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Who knew that a Christmas song nearly 75 years old could be controversial? And yet, in this era of political correctness, when what we say and how we say it is more carefully scrutinized than ever, we have had a minor uproar in the US over a song our grandparents loved.
The song is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, a jazzy pop tune which gets played on radio stations and from loudspeakers throughout stores and businesses every year at this time. Christmas music is an essential part of the holiday season. Many of these songs have been recorded by dozens of performers and will be played and sung at parties and in homes as trees are decorated and presents are wrapped. Everyone has a few favorites, and if the month of December were to pass without hearing one of these ditties something would be amiss. It just wouldn’t seem like the holidays if you didn’t hear the song!
Yet, this year especially, there has been a vocal objection raised against “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. The song is a duet, sung by a woman attempting to leave a house or apartment despite a snowstorm outside, and by a man equally determined to get her to stay. It seems flirtatious, with an energy and humor missing from many songs of the season. But, for some, the lyrics go too far.
(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
(Well, maybe just 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 of hurting my pride
(I really can’t stay) Baby, don’t hold out
[Both] 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
(The welcome has been) How lucky that you dropped in
(So nice and warm) Look out the window at the storm
(My sister will be suspicious) Gosh your lips look delicious
(My brother will be there at the door) Waves upon a tropical shore
(My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious) Gosh your lips are delicious
(But maybe just a cigarette more) Never such a blizzard before
(I got to 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 life long sorrow
(At least there will be plenty implied) If you caught pneumonia and died
(I really can’t stay) Get over that hold out
[Both] Baby, it’s cold outside
It has been called by its detractors “The Christmas date-rape song”, especially with the presence of a possible drug-laced drink. Some women who have been victimized by sexual predators have claimed to be traumatized by the song. After the powerful impact of the #metoo movement, radio stations have recognized the potential message within the lyrics and have banned the song from their airwaves.
Well, not so fast!
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser, one of the great lyricists of the 20th century. Loesser composed popular songs for Broadway, films, and famous singers of the day. He wrote “Baby It’s Cold Outside” as a duet for him and his wife, actress Lynn Garland, to perform at parties. She played the part of the mouse, with Loesser playing the wolf. When Loesser and Garland divorced in 1948, he sold the rights to MGM movie studio. They used it for the film Neptune’s Daughter and it won the Academy Award for Best Song. This is where things get really interesting.
The film is the story of two couples. When the song first appears the couple singing is the typical woman as a mouse/man as a wolf. But, halfway through the number, the scene shifts to the other couple, where the man is the mouse, and the woman is the aggressive wolf. It was a scandalous tune even in 1948, but this time because a woman was in sexual pursuit of a man!
A careful reading of the song casts doubt on the intent of each character singing. Does the mouse really want to leave? Is this merely romantic playfulness?
Several radio stations, in cities like San Francisco and Denver, have reversed their decisions to ban the song. Complaints about not playing it far outnumbered the complaints from people who objected to it. Something tells me that this controversy will be with us for years to come.
What do you think?
Here’s a more recent version of the song.
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