‘What is This Thing Called Love?’ is a Cole Porter tune written for the 1929 musical Wake Up and Dream. It was first performed by Elsie Carlisle, and you can listen to that version here.
The song has been recorded by plenty of artists over the years, and was particularly popular with jazz musicians in the 30s, in versions both fast and slow. Billie Holiday put her indelible stamp on it in the 40s.
Today’s version, the one I know best, comes from Frank Sinatra’s 1955 album In the Wee Small Hours. With Nelson Riddle as arranger, Sinatra strips the lyrics down to their essence and delivers one of his trademark heartsick torch ballads.
The haunting clarinet line added by Riddle is the element of this song I remember best. I was surprised to learn it wasn’t part of Porter’s original composition.
What is this thing called love?
This funny thing called love?
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?
I saw you there one wonderful day
But you took my heart and you threw my heart away
That’s why I ask the Lord up in Heaven above
Just what is this thing called love?