For years now, I have had difficulties understanding the attraction of a song we never hear at any time other than the Christmas season. That’s kind of weird really, because whenever you listen to the song you never hear a reference to Christmas or the holidays in general.
Yes … Baby, It’s Cold Outside!
But to be honest, I hadn’t really wondered aloud about why it’s considered a “holiday tune” until I downloaded the song – in one of it’s many, many versions sung by many, many artists – to my iPod. Then, after a few years of hearing it only during the playing of my Christmas playlist, thinking to myself, “What the hell does this have to do with Christmas?”
And in these Days of Enlightenment, the lyrics are simply creepy! At least in Neptune’s Daughter, the movie where the song made it’s premiere wide distribution, the women get a bit of a turn-around in the second part of the song, which featured the comical interpretation by Red Skelton. But it’s the first part of this popular song duet, as sung in the movie by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams, that most listeners connect with.
Unfortunately, and for good reason, that connection – as Jessica Cantrera writes in The Washington Post– is “icky”.
The song obviously is the whimsical version of the classic late-night attempt at seduction. The wily male working his mystical – or mythical – charms to seduce the seemingly attracted, yet uncertain, female. Plying her with compliments, alcohol, and his “worries” she might suffer hypothermia due to the rampant Winter weather.
But in this day and age, when we consider ourselves so much more enlightened, critics point to the female’s repeated desires to leave, although she seems unwilling to “break the spell”, the phrase “Hey, what’s in this drink?!?” (and flashes perhaps of Bill Cosby), and the females pointed, “The answer is ‘No!'” as indications of something more sinister.
Maybe they are right …
Now I have a theory about the hows and whys the song became and remained so popular. It’s my own personal theory, which I do not recall ever hearing discussed, so I’ll lay it out there for you to consider. But first some history on the song itself
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was written Frank Loesser – an accomplished Broadway composer (Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) – in 1944, and performed by he and his wife, Lynn Garland at their house-warming party. They performed it together for years before Frank sold the song – to his wife’s consternation – in 1948. The song appeared in Neptune’s Daughter (1949) and won an Academy Award that year for Best Original Song.
Now my theory is wrapped in the biggest event circling the globe in the year Loesser wrote the song, 1944 and World War II.
It’s not hard to understand the attraction the song may have had for those in our parents (and grandparents, great-grandparents) generation. At a time when the song was published (1949), many men had come home just a few years prior after witnessing and participating in one of the largest, most tragic periods of American history. Many of these men may have witnessed the deaths of friends in the most grisly of manners. Many had killed men themselves in the most grisly of manners.
In my mind, it’s not very hard to understand a mindset that suggested living Life to its fullest; refusing to allow opportunities for Life, Love, or Fun to pass by. Perhaps the song touched that chord that suggests living for Today and being bold enough to pursue such pleasures.
The same chord might have just as easily been struck in the women of the day as well. Many of them fresh off the assembly lines of the war, building tanks, trucks, airplanes, bombs, etc. Some say the female subject of the song was exercising a form of liberation by not conforming to the expectations and standards of a society after shouldering the burden of liberating the World from fascist oppression.
She earned many a hefty paycheck and the Independence that goes with financial power. Perhaps she is flaunting social convention as held by her parents, siblings, maiden aunt, and even her neighbors … She simply doesn’t sound so sure that’s a good idea!
Maybe … After all the sexual revolution would be just 15-20 years away in 1949; and certainly some of that rebelliousness would have been felt by both sexes coming off four years of liberating responsibility!
Then again … The fact that the original song score referred to the male role as the “wolf” and the female role as the “mouse” coats the entire subject once again in potential ickiness.
Only you simply cannot get past the fact that the song has amassed incredible popularity for those generations that preceded us! You only need look – even now – at performers still singing the song every holiday season: Seth MacFarlane and Sara Bareilles … Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé … Darius Rucker and Sheryl Crow. And that is in just the last two years!
But certainly, it seems the song has outlived its playfulness.
Heck, I still can’t get passed the fact that it’s considered “holiday music”. And for the past few years, every time it came up on the iPod rotation I would mention this to whomever was sitting next to me who might – or might not – care. It has gotten to the point where Carol now will immediately say, “Yes, I know … Why is this a Christmas song?!?”
I can be a bit redundant. Surprise!
Now it’s becoming common to drag the song out into the light and bludgeon it with images of Bill Cosby (as Saturday Night Live did recently) or date rape as “Funny or Die” portrayed the song.
Personally, I think that’s a bit unfair as parodies seem to be sometimes. After all in all versions of the song, we are left to imagine what the outcome was. Can any of us say it was Good or Bad? Who are we to judge?
I do have a healthier respect for the song now that I have read of its origins, the man who created it, and its initial purpose. And frankly, until today I had never seen its basic premise turned around 180 degrees, as it was in the second part of its Neptune’s Daughter version.
One must concede that its imagery and language are dated and present complications for a society firmly ensconced in no-pressure sexuality, where slick talk or chemical gimmicks are rightfully seen as robbing individual choice. Yet I can not ignore that initially it was simply a quaintly mischievous song, written by a renown composer to be sung with his wife to family and friends as a way of saying “Good night, the Party’s over.”
Now, someone needs to explain to me how this duet became associated with the Christmas holidays!