Bob Dylan And Cole Porter

Bob Dylan And Cole Porter

by Larry Fyffe

That some analysts thereof distance the songwriting of Bob Dylan from that of Cole Porter is questionable thing for them to do. Cole Porter, writer of music and lyrics for theatre musicals, uses clever rhymes in high-brow/low-brow, oft double entendred, lyrics that includes many an internal rhyme:

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise
(Cole Porter: Don’t Fence Me In)

Porter’s internal-rhymes above include: me/see; loose/ cayuse; my/I.*

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan shows quite a bit of Porter influence in both rhyme and subject matter:

Saddle me up on my big white goose
Tie me on’er, turn her loose
Oh me, oh my
Love that country pie
(Bob Dylan: Country Pie)

Dylan internally rhymes: my/tie; end-rhymes loose/goose; my/pie.

Another characteristic of Porter’s songwriting is multi-word rhyming – ‘lure of you’/’pure of you’:

I love the look of you, the lure of you
The sweet of you, the pure of you
The eyes, the arms, the mouth of you
The east, the west, north, and south of you
(Cole Porter: All Of You)

The above rhyme technic Dylan ultilizes as well – ‘lent you’/’resent you’:

Now when all of the flower ladies want back what
they have lent you
And the smell of their roses does not remain
And all of your children start to resent you
(Bob Dylan: Queen Jane Approximately)

Both Bob Dylan and Porter Cole allude to other artists in their song lyrics –
ie, Henry Bendel be a clothes designer:

You’re the top, you’re the Louvre Museum
You’re a melody from a symphony by Strauss
You’re a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet
You’re Mickey Mouse
You’re the Nile, you’re the Tower of Pisa
You’re the smile on the Mona Lisa
I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop
But if, baby, I’m on the bottom
You’re the top
(Cole Porter: You’re The Top)

Porter links the rhymes: Nile/smile; Pisa/Mona/Lisa. Dylan, though less fussy, finds salvation in rhyming: trial/while/smiles: Mona/Lisa/must-a:

Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like
after a while
But Mona Lisa must-a had the highway blues
You can tell by the way that she smiles
(Bob Dylan: Vision Of Johanna)

While Porter precisely end-rhymes ‘flop’/’top’, Dylan settles for ‘stopped’/’ top’ as a good rhyme in the following lyrics:

As a matter of fact the wheels have stopped
What’s good us bad, what’s bad is good
You’ll find out when you reach the top
You’re on the bottom
(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

In ‘Johanna’, Dylan mixes ‘by the way’ in with ‘highway’; in ‘Brush Up’, Porter runs ‘all-by-myself night’ into ‘Twelfth Night’.

If your girl is a Washington Heights dream
Treat the kid to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
If she then wants an all-by-myself night
Let her rest every eleventh or ‘Twelfth Night’
(Cole Porter: Brush Up Your Shakespeare)

Like potty-mouthed Porter, Dr. Dylan Freud slips in some sexual innuendos of his own:

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night
Told the first father that things weren’t right
‘My complexion is much too white’
He said, ‘Come here and step into the light’
(Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited)


*Footnote.  Cayuse is not a word I knew, perhaps due to my being brought up in Europe and not North America.  For anyone else taken by surprise at the word it  is an archaic term used in the American West, usually referring to a feral or low-quality horse or pony. – Tony.

What else is on the site

1: 500+ reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews

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