You’re The Top ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Eighty-one years ago today one of the greatest songwriters in the English language recorded one of his greatest songs.

Cole Porter was already famous when hired to write the tunes for Anything Goes. As his official biography at the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame tells us:

But while his social life [in Paris] was dazzling, Cole’s career was moving frustratingly slowly.
He studied briefly with the noted French composer Vincent d’Indy. He had a few small
successes, contributing songs to such shows as Hitchy-Koo 1919 and the Greenwich
Village Follies of 1924
. And in 1923 he had a success in Paris with a short ballet called
Within the Quota. But Broadway producers had little interest in his work. However, in
1928, Irving Berlin recommended Cole to the producers of a “musicomedy” called Paris,
starring Irene Bordoni. Cole wrote five songs for the show, and one of those songs
“Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)”, became Cole’s first big success.

Finally, the Broadway career that had so long escaped him began to be a reality. He
followed up on Paris with another “French” show, and a full musical this time, Fifty
Million Frenchmen
(1929). The show, with a book by Herbert Fields, ran for 257
performances, and included “You’ve Got That Thing”, and “You Do Something To Me”.
And then, for a London show called Wake Up and Dream (1929), Cole wrote “What Is
This Thing Called Love?”

Now living in New York, Cole entered an extraordinarily productive period in which
show followed show on Broadway, and hit song followed hit song. The New Yorkers
(1930) introduced “Love For Sale”. His 1932 musical Gay Divorce starred Fred Astaire,
in Astaire’s last Broadway role and Astaire’s only Broadway appearance without his
sister and longtime dancing partner Adele. The show ran for 248 performances, and
included “Night And Day” and “After You, Who?”

In 1934, Cole wrote one of his greatest scores for a show with a book by Guy Bolton,
P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsey, and Russel Crouse, Anything Goes. The show
starred Ethel Merman, William Gaxton, Bettina Hall, and Victor Moore and included
“Anything Goes”, “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, “All Through The Night”, “Blow, Gabriel,
Blow”, and “You’re The Top”.

Cole Porter wasn’t known for his singing voice and he recorded so very few of his own songs. However, we’re fortunate to have Porter’s own version of the song, from October 26, 1934, the first time it was ever recorded:

From page 34 of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction: “An Almost Theatrical Innocence:”


On October 26, 1934, Cole Porter, accompanying himself on the piano, recorded the song “You’re the Top” from his new musical Anything Goes (its book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, revisited by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse), a show that would open for its tryout in Boston on November 5, 1934, and on Broadway on November 21, and run for 420 performances. Anything Goes was not only one of the great musical comedies of the 1930s but a high point in the history of the musical theater. Five of the show’s numbers became popular song standards: along with “You’re the Top,” there was “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “All Through the Night,” “Anything Goes,” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”

What makes “You’re the Top” so wonderful is the clever wordplay, the spectacular rhyming scheme, and all those terrific Pop Cultural references, which would have been known by Mr. and Mrs. First Nighter, but some of which are almost unknown today:

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.
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!

Coincidentally, on the same day Cole Porter recorded his version of “You’re the Top,” so did Paul Whiteman. Even though the show wouldn’t open up on Broadway for another month, Whiteman brought his orchestra into the studio to accompany vocalists Peggy Healy and John Hauser for this version:

Happy birthday to one of the greatest tunes ever recorded. Here are a few other versions:

This song is THE TOPS!!!

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.