Slowly and stealthily over the past few years, weasely advertisers have been buying up great old songs, and altering the lyrics to suit their depraved pruposes. A nice little ditty like "Ain't She Sweet" has been ravished by the Canada Dry, and now comes out: "It's Not Too Sweet" - a testimonial for ginger ale. "Hello Dolly" is "Hello Hardee's." Local residents who used to be stirred by the lyrics of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" now hear this:

Everybody shops at Marlo's.

The new warehouse showroom store.

Four million cubic feet of furniture.

Accessories, and so much more.

The consequence of this practice, of course, is that our children will grow up never knowing the proper lines to anything. They'll remember the tunes, all right, because the tunes remain intact. There may even be a kind of dual subliminal effect on them; they'll hear "Yankee Doodle Dandy"; feel patriotic; yet rush out and buy an ottoman. Fear not, I think I have the solution.

The reason old songs are so easily grabbed up by advertising pirates is that they're vulnerable. As companies approach song writers or their heirs and tell them: Your songs are obsolete; let us refurbish them with brand new lyrics, and they'll forever. A clever ploy, and it works. But why do these songs have to be refurbished solely for commercials? If the key to their salvation is "relevance," why not simply update the lyrics to fit the times?

For example, no song was more topical in its day than Cole Porter's "You're the Top" from "Anything Goes." As is, the first refrain reads as follows:

You're the top!

yor're the Colosseum.

You're the top!

You're the Louvr' Museum.

You're a melody from a symphony by Strauss.

You're a Bendel bonnet.

A Shakepeare sonnet,

You're Mickey Mouse.

The references here ate not exactly archaic, but neither are they up to date.

A few strokes of the pen, however, and Porter's song is fit for presentation on the Tonight Show:

You're the top!

You're the Capital Centre.

You're the top!

You're a Flynt repenter.

You're a melody from a med-uh-lee by Cher,

You're a brown unbrella,

A Jong novella,

You're Yogi Bear.

Similarly, the fifth refrain now reads:

You're the top!

You're a Waldorf salad.

You're the top!

You're a Berlin ballad.

You're a baby grand of a lady and a gent,

You're an old Dutch master,

You're Mrs. Astor,

You're Pepsodent.

Very nice in its day, but if the song is going to survive in the present, it has to be tuned up:

You're the top!

A Ramada salad.

You're the top!

A Paul Williams ballad.

You're the high finance that Mr. Lance finessed,

You're TM classes,

You're Mrs. Onassis,

A tube of Crest.

In another refrain, where Porter refers to "Mahatma Gandhi," all we need to do is replace Mahatman with Indira, then reverse the names. Then we can replace "Napoleon brandy" with "Billy Beer," resulting in the rhyming of Indira and Beera - a stretch, of course, but worth it.

Purists are bound to act sore about these changes, but they'll get over it. If they complain that we're replacing monuments of American culture with current junk, we can remind them that truth is relative. Even purists will acknowledge that the following quatrain will have to go:

You're the numble tread of the feet of Fred Astaire,

You're an O'Neill drama,

You're Whistler's mama,

You're Camembert.

zBut nothing is lost in this revision:

You're the cummerbund on the waist of John Travolt',

You're The Exorcist's Blatty,

Jamie Wyeth's daddy,

You're Charles Kuralt.

Gershwin's songs are more easily accommodated than POrter's, because the references are less complicated. "Slap that Bass" can easily become "Slap that SYnthesizer." "A Foggy Day" can be changed to include the Air Quality Index. "They Can't Take That Away From Me" can now begin:

The way you wear your lesure suit,

The way you sip your Tab.

In the songs of Rodgers and Hart, "Poor Johnny One Note" can become "Poor Johnny's Learning Problem." And so forth.

This rewriting get rewriting get trickier when it comes to modernizing old phrases and figures of speech. The terms for love and love-making, for example, must be replaced by their contemporary equivalents, as in "Meaningful Relationships for Sale," or "Mind If I Get It on With You?" Expressions of approval must be adjusted. "You're Sensational" from "High Society" becomes "You're Baad"; "Thou Swell," becomes "Thou Baad," etc. New terminology can also be used in the torch song "I Got It Good and That Ain't Baad," and in the ballad "Love Jogged Right in and Ripped Off the Shadows."

Social changes come into play as well. No one is named Mary anymore, so "It was Mary" becomes "It was Tracy" (or Kimberly). No one smokes anymore, so the cigarettes that used to bear lipstick traces will have to be replaced by things like Yogurt cups. We will also have to allow for some subtle shifts of idiom, as in the song: "Where Are You Coming From, Little One, LIttle One?" New sensitivities will be taken into account in such numbers," "Ms. Otis Regrets," and "The Person Is a Single."

Naturally, these things can't be made overnight. But the point is they can be worked out eventually. And once they are, not only will we have preserved the great songs of yesterday but our great present culture as well. Picture it: Frank Sinatra Ju., "young blue eyes," sidles up to the mike and croons:

It's a quarter to three

There's no one in Studio 54 except

Liza Minnelli, Truman Capote, Caroline Kennedy, Joe Namath, Bianca Jagger, Margaret Trudeau, Halston, Andy Warhol, Neal and Leba Sedaka, Warren Beatty, Oscar de la Renta, Sylvester Stallone, Margaux Hemingway, Barbara Walters, Norman Mailer, Rex Reed, Yasmin Khan, Ilie Natase, Prince Egon von Furstenburg, Marion Javits, and me.