Cole Porter Lyrics
July 5, 2006 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Cole Porters song "Anything Goes" contains these lines. "When folks who can still ride in jitneys Find out Vanderbilts and Whitneys Lack baby Clo'es, Anything goes! What or who was Porter referencing when he wrote these lyrics?
posted by Raybun to Law & Government (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A jitney is a little taxicab, like a hack, that you hire to ride in. Sort of a middle-class phenom of the time; poor people took the subway, rich folks had their own automobile.

Vanderbilts and Whitneys were these Gilded-Age New York families, staggeringly wealthy.

So the idea is that when middle class people discover that Vanderbilts and Whitneys can't afford to buy clothes for baby, why then everything's topsy-turvy and, therefore, "anything goes."
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:02 AM on July 5, 2006

The Vanderbilts and Whitneys were millionaire families, who it would be a surprise to find could not clothe their children. A jitney is slang for a jalopy?
posted by A189Nut at 10:02 AM on July 5, 2006

No A189Nut, ikkyu2 is right. A jitney is an unliscensed taxi, often much cheaper than the real thing.
posted by matkline at 10:11 AM on July 5, 2006

Today, "jitney" usually refers to a bus service that makes stops in a tourist location (i.e. Hampton Jitney, Atlantic City Jitney, etc.).

From link above: The term jitney is an old English term meaning "nickel." "Unlicensed taxi" sounds more like a gypsy cab than a form of public transport like the old omnibus or nickel jitney.
posted by mattbucher at 10:21 AM on July 5, 2006

My wife and I were listening to "You're the Top" the other day, and I remarked that it would be great fun to post annotated versions of some of Porter's lyrics. Some of them are time- and place-specific. I like how a lot of old songs, including some by Porter, make reference to "Arrow collars". What's the big deal with those?
posted by jdroth at 10:40 AM on July 5, 2006

Arrow is a famous (even top?) brand for men's shirts.
posted by of strange foe at 10:49 AM on July 5, 2006

Arrow is a company that made collars (and shirts). The collars were a separate item from the shirt and were held on with either buttons or studs. I think the reasoning was that you would sweat out the collar and change it before washing the shirt again. Then again, it might be that it's easier to put the heavy starch on the collar alone.

I own a formal shirt made in the 30's or 40's and have several collars for it, one of them an Arrow.
posted by plinth at 10:50 AM on July 5, 2006

think the reasoning was that you would sweat out the collar and change it before washing the shirt again

That's exactly right. The collar and cuffs are the parts of the shirt that gets dirtiest, but the collar was more noticeable because it's so close to the face. The shirt itself was protected on the inside by the always-worn undershirt, and on the outside by the standard jacket. Only working men customarily were seen in shirtsleeves; everyone else mostly wore a jacket of some sort, unless they were doing some athletic activity.

It was also cheaper to buy and replace collars than to own and launder several shirts.
posted by Miko at 11:01 AM on July 5, 2006

Timoth Noah at Slate glossed the "You're The Top" lyrics here and here. Doesn't help much with "Anything Goes," however.
posted by troyer at 11:02 AM on July 5, 2006

Also, the fact that these poor-but-workingclass folks can "still ride in jitneys" implies that they are not completely destitute. They might even be on the way up, and if they only knew that the rich folks had money troubles too, then anything goes.

Wasn't this song in Temple of Doom?
posted by mattbucher at 11:05 AM on July 5, 2006

Yi wang si-i wa ye kan dao, Xin li bian yao la jing bao jin tian zhi dao, anything goes.

Welcome to Club Obi-Wan.
posted by deadfather at 11:17 AM on July 5, 2006

From the Slate piece on "You're the Top", on the line "You're next year's taxes":

Faint praise, it seems to me. Presumably, next year's taxes are preferable to this year's taxes because you don't have to pay them until … next year.

I assumed the point was that next year's taxes are likely to be higher than ever before, thus "the top."

Derail, but hey, the question's been answered.
posted by languagehat at 11:31 AM on July 5, 2006

Jitneys are the same thing as "gypsy cabs" in most places. In third world countries, they're epitomized by things like Rot Dangs in Thailand-- you see one coming (they're bright red trucks there) and you flag it down, you tell 'em where you're headed and they tell you how much. If they're going your way, you hop on in.
posted by klangklangston at 12:08 PM on July 5, 2006

I assumed the point was that next year's taxes are likely to be higher than ever before, thus "the top."

languagehat, troyer's second link explained just that. Yer smart.
posted by deadfather at 12:22 PM on July 5, 2006

Here in Pittsburgh, jitney is a pretty common word for cheap unlicensed taxis. Most taxi companies won't drive into poor neighborhoods so there has been a underground system of jitneys for years that will drive little old ladies to the super-market and such. The legal taxi companies don't make much of a fuss about them since they service a market that the companies are not interested in. August Wilson wrote a play about them.
posted by octothorpe at 12:45 PM on July 5, 2006

More info on the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys from The Whitney National Bank

"The Whitney dynasty started with Commodore Charles Morgan. Born in Connecticut, he was a self-made entrepreneur beginning his career as a retail clerk in New York. Most of his wealth came from shipping. Along with Cornelius Vanderbilt, Morgan was recognized as a major influence in the United States' shipping business.

Morgan began in steamships and expanded into railroads. His business focused on trade between the Gulf Coast, especially New Orleans, and New York. In 1857, Morgan linked New Orleans and Brashear, Louisiana, with railroad service, thus shortening the important shipping route between Galveston, Texas and New Orleans. To recognize Morgan's contributions to the local economy, the Brashear city council renamed the town Morgan City in 1876.

Commodore Morgan died in 1878 and his various railroad lines were eventually sold to Southern Pacific. In 1883, Marie Louise Morgan Whitney used the proceeds from the sale of her father's railroad empire to provide the financial backing to her sons Charles and George Whitney to start Whitney National Bank. She was one of the first directors of the bank."

posted by brina at 1:21 PM on July 5, 2006

Now that this thread has been well and thoroughly dePorted from "Anything Goes" to "You're the Top" ...

Here's an ad showing two Arrow Collar Men, crisp 'n' neat in the wilting heat, as iconic an image in its day as the (quite different) Marlboro and Brawny versions of mid-century masculinity.

And no discussion of "Top" should omit Irving Berlin's gleefully nasty version. Yes, this is from the pen of Mr. "God Bless America":
You're the top! You're Miss Pinkham's tonic.
You're the top! You're a high colonic;
You're the burning heat of a bridal suite in use,
You're the breasts of Venus, You're King Kong's penis,
You're self-abuse!
You're an arch from the Rome collection.
You're the starch in a groom's erection.
I'm a eunuch who has undergone an 'op',
But if, baby, I'm the bottom
You're the top.
posted by rob511 at 4:51 PM on July 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Anything Goes line that took me awhile to appreciate was:
When Sam Goldwyn can,
with great conviction,
instruct Anna Sten in diction
then Anna shows
anything goes.
I got the Goldwyn part all right, but it wasn't until I learned who Anna Sten was (short version: Goldwyn's Russian-born would-be answer to Garbo) was that I really appreciated it.

Both songs we're discussing are hilarious when you take the time to understand all the references. Someone should do for Anything Goes what Noah did for You're The Top.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:47 PM on July 5, 2006

P.G. Wodehouse wrote:

"When courts decide as they did latterly
We can read Lady Chatterly
Then goodness knows"


Rather good, I thought
posted by IndigoJones at 8:07 AM on July 6, 2006

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