“Love for Sale” is a song by Cole Porter, from the musical The New Yorkers which opened on Broadway on December 8, 1930 and closed in May 1931 after 168 performances. The song is written from the viewpoint of a prostitute advertising various kinds of “love for sale”: “Old love, new love, every love but true love”.
The song’s chorus, like many in the Great American Songbook, is written in the A-A-B-A format. However, instead of 32 bars, it has 64, plus an 8-bar tag. The tag is often dropped when the song is performed. The tune, using what is practically a trademark for Porter, shifts between a major and minor feeling.
“Love for Sale” was originally considered in bad taste, even scandalous. In the initial Broadway production, it was performed by Kathryn Crawford, portraying a streetwalker, with three girlfriends (Waring’s Three Girl Friends) as back-up singers, in front of Reuben’s, a popular restaurant of the time. As a response to the criticism, the song was transferred from the white Crawford to the African American singer Elisabeth Welch, who sang with back-up singers in a scene set in front of Harlem’s Cotton Club.
Despite the fact the song was banned from radio airplay, or perhaps because of it, it became a hit, with Libby Holman’s version going to #5 and the “Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians” version going to #14, both in 1931. (All other 1931 recordings of the song were as an instrumental.)
Notable recordings since include Hal Kemp in 1939, Billie Holiday in 1945, Stan Kenton in 1950 (arranged by Pete Rugolo), Joyce Bryant in 1952, Eartha Kitt in the 1950s, Ella Fitzgerald in 1956, and again in 1972 on her Ella Loves Cole album, Tony Bennett in 1957, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley for 1958 Miles and Somethin’ Else, Anita O’Day in 1959, Dexter Gordon in 1962, Al Hirt on his 1965 album, Live at Carnegie Hall, The Manhattan Transfer in 1976, the German disco group Boney M. in 1977, Donald Byrd on the Love Byrd album in 1981, Elvis Costello live on the remastered Rhino Entertainment CD of his 1981 record Trust. Harvey Fierstein performs a memorable (if interrupted) version in the movie version of his play Torch Song Trilogy. Martin Smith sang the song in the Cole Porter revue A Swell Party – A Celebration of Cole Porter at London’s Vaudeville Theatre in 1992. Simply Red led by Mick Hucknall sang this song at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1992. Harry Connick, Jr. covered it in 1999 on his album Come by Me. Amanda Lear recorded a version in 2006.
Other vocal versions include Mel Torme’s, Dinah Washington’s, Liza Minnelli’s, Diane Schuur’s, Dianne Reeves’, Cyrille Aimée’s and Fine Young Cannibals’. The song has become a jazz standard.
Shirley Valerie Horn (May 1, 1934 — October 20, 2005) was an American jazz singer and pianist. Horn collaborated with many jazz greats including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Toots Thielemans, Ron Carter, Carmen McRae, Wynton Marsalis and others. She was most noted for her ability to accompany herself with nearly incomparable independence and ability on the piano while singing, something described by arranger Johnny Mandel as “like having two heads”, and for her rich, lush voice, a smoky contralto, which was described by noted producer and arranger Quincy Jones as “like clothing, as she seduces you with her voice”. Although she could swing as strongly as any straight-ahead jazz artist, Horn’s reputation rode on her exquisite ballad work.
Shirley Horn kept for twenty five years the same rhythm section: Charles Ables (bass) and Steve Williams (drums). Don Heckman wrote in the Los Angeles Times (February 2, 1995) about “the importance of bassist Charles Ables and drummer Steve Williams to Horn’s sound. Working with boundless subtlety, following her every spontaneous twist and turn, they were the ideal accompanists for a performer who clearly will tolerate nothing less than perfection”.
Due to health problems in the early 2000s, Horn had to cut back on her performances. After 2002, a foot amputation (from complications of diabetes) forced her to leave the piano playing to pianist George Mesterhazy. In late 2004, Horn felt able to play piano again, and recorded a live album for Verve, at Manhattan’s Au Bar with trumpet player Roy Hargrove, which did not satisfy her. It remains unreleased except for tracks on But Beautiful – The Best of Shirley Horn.
A breast cancer survivor, she had been battling diabetes when she died of complications from it at the age of 71. She is interred at Ft. Lincoln Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Shirley is accompanied by Jerome Richardson (flute, woodwind); Frank Wess (flute, tenor sax); Al Cohn (tenor sax); Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax); Joe Newman (trumpet); Kenny Burrell (guitar); Milt Hinton (double bass); Osie Johnson (drums); Gene Orloff (violin); Hank Jones (piano); and Jimmy Jones (piano/arr/cond). Recorded September 13, 15, 1962 in New York City. (Mercury Records)