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Friday, March 11, 2016

Love For Sale: A Superb Song

(By Ann Alex)
This is the latest in the series of looking at jazz songs in detail.  So far I’ve discussed Crazy Rhythm and No Moon At All, both light-hearted songs of music and love, but Love For Sale is quite different as it deals with a controversial subject which is currently newsworthy.  Jeremy Corbyn has been talking about legalising prostitution recently and the issue nowadays is tied up with our perceptions of child abuse and people trafficking.  I believe that Cole Porter made an important contribution to the debate with this song.
The song appeared in the musical New Yorkers in 1930, sung by Kathryn Crawford, a white woman, who portrayed a street-walker.  It attracted lots of criticism, was banned from the radio, but proved very popular.  You can’t keep a good song down, especially if it’s written by such a talented writer.  Because of the criticism, Elisabeth Welch, a black African American woman, took over the singing of this song. Readers will be able to work out the implications of that for themselves.
Here is the full text, including the verse:

When the only sound on the empty street
Is the heavy tread of the heavy feet
That belong to a lonesome cop
I open shop
The moon so long has been gazing down
On the wayward ways of this wayward town
Her smile becomes a smirk
I go to work

Love for sale
Appetizing young love for sale
Love that’s fresh and still unspoiled
Love that’s only slightly soiled
Love for sale

Who will buy
Who would like to sample my supply?
Who’s prepared to pay the price
For a trip to Paradise?
Love for sale

Let the poets pipe of love
In their childish ways
I know every type of love
Better far than they
If you want the thrill of love
I’ve been through the mill of love
Old Love
New Love
Every love but true love

Love for sale
Appetizing young love for sale
If you want to buy my wares
Follow me and climb the stairs
Love for sale
The verse evokes the atmosphere of a sleazy town really well, we feel the walking rhythm of the cop, and the short lines such as ‘I go to work’ leave us is no doubt about her type of work.  The chorus begins with what would be a street cry, if she was selling flowers.  I say ‘she’ and I think Porter meant the song to be sung by a woman, but actually it could be done by a man, as there are of course male prostitutes.  (That would be a challenge for a male singer!) The song suggests a young woman, which I think adds to the poignancy, a young life spoilt, but maybe she’s lying about her age?
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Porter was on the side of the prostitute, (‘I’ve been through the mill of love’), and in fact I’d go so far as to say that this is a protest song of the first order. ‘For a trip to Paradise’ is highly ironic of course, as the ‘price’ is so high, both in money and other risks. The constant repetition of ‘love for sale’ ensures that we don’t forget the point of the song.  And the line ‘Every love but true love’ must surely be one of the saddest lines in any song in the Gasbook.
The best version of the song I’ve heard is undoubtedly Billie Holiday’s.
The rhymes and repetitions work well and don’t require much explanation.  I’d love to read other people’s views on this song, especially about the actual tune.  I’ve never studied composition, and I’m sure instrumentalists could add useful insights.
Ann Alex

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