Updated: Nov 25, 2020
A 1944 much loved tune that has been a staple of any duet setlist for several generations has come under fire in recent years as political correctness seems determined to sacrifice it on the altar of manufactured outrage.
Baby, it's cold outside has become part of the Christmas tradition routine. As radio stations dust off their Christmas playlists in the build up to the "most wonderful time of the year", the "bleak midwinter" howls of outrage are given a chance to fill the never ending conveyor belt of opinionated talking heads that is modern TV.
The song was written in 1944 by Broadway composer Frank Loesser, originally for himself and his wife (pictured below) to perform at a housewarming party to serenade their guests as they departed. A version of the song was recorded for the 1949 film Neptune's Daughter and the song has grown in stature ever since. Consistently being covered and rerecorded as a playful and enjoyable jazz standard call and answer duet.
For many years the major controversy surrounding the song was whether it was actually a Christmas song at all. Purists would argue there is no reference to Christmas in the song, but the imagery of the inclement weather has led to the song getting regular airtime every festive season.
In 2004 and 2005, tongue in cheek blog posts featured arguments that while the song was a playful and delightful melody to listen to, it was an ode to rape. The writers had explained that their articles were poking fun at the political correct fervour that seemed to be taking a grip of Western culture.
As social media and the vastness of the internet gave people an unending thirst for content and the scandal started to gain momentum. A song that had been a playful rendering of the time old nature of flirting had been reimagined as a dark presentation of everything from the ominous patriarchy, where a woman could have her reputation ruined by staying out, but a man is free of such concerns all the way to drugging and date rape.
Furious to and fros have continued every yuletide ever since. Jazz experts have pointed out that the line "What's in this drink?" was a common joke at the time about the lack of alcohol that people served. Some women have put forward the argument that the song is a well observed commentary on the internal conflict of women looking for excuses to resist her desires.
This does not satisfy the progressives who continue to insist the song and even the scene in the film is a thinly veiled celebration of mysogyny that must be consigned to the dustbin of history.
The enduring success of the song has seen it undergo transformations as cultural attitudes change. Recent interpretations have seen the roles of the man and woman (Or Wolf and Mouse as the original sheet music named the singers) reversed, with the woman is intent on keeping the focus of her desires within her "clutches". This is not as progressive as people are first to believe. In fact, the original film Neptune's Daughter had the song performed twice, with first Ricardo Montalban attempting to convince Esther Williams to stay a while, then immediately followed by Red Skelton being enthusiastically encouraged to not leave the house of Betty Garrett. It is curious that those so keen to demonise the song and the scene make no mention of the assertive role reversal performance which follows the more infamous scene immediately.
In 2016 Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski rewrote the lyrics of the song and performed what they believed to be a more acceptable version. Their "update" rewrote the male lyric but was roundly criticised as turning the song into a narrative in which a a man tries to encourage a woman to leave and she does not get the hint. Much of the groundswell of the current drive to expunge the song has been drawn from this effort.
It seems that society has run out of patience with this attack on a much loved song. Radio station bans have been reversed and sales of various versions of the tune have surged in multiple markets and formats. Perhaps this small skirmish on the front line of the corner of just one battlefield in the overarching culture war has turned toward common sense? That is possibly wishful thinking as the same tired arguments will be rolled out once more.
Zaragoza based band The Lost Clauses have released their own version of the tune for their Christmas gift this year, it can be enjoyed on youtube here:
The full, double scene from the film is also available on youtube:
Check out the lyrics and watch the scene to bring your own conclusion on whether this is a playful observation of a couple falling in love or a scared victim trying to escape the aggressive advances of an unwelcome man
I really can't stay (but baby, it's cold outside) I've got to go away (but baby, it's cold outside)
This evening has been (been hoping that you'd drop in) So very nice (i'll hold your hands, they're just like ice)
My mother will start to worry (beautiful what's your hurry?) My father will be pacing the floor (listen to the fireplace roar)
So really I'd better scurry (beautiful please don't hurry) But maybe just a half a drink more (put some records on while I pour)
The neighbors might think (baby, it's bad out there) Say what's in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (your eyes are like starlight now) To break this spell (i'll take your hat, your hair looks swell)
I ought to say, no, no, no sir (mind if I move in closer?) At least I'm gonna say that I tried (what's the sense in hurtin' my pride?)
I really can't stay (oh baby don't hold out) But baby, it's cold outside
I simply must go (but baby, it's cold outside) The answer is no (but baby, it's cold outside)
Your welcome has been(how lucky that you dropped in) So nice and warm (look out the window at this dawn)
My sister will be suspicious (gosh your lips look delicious) My brother will be there at the door (waves upon the tropical shore)
My maiden aunts mind is vicious (gosh your lips are delicious) But maybe just a cigarette more (never such a blizzard before)
I've gotta get home(but baby, you'd freeze out there) Say lend me a coat(it's up to your knees out there)
You've really been grand (i thrill when you touch my hand) But don't you see? (how can you do this thing to me?)
There's bound to be talk tomorrow (think of my lifelong sorrow) At least there will be plenty implied (if you got pnuemonia and died)
I really can't stay (get over that old out) Baby, it's cold Baby, it's cold outside
The song is shortlisted for the Christmas Song World Cup, you can vote throughout December here or by clicking on the photo below