Another Porter riddle!

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
June 22 2005 5:25 PM

Another Porter Riddle!

Who wrote the parody lyrics to "You're the Top"?

Yesterday was the summer solstice, which means that I now have more time to do everything that needs doing during daylight hours. But it also means that it's summer, which more than cancels out the advantage of those extra hours. For whatever reason, I find myself puzzling over a new mystery concerning Cole Porter's 1934 song, "You're the Top," when really I should be figuring out whether another presidential bid by Joe Biden is as good as it's going to get for Democrats in 2008. (Maybe I'm just not ready to admit that the likely answer is "yes.")

My new "You're the Top" puzzle concerns the provenance of some not-suitable-for-toddlers parody lyrics to the song that were sent to me last week. Parental discretion, as they say, is advised (though, if you already let your kids listen to rap, probably futile):


You're The Top!
You're Miss Pinkham's tonic (alt.: "a gin and tonic")
You're The Top!
You're a high colonic
You're the rhythmic beat (alt.: "burning heat")
Of a bridal suite in use
You're the mound (alt.: "breasts") of Venus
You're King Kong's penis
You're self-abuse!
You're an arch
In the Rome collection
You're the starch
In a groom's erection
I'm a eunuch who
Has just been through an op
But if, baby, I'm the bottom
You're The Top!

According to Richard Corliss of Time, the perp is Irving Berlin, but I find it very hard to believe that the lyricist of "God Bless America" was capable of being anywhere near this funny. Other sources credit P.G. Wodehouse, which is preposterous (Wodehouse, a prude, in rewriting the lyrics to "You're the Top" for the London production, cleaned them up while, paradoxically, rendering them more offensive); David Hyde Pierce (though I yield to no one in my admiration for his fine rendition of "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," which I hereby exempt from the Spamalot backlash); and Porter himself, which sounds plausible but to my knowledge is substantiated only by Red, Hot and Cole, a musical revue. (I don't believe, however, that the parody verses are really "original" verses excised from subsequent productions.)

A subsidiary riddle—"What is Miss Pinkham's tonic?"—is easier to solve. Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound was marketed by Miss (actually, Mrs.) Pinkham and her heirs from the late 19th century into the 20th as "a Positive Cure for all those painful Complaints and Weaknesses so common to our best female population." Mrs. Pinkham's likeness appeared on the label. She was a well-meaning charlatan who earned a fortune through mere willingness to acknowledge the biological process of menstruation.

"You're the Top" Archive:
June 16, 2005: " 'Drumstick Lipstick,’ Explained!"
June 9, 2005: "Bloomsday For Dummies"

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.



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