Two sources for this posting: my recent piece on this blog on, among other things, The Mikado; and my recent piece on Language Log (“Back on top”), on my return to the top of the authors’ list there, after some time as Zwicky Arnold, at the bottom.
Among the songs in Mikado is Ko-Ko’s “As someday it may happen” (Act I, No. 5a), the great patter-song, with
I’ve got a little list–
I’ve got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed–
who never would be missed!
which goes on to enumerate some of these offenders. Modern performances hardly ever follow Gilbert’s words exactly; topical references are folded in instead.
In fact, after casting out what d’ye call him, thing-em-bob, never mind, ‘st-‘st-‘st, what’s-his-name, and you-know-who, Gilbert stipulates:
The task of filling in the blanks
I’d rather leave to you
and productions usually take him up on that offer elsewhere in the song.
Meanwhile, over on Language Log, Geoff Nunberg commented:
You’re a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet, you’re Mickey Mouse!
to which praise I replied that I was honored, and added an opinion and some content:
“You’re the Top” has wonderful lyrics (though they’ve been altered again and again, in the years since the song appeared in Anything Goes, to cover changing circumstances and to suit different audiences — as have the lyrics to “Let’s Do It”), and this particular line is one of my favorites, showing the three-part pattern of many of the lines: an upscale-trendy-culture reference, a high-culture reference, and then a pop-culture reference.
I have an iTunes playlist of versions of “Let’s Do It” (reported on here), with nine items on it so far: sung by Noel Coward, Ella Fitzgerald (twice), Mary Martin, Billie Holiday, Lee Wiley, Greg Graffin and Joan Jett, Susannah McCorkle, and Louis Armstrong. Maybe it’s time to start a similar list for “You’re the Top”.
So, good readers: other songs that have lyrics with variable slots (textual snowclones, you might call them)?