Being the type that rarely goes to see movies anymore these days, when I see a really good one, the thing that usually resonates with me the longest is the soundtrack. Such was the case for the adorably great new Woody Allen vehicle Midnight In Paris, which follows a man who is preoccupied with another era down the rabbit hole into that time period itself. As the overarching musical force in this movie, Cole Porter casts a pretty impressive shadow. Mainly because I used to think his tunes, which my father seems to know every word to and insists on singing in that prim and proper 1920s accent every time he hears it on jazz radio, were a bit naff. Given that I was exposed to this song no less than five times in the film, I’ve come to change my mind slightly on that topic. Primarily because, as someone who is still desperately trying to become a proper lyricist for the band I broke up three years ago, or at best, a third-rate poet, the man had some pretty great lines. If I was going to be nostalgic for any other cultural period, it would definitely have been Hendrix’s acid-soaked ’60s, but Allen makes a pretty convincing case. I mean, Dali, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Stein all hanging out and smoking before they knew it would kill them? Awesome.
Recording in the 78RPM, crack and fizzle late 1920s means that the best versions of Cole Porter’s completely innuendo-laden-yet-seemingly-innocent (“Goldfish in the privacy of bowls do it….”) standard were actually recorded by other people later on. Luckily, one thing iTunes does well is collate all of these different versions so that you can hear the differences over time, from the stride piano of Porter’s original through to early covers by Rude Valleee and Bing Crosby and then the slinky sensuality of Ella Fitzgerald‘s take (which I’m using today)…and so it goes right up until Joan Jett. As with most writers of standards, you’re more likely to find a cover than the original but they are nonetheless attributed thusly. With multiple verses full of reasons why his paramour should fall in love with him (including the quickly-removed possibly racist original opening ‘Chinks do it, Japs do it’), it has all the hallmarks of an American classic, particularly given that it’s full of associated reasons rather than actual ones and most of those are probably sexual when you think about it. The more I hear it, the more I like it, and you can just imagine a whole lot of friends tapping their feet around Porter’s piano as he wrote it.
The film spoke to me as heavily as this song did (and I won’t ruin it for anyone but you should definitely see it) because I think there’s a certain level of sentimentality that all critics attach to a period before they were born. It’s more than likely that my grandchildren will, at some point in their lives, pointlessly complain about how much better music was in my day when we had all those ‘real’ guitar bands like Sugar Ray and Blink-182 before everything became so fake and processed. Nostalgia is important because as well as letting us bitch, it allows us to realise that things can be done better, because they were already being done better fifty years ago. Cole Porter may have broken boundaries of appropriate taste and songwriting form retrospectively, but really he was just trying to get back into musicals and make some money. Essentially he did what most successfully was turn a plea into an ideal, rescuing a generation of men from saying ‘I love you’ by cheekily proposing it through song. Points, Porter. I’ll sing along with you in the car next time.
Cole Porter – ‘Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)’ as performed by Ella Fitzgerald.