A User's Guide to Cole Porter's "You're the Top


10 Dec 1997

PASSING STAGES by Louis Botto



PASSING STAGES by Louis Botto


One of Cole Porter's specialties was the "catalogue" song in which he compared a loved one to famous people, landmarks, products, etc. A prime example of this genre is "You're The Top!" from the 1934 hit, Anything Goes. The song, in which one character compares another to all that's best in the world is full of topical allusions, snapshots of Porter's world, some of which may be obscure to today's younger generation. Here is a skeleton key to some of those references:

"You're a Brewster body": A classic frame for a Bentley or Rolls Royce luxury car.

"A Ritz hot toddy": A specialty of the Ritz Hotel bar in Paris where Porter spent much time and wrote the song, "My Cozy Little Corner In The Ritz."

"Bishop Manning": Episcopal Bishop of St. John the Divine Cathedral in Manhattan.

"The National Gallery": Famous art gallery in Washington, D.C.

"A Nathan panning": George Jean Nathan (1882-1958), the brilliant drama critic and author, founder with H.L. Mencken of The American Mercury magazine.

"The eyes of Irene Bordoni": French actress (1895-1953) who starred on Broadway in Cole Porter's 1928 musical Paris and introduced "Let's Do It."

"Arrow collar": Famous "Sanforized" collar on Arrow Shirts (some were detachable). The Arrow Collar Man became an advertising symbol in the 1920s for rugged masculinity.

"Coolidge dollar": Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the U.S. (1923-1929). The Coolidge dollar was sound and strong before the stock market crash.

"Camembert": A mellow, soft cheese with a creamy center first marketed in Normandy, France.

"Inferno's Dante": Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) author of The Divine Comedy, the third part of which deals with Inferno (Hell).

"A Waldorf Salad": A salad of apples, walnuts, raisins, celery, and mayonnaise originated at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan.

"Berlin ballad": A romantic song by Irvin Berlin.

"An Old Dutch master": Not the cigar -- but a Dutch master painter like Rembrandt.

"Mrs. Astor": Mrs. John Jacob Astor, leading New York socialite.

"Pants on a Roxy usher": The famous Roxy Theatre ("the Cathedral of motion pictures" on Seventh Ave, at 50th Street in Manhattan had a squad of ushers who were trained like an army platoon. They wore very tight pants.

"G.O.P.": Grand Old Party, i.e. Republicans.

"Tower of Babel": Biblical tower in the land of Shinar, the building of which ceased when a confusion of languages took place.

"Whitney stable": The social Whitneys bred famous horses.

"You're the boy who dares/Challenge Mrs. Baer's son, Max." Max Baer, World Heavyweight Champion in the 1930s.

"Rudy Vallee": 1920s/1930s nasal crooner, who often sang through a megaphone and later starred in the original production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

"You're Phenolax": A 1930s laxative.

"Drumstick Lipstick": This is the only one that leaves me stumped. If you recognize this reference, please e mail me!

-- By Louis Botto