Cole Porter is widely respected as perhaps America's best composer of popular song and rightly so. He wrote both the music and lyrics to his songs and this, - along with his genius - explains their perfection. The words are witty and were at the time he was writing prolifically for the Broadway stage a little risque. They appealed to the sophisticated and often - as in the case of "Love for Sale" - deeply dismayed the moralists.
The list of his shows is stunning, with Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate being the most well-know and best loved. His songs often urged disobedience, breaking rules, pushing the limits: "Anything Goes," "Let's Misbehave," "Experiment," "Let's Do It," and more.
He loved the voice of Ethel Merman and wrote songs for her, knowing that she was at her best at the finish and adding codas to songs to take advantage of this. He knew she held A flat and C longest and loudest and put those notes into his music for her.
Red, Hot & Rich: An Oral History of Cole Porterwritten by David Grafton (1987) brings these and other bits of information about Porter and his music to the surface and I learned things from the book that I hadn't learned elsewhere, and I already knew quite a bit about Cole Porter, his music, and his life. But it is oral history and the comments often contradict one another and the author of necessity intrudes to fill in gaps between the anecdotes from Brooke Astor, Gerald Murphy, Noel Coward, Irving Berlin, and almost everyone else of any celebrity in the 20s through the 50s.
So this is a good book, but not a great one, and certainly not the place to start if you don't already know at least some of the words to "You're the Top" ("...you're the National Gallery, you're Garbo's salary, you're cellophane"), if your heart doesn't stop when you hear "...the change from major to minor," and if you don't have some idea of the schizophrenic life homosexuals lived in the upper reaches of society and show business in the early part of the 20th century.