Turntable Talk – They’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It?

I have been asked again to be a part of Dave from A Sound Day’s feature Turntable Talk. Each month, Dave offers up a topic for us to discuss. This time around, we’re focusing on great song lyrics. In his instructional e-mail to us, Dave writes:

Not too long ago I covered how Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize in literature, which made me think of great song lyrics. I know Max has done a few columns listing favorite lines or verses of songs he loves. So, seems like a good topic would be – They’re a Poet, don’t you know it.  There are thousands of great song lyrics, but for this post I just want you to pick one song that you think has fantastic lyrics, or one you like because of the lyrics, and say a bit about why you love it.

As with other topics, one song (and in this case, lyric) popped into my head immediately. I wasn’t sure, however, if it was the song I wanted to write about. That one line of the song kept swirling around in my head, however, and so I will go with that song.

I have to admit that I am a bit worried that I get to be the first one to post my song, especially since mine is so … old. I hope it’s not so old that it won’t be interesting or relatable to you.

Cole Porter

“The Great American Songbook” (as it is often referred to) consists of the most influential and most important American popular songs and jazz standards. While it isn’t a physical “book” it is the collection of songs written in the early 20th century and have stood the test of time. These songs were often featured in musical on stage and on screen.

When you look at the list of the songwriters responsible for these standards, you will find many familiar names. They include Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and the great Cole Porter.

Cole Porter was born in 1891 to a very wealthy family in Indiana. His family wanted him to study law, but he chose music as a career instead. He was classically trained and he began to achieve success in the 1920s. By the 1930s he was one of the major songwriters for the Broadway musical stage. Unlike many successful Broadway composers, he wrote the lyrics as well as the music for his songs. One of those songs was “Night and Day.”

Cole Porter wrote Night and Day for the 1932 musical Gay Divorce. It was first recorded in 1933 by Fred Astaire. Hundreds of artists have recorded this song, including most recently Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. The song would become the number 1 song of 1933. Astaire would perform it again in the 1934 film adaptation of the show, which was renamed the Gay Divorcee.

There are many stories behind the origins of the song. One fantastic story says that when Cole Porter first played the music for “Night and Day” for his friend Monty Wooly, Wooly sniffed, `I don’t know what this is you are trying to do, but whatever it is, throw it away. It’s terrible.’ Luckily for us, he didn’t.

Cole Porter gave various accounts of how he came to write “Night and Day.” He once said the music was influenced by an Islamic call to worship he’d heard while traveling in Morocco. Porter also said he began the tune on a Saturday night at New York’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and wrote the lyrics the next day while lying on a beach in Newport, Rhode Island. However it came to be, it has always had a line or two in it that sticks in my head. More on that in a minute.

While almost everyone has recorded the song, I feel like Frank Sinatra recorded the most recognizable version of it. He did that in 1957. When he re-recorded it in 1962, he included the original intro that Cole Porter had written. The 1962 version is more laid back and sultry, while the 1957 version is a bit more … swingin’.

Here is the 1957 version first –

Before you listen to the 1962 version, keep in mind that over the first eight bars of the song, just one relentless note is repeated 35 times. To great effect, says singer and pianist Steve Ross.

“There is a slight maddening quality to these repeated notes I think that sets you up for the obsession that is in the song. I never really thought about that. I think that’s true.”

And that’s how it is: dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun; him, him, him, him, him, him, him. I can’t stand it. I’m going crazy here. It makes you feel really alive to sing that song,” says Singer Susannah McCorkle. “Cole Porter was the sexiest songwriter. And his songs are infused with this sexual passion and longing that no other great songwriter captured, which is one reason he’s very close to my heart. It’s like having a new love affair all over again to sing a Cole Porter song.”

NPR writes, “Cole Porter was 41 years old when he wrote “Night and Day.” He’d been living in splendor in Europe for more than a decade with his wife, Linda Lee Thomas, who was considered one of the world’s great beauties, and who was, as Porter might say, not just rich, but rich rich. Life with the Porters meant summers bronzing on the Lido or the Riviera, costume balls and the grand Venetian palaces they rented, private trains and around the world cruises. It was the highest society, and Cole Porter’s songs glittering with references to Whitneys and Rockefellers, champagne and oysters, reflected his world.”

By the time he wrote “Night and Day,” Porter had overcome a series of Broadway flops and had hit his stride. This song would become an international sensation. Soon after “Gay Divorce” opened, Porter received a letter at his home in Paris from his friend and supporter – Irving Berlin.

“‘Dear Cole, I am mad about ‘Night and Day,'” Berlin writes. “And I think it is your high spot. You probably know it is being played all over. And all the orchestra leaders think it is the best tune of the year, and I agree with them. Really, Cole, it is great. And I could not resist the temptation of writing you about it. As ever, Irving.'”

They say that there is no greater praise than praise that is given from your peers. To have received a letter from the great Irving Berlin praising your work had to be a wonderful boost to Cole’s ego.

For me personally, I love the passion found in the song. I love the way the subject of the song is all the singer thinks about – day and night, no matter where they are, whether they are apart or together. There is a love. This person fills the thoughts of the singer at all times. It is infatuation. It is obsession. It is love. The singer is ALWAYS thinking of them.

Lyrically, the way Porter describes this passion gets me every time. Take for example the feelings of the singer as they desire to be with the subject of the song:

There’s an oh, such a hungry yearning, burning inside of me
And its torment won’t be through
‘Til you let me spend my life making love to you

Those words are powerful words – a yearning, a burning, it is tormenting to a degree. But the lines of the song that have always stuck out to me are maybe the oddest of the entire song:

In the roaring traffic’s boom
In the silence of my lonely room
I think of you

Who would write a love song and talk about the loudness of traffic?! But it works. It is the great contrast to the silence of a lonely room. It totally works. I have always loved that line and this song. It has certainly stood the test of time and, in my opinion, one of the greatest passionate love songs ever written.

Cole Porter probably wrote many songs that were poetically and lyrically better than Night and Day, but the song remains one of his best known songs. Robert Kimball, artistic adviser to the Cole Porter estate, says wherever Cole Porter’s travels took him in years to come, he’d hear “Night and Day.”

In 1937, five years after he wrote “Night and Day,” Cole Porter was thrown from a horse, which fell on him and crushed both of his legs. For the rest of his life, he’d be in constant, often crippling pain. He endured more than 30 operations, but through his suffering, Porter maintained his prodigious output. That ended when one of his legs was finally amputated in 1958. Robert Kimball says, “When that occurred, he lost the desire to write and never wrote another song; never wrote again. Lost the desire. Lost the will. It just crushed him.” He passed away in 1964.

I’d like to thank Dave again for asking me to take part in Turntable Talk. Feel free to check out his site here:

https://soundday.wordpress.com/

I’m looking forward to reading his entry and the entries of the other music lovers who are taking part in this edition. I’m also looking forward to what he comes up with for us next month.

Thanks for reading!

Night and Day – Cole Porter

Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom
When the jungle shadows fall
Like the tick, tick-tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall

Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom
When the jungle shadows fall
Like the tick, tick-tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall

Like the drip, drip, drip of the raindrops
When the summer shower is through
So a voice within me keeps repeating you, you, you

Night and day, you are the one
Only you beneath the moon and under the sun
Whether near to me or far
It’s no matter darling where you are
I think of you

Night and say, day and night, why is it so
That this longing for you follows wherever I go?
In the roaring traffic’s boom
In the silence of my lonely room
I think of you

Night and day, night and day
Under the hide of me
There’s an oh, such a hungry yearning, burning inside of me
And its torment won’t be through
‘Til you let me spend my life making love to you
Day and night, night and day

This torment would never be through
‘Til you let me spend my life making love to you
Day and night, night and day
Day and night, night and day
Day and night, night and day
Day and night, day and night
Day and night, night and day

8 thoughts on “Turntable Talk – They’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It?

  1. thanks again for taking part as usual Keith! A bit of the off the wall pick but a very worthy one too. it is important, I think, to know a bit about where our current music came from. BTW – great portrait of you! Casual Fridays was it?

    Liked by 1 person

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