Back in the day everyone who was not a misanthrope or a shut-in went out on New Year’s Eve. The toffs wore their white ties and tales and elegant evening gowns and furs to don paper hats and dance the night way to orchestras in sprawling Art Deco ballrooms. At least that is what all of the old movies taught the rest of the Depression and war weary populous. But those average Joes and Jills also went out and celebrated with their own funny hats and noise makers in urban ballrooms, lodge halls, piano bars, and neighborhood saloons. And it was not just attractive young people. Period photographs reveal that revelers include many middle age and older couples.
|Just about every couple imagined that they were the elegant revelers in the movies.|
For those who were not married or already romantically involved. The question what are you doing New Year’s Eve was of vital importance. Nobody wanted to be alone on New Year’s and everyone wanted someone to kiss at the stroke of midnight. That is what songwriter Frank Loesser had in mind in 1947 when he made the question into a song—What are You Doing New Year’s Eve. Although it was performed on radio shows that often featured the popular composer’s work, it didn’t become a hit until 1949 when the early doo-wap group The Orioles hit #9 on Billboard’s Best-Selling Retail Rhythm and Blues chart.
|The celebration was for everyone and resulted in as many hangovers as blossoming romances.|
Despite that success, the song did not become an instant standard or holiday favorite. In fact it languished seldom recorded until Nancy Wilson hit #17 on Billboard’s Christmas Singles chart in 1965. Two years later the same recording returned to the Holiday Chart. Wilson’s silky and sexy, take helped make the song a something of a jazz standard sung by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole.
But the song still didn’t register as a pop standard until the new century and streaming video from YouTube made it go viral. In 2011 an utterly charming impromptu duet with Zooey Deschanel and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt made a splash ultimately attracting more than 19,600,000 hits.
|One of the ever-changing line-ups of Scott Bradlee's Post Modern Juke Box.|
Last December Scott Bradlee’s Post Modern Juke Box covered the song. The rotating cast of performers—to date more than 70 of them, rose to internet fame posting weekly videos on YouTube. Originally taped in Bradlee’s Queens New York basement the group reworked classic song from older traditions—vaudeville, tin-pan alley, swing, and rhythm and blues or took modern pop, country, and even hip-hop hits and reset them to a jazzy old time nightclub style. Their delightful version of What are You Doing New Year’s Eve featuring vocalists Rayvon Owen and Olivia Kuper Harris has registered nearly one million hits in its first year.