Thursday, December 13, 2018

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the news

In The New York Times: “How ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ Went From Parlor Act to Problematic.” It’s a wonderful song, especially when performed by Ray Charles and Betty Carter, but yes, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is problematic indeed.

Years ago, or ages ago, I used to have students read the lyrics of Frank Loesser’s song alongside Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” and Sir Walter Ralegh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.” The implications of Loesser’s lyrics were clear to late-twentieth-century students, for sure (and with no coaching from me): “Say, what's in this drink?” “What’s the sense of hurting my pride?” “Baby, don’t hold out.” “How can you do this thing to me?” The song is about pursuit and persuasion and power, as the party pursued finally agrees with the party pursuing: “Ahh, but it’s cold outside.” Capitulation, it sounds like, whoever is capitulating to whom.

But if I had to choose between Ray Charles and Betty Carter’s performance of Loesser’s song and Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski’s updated version (it accompanies the Times article), I’d vote for Charles and Carter, though with an eyes-open understanding of the song’s import.

Two other songs immediately come to mind as ones whose import many people miss: Jacques Morali and Victor Willis’s “Y.M.C.A.” (which I've heard sung by an elementary-school chorus) and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” (not a patriotic anthem). Another song of pursuit that might be paired with “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”: “Come Up to My Place” from On the Town ( Leonard Bernstein–Betty Comden–Adolph Green). There a female cabbie is the pursuer. Or “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” (Jerry Ross–Kenny Gamble) as recorded by Diana Ross and The Supremes, and The Temptations, with all singers as both pursuers and the pursued.

[“Say, what’s in this drink?” No implication of a date-rape drug. But it’s a stiff drink, mixed stronger than someone might expect. In the updated version, it’s Pomegranate LaCroix.]

comments: 3

brownstudy said...

Mark Evanier wrote about this issue a bit ( and responded to an emailer on the topic of elements of pop culture that seem problematic with the passage of time ( In the latter case, Ralph Kramden's continual threats to Alice.

My understanding is that Loesser wrote it as a party song to be performed by himself and his wife; in that sense, I see the song as more playful and playacting. But taken out of that context and seen with today's eyes, yes, it has a creepy edge.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for that link, Mike.

I think it’s easy to hear playfulness if you imagine the second voice as belonging to someone who really wants to stay and is rehearsing the reasons not to. That seems like the right reading to me. For me, it’s the sentiments in the first voice that bring in the creepiness.

Ralph is an interesting case. I used to show some scenes that paired well with Lysistrata (Alice goes on strike, refusing housework and getting a job). Ralph’s threats are always complicated by his powerlessness. But I understand why my wife has a tough time enjoying The Honeymooners.

zzi said...

The generation of the easily offended. "Gosh your lips look delicious" How dare you use the word gosh!