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 tails or 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-aged and older couples.
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
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.
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.
2017 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 songs 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
registered nearly one million hits in its first year.