The Timeless Wit and Rhythm of Cole Porter


As a jazz DJ here at WVKR, I’m constantly scanning our vinyl collection to look for old goodies.  A name that often comes up is that of Cole Porter, one of the most prolific and famous American songwriters.  You probably know songs like “Night and Day”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, and “Begin the Beguine” sung (and instrumentalized) over many decades by stars as varied as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Prima, and Artie Shaw.

What makes Porter’s music so timeless?  Well, first of all its sniggering wit.  Porter’s songs are rife with lyrics such as “This verse I’ve started seems to me/The Tin-Pantithesis of melody” from “It’s De-Lovely”, a reference to his adaptation of the Tin Pan Alley popular musical-writing tradition.  He can talk about sex (“Love for Sale”), drugs (“I Get a Kick Out of You”), and pop culture (“You’re the Top”) in the bawdiest yet sophisticated way, usually by incorporating clever internal and end rhymes, a skill that made him well adapted to the Broadway stage.

Yet what holds his lyrics together song after song are unforgettable melodies.  Porter wrote songs emphasizing the chorus part of verse-and-chorus form so that you would hear the same musical strains sung with different lyrics, thus implanting them firmly in your brain.  This combined with internal and end rhymes equals maximum potential for getting a Cole Porter song stuck in your head.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself humming one of his melodies or randomly using a lyric as a topical quote in a conversation.

So what am I trying to say?  You may think the standards are songs sung by middle-aged cabaret crooners, but in fact they’re fun, contemporary, and full of life, wit, and rhythm.  Don’t believe me?  Just search some Porter song titles in Google and see who has covered them-I guarantee you’ll be surprised!

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