With much of the U.S. now fully experiencing freezing cold and/or snow, it’s time to consider those pop songs that really have nothing to do with Christmas but have become staples of holiday play lists. Among the most enduring of these winter songs is the playful duet Baby it’s Cold Outside. But this year the perineal favorite has been caught up in controversy.
The song had its origin in 1944 when Frank Loesser, a Hollywood lyricist turned composer wrote it as a novelty to sing at cocktail parties with his wife Lynn Garland. At the time Loesser was in the Army Airforce but based in California where he penned songs for war effort broadcast and moral boosting films including Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, What Do You Do in the Infantry and others. Some of the songs also made it to Hollywood films like They’re Either Too Young or Too Old for the 1943 film Thank Your Lucky Stars.
|Frank Loesser and his wife Lynn Garland entertained Hollywood pals with their personal song, Baby it's Cold Outside.|
Baby it’s Cold Outside proved so popular among their friends that Lynn Garland objected to offers to buy “our song.” But after the success of Loesser’s first Broadway musical, Where’s Charley staring Ray Bolger in 1948, the offers became too lucrative to turn down. He sold the song to MGM which featured it in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter in which it was performed by Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams and in a role reversal version by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett. The song was the highlight of the film and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Song.
That year in addition to versions by Montalbán and William and by Loesser and his wife—billed as Mrs. Frank Loesser, almost a dozen covers were released including four that climbed into the upper reaches of the pop charts and stayed there for weeks—Don Cornell and Laura Leslie with the Sammy Kaye Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark, and by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer.
|Baby it's Cold Outside performed by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban won the Oscar for Best Song in 1949.|
Since then the song has been covered or included in TV shows countless times featuring a wide variety of duet partners. Among the most noted versions were by Dean Martin with a female chorus and later with various partners on his TV series and specials, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Brian Setzer and Ann-Margret, Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone, Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.
The song was always considered a bit coyly risqué but good hearted fun.
But in the #MeToo era it has drawn criticism that it is essentially a date rape song and a classic example of a man refusing to accept a woman’s no. The main point of contention is the woman’s line, “say what’s in this drink?” and protests that she has to go home. In response WDOK in Cleveland announced that it was removing all versions of the song from its holiday playlist. Some other US stations followed and in Canada it was banned by Bell Media, CBC Radio, and Rogers Media which together represent the bulk of Canadian stations.
The bans have stirred a veracious backlash. Right wingers, or course, paint them as an example of the infamous but non-existent War on Christmas despite the fact the song has nothing to do with Christmas. Other fans of the song are simply vexed that it has fallen victim to political correctness, whatever that is.
Susan Loesser, the daughter of the composer, has leapt to the defense of her parents and the song insisting that it was never a date rape song. She said the controversy actually began three years ago when Comedian Bill Cosby was accused of drugging and raping scores of women over decades. Both Saturday Night Live and South Park featured skits with Cosby crooning the song to a victim.
But Susan pointed out that in 1944 “People used to say ‘what’s in this drink, as a joke. You know, ‘this drink is going straight to my head so what’s in this drink?’ Back then it didn’t mean ‘you drugged me.’” Others noted that despite the woman’s initial demurrals in the end she wants to stay.
|Dean Martin's popular version was included on his album A Winter Romance released in 1959.|
Dean Martin’s now 70-year-old daughter Deana Martin also defended the song and insisted that she would continue to perform it in her own act.
Although I understand the objections to the song and am loathe to dismiss them out of hand, but I also believe that songs can be sung and considered for the times in which they were composed. A hell of a lot of music from classic opera to county and western cry-in-your-beer juke box favorites, to blues and rap would have to be sacrificed along with this novelty song. And I am just not a fan of censorship in general.
But you be the judge.
My personal favorite version of the song was the one by Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting, but today we are featuring my wife Kathy Brady-Murfin’s who by the way is a strong a feminist as you are likely to find anywhere.