Napoleon Brandy and Fred Astaire
and Waldorf Salads? wow!) this is it. And added to it, there's Porter's
wonderful sense of humour (this is a man who wrote a song with the lyrics
"Mr. Harris, plutocrat / Wants to give my cheek a pat / If the Harris pat
means a Paris hat, Hurray!") - how can you not love a man who would actually
write a song that went "I'm the nominee / of the G.O.P. / Or GOP"?

But behind the seemingly gay and effortless rhythm of the song (and the
sense of things being a little forced, a little raw around the edges) is
Porter's incredible craftsmanship. To begin with, this is an incredibly
complicated rhyme pattern to pull off: ababccdeed fgfghhaia with the 'a' -
the -op sound - being repeated through all the stanzas. And all of this with
short punchy lines, with some of the rhymes being virtually internal. This
is truly a virtuoso accomplishment, specially when you consider that these
are song lyrics, and so Porter not only has to get the lines to rhyme per
se, he also needs to get them to go together with the same general rhythm.
The fact that he makes it so fluid, so effortless, actually managing to
enhance the punchline of some of his lines with the tune (and always keeping
you guessing as to the next line - an effect I've hardly ever seen this side
of Urdu Ghazals) is simply breathtaking.

Bottomline: I defy anyone to listen to this song and not end up grinning (if
not actually laughing aloud) at its perfectly balanced mix of intelligence,
wit and pure silliness. I defy anyone to get through all five stanzas and
not feel his or her heart leap with the soaring notes of that final "You're
the Top!". I defy anyone to listen to this song and not end up falling in
love with it.


[1] Although to really appreciate this song, check out the Louis Armstrong
version - that deep moaning voice singing "mama, you're the smile / on the
Mona Lisa" so sweet you can taste it.

40 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Joanne Nakaya said...

I agree, Cole Porter was a genius, but this song puts him 'over the top'
Nice commentary on a great song .. the tune ain't bad either (lol).

Zimmerman Max said...

I found this site while trying to find out what a Bendel bonnet is.

Allegedly, Porter and Monty Wooley started this song on an ocean-liner,
sitting at the ballroom piano after a few libations. The impressive thing
to me is that Porter could survive the hangover and then write it all down.

I love the juxtapoistion of the mundane and the sublime: [summer night in
Spain ... cellophane, Inferno's Dante ... nose of the great Durante,
Botticelli ... Ovaltine].

My daughter appropriated my Ella Fitzgerald recording of the Porter
songbook, and she and I used to sing this together all the time.

Great song, great fun.

Max Zimmerman

Joanna Jacobson said...

Love this tune. I used to perform it back in PA, and smile EVERY SINGLE
time I did it.

There is a parody, You're The Pits. Do you know where I can get that?

I remember a tiny little bit, but there are 2 choruses. Do you know I
can get them?

You're the pits,
You're an Airline dinner,
You're the Pits,
You're a Gong Show winner,
You're the screeching sound of Madonna sounding High C,
You're a case of Shingles,
Those chips by Pringle's,
You're Joe Namath's knees,

You're the pits,
You're a wilted salad,
You're the pits
A Loyd Webber ballad,

Anyhow I can't remember all of the words. Heard it in a one man Show -
off Broadway. Can't think of his name.
Often plays a Detective in TV shows, wonderful Baritone voice.

Joanna now in Eugene OR

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