Typical Cole Porter in that, even in this out and out love letter to New York, he uses the rather light phrase “happen to like” instead of something as definitive as “love” or “adore”.
(You can be sure that a clodhopper like Springsteen would have used “love”. It’s the difference between an actual songwriter and someone who fancies himself as a songwriter.)
Me, I adore New York. It gets me right here just thinking about it. Unlike most things in life, it lived up to – and continues to live up to – my highest expectations.
Written in 1930, for Porter’s show The New Yorkers, there are quite a few versions of this song around. Judy Garland’s version is a cracker but this one, by Bobby Short, has just the right amount of momentum and tension. As corny as it might seem, the piano playing – the repeated refrain that builds throughout – captures, just a little bit, the thrill of walking around the city.
The lyrics are a giddy mix of blind pride and acute observation: all that business about watching liners booming in, and taking in “the sights, the sounds and even the stink of it”. My favourite part is the rather gratuitous dig at New Jersey, the protagonist unable to bring himself to spend even a little bit of time there.
Most of all, I love that phrase “happen to like”. It’s slightly defensive, as if, you know, the point of the song is to convince someone else of how great this city is. The sad thing is that, with the anti-Americanism that’s so rife here in the UK these days, that’s often how you have to express your love of that wonderful country. Like you almost have to apologise for it – and often to some yokel idiot who lives in a barn at the back end of a field somewhere.
But fuck ’em, it’s their loss.
Good quality Spotify version here: I Happen To Like New York.