Revisiting Cole Porter's 'Top'

Cole Porter, photographed at his piano in October 1933.

Cole Porter, photographed at his piano in October 1933. Sasha/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Sasha/Getty Images

What does Cole Porter's song "You're the Top" have to do with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the end of Prohibition?

Written in 1934 for the Broadway musical Anything Goes, the song was inspired during a cruise on Germany's Rhine River. Porter asked people on the cruise liner what were their top experiences? The answers and anecdotes informed the song's lyrics, including:

"You're the top... you're the Tower of Pisa... you're the smile on the Mona Lisa ..."

"You're the top ... you're Mahatma Gandhi/You're the top... you're Napoleon brandy ..."

"You're the National Gallery, you're Garbo's salary, you're cellophane."

"You're an O'Neill drama, you're Whistler's Mama, you're Camembert."

Anything Goes hit Broadway soon after the end of Prohibition and as the nation was beginning to see the first glimmers that it could escape the Great Depression. "You're the Top" helped lift the nation's spirits.

The series celebrating recordings honored by the Library of Congress is produced by Ben Manilla.

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