For the last time: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is not a date-rape song. But you can only wish it were the last time, because every year the Millennial Outrage Brigade (MOB) devises a new angle of attack — and this year they’re taking the fight to your local radio station.
The Wall Street Journal has this year’s angle, in a piece headlined, “‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ Heats Up Culture Wars.”
According to the report, “Some radio stations are refusing to play it” because of “lyrics such as the woman asking ‘Say, what’s in this drink?’ and the man pleading ‘But baby, it’s cold outside’ when she says she has to go, evoke date rape and coercion.” Blame #MeToo “sensitivity” for the insensitive understanding of this wintertime classic.
The actual history of the tune is that Frank Loesser wrote it for himself and his wife to perform as a duet. And not just sung, but to be performed, perfectly staged, live at parties. The Journal spoke with their daughter, Susan, who said that “the reference to what is in the woman’s drink was common at the time, signifying only that having an alcoholic beverage was cool.” When I was a young boy in the ’70s, I can remember on many occasions my grandmother asking the very same thing when my grandfather had poured her a stiff one, and him replying, “Nothing I didn’t make for you last night,” or words to that effect. The same generation as the Loessers, middle age didn’t make them any less playful with one another.
Dean Martin recorded the song in 1959, and his daughter Deana told Fox News on Tuesday that she’s “flabbergasted” by the controversy. “It’s just insane. When I heard it, I said, ‘This can’t possibly be.’ You know, it’s a sweet, flirty, fun holiday song that’s been around for 40 years.”
Susan Loesser backs up that interpretation, telling the Journal, “The female singer’s repeated insistence that she needed to go was halfhearted, as she too wanted to stay.” Which is exactly how every female performer in every version of this song has sung it. She isn’t threatened or out-of-control drunk: She showed up at his place knowing exactly what she wanted. Or as Loesser explained: “She’s flirting like crazy. She’s wanting to stay, but she’s worried about what people will think.”
In other words: A nice girl with a naughty side. Just what I wanted for Christmas!
Back before hookup culture was a thing, responsible grownups learned and enjoyed the steps to an ancient dance. The dance even had a name: Seduction. Or as I wrote four years ago, when this first became a fake issue: “It’s a cleverly told musical version of the age-old dance of seduction, where both dancers know exactly what they’re doing every step of the way to an almost predetermined (and happy!) ending.”
The unwritten steps of seduction allow a gentleman to pursue without being a cad or a rapist. And just as importantly, there are all those steps and pauses for the woman to make the man work his charms hard enough, to make sure he’s worthy of her. But like any dance, the steps must be learned — and at some time in the last 20 years or so, society stopped teaching them.
ASIDE: Yes, I’m old-school enough to believe there are still masculine and feminine roles. They aren’t written in stone or anything, and a little role reversal can be a great deal of fun — but so is the complementary pairing of the feminine with the masculine.
And as a Twitter friend said to me the other day about millennial rage and this delightful little song: “I submit that one of the issues is they’ve been not just taught but incentivized to see each other as the actual enemy. That makes all action, all intent, suspect.”
What we have then is a bunch of angry and confused children trapped in adult bodies, with no clue how to pursue and enjoy one of the greatest pleasures civilized society has to offer: Seduction.
For the rest of us — the ones who know how to be civilized grownups and take part in civilized grownup delights — I offer to you what is in my mind the definitive version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
Recorded in 1962 by Ann-Margret and Al Hirt, to me their performance most perfectly captures the seductive nature of the lyric. And the music, performed by a small jazz group including Red Norvo on vibes and Gerald Hirt on trombone, is appropriately and perfectly sultry. It’s virtually foreplay with their clothes on, and it became my all-time favorite version the first time I heard it, probably 25 years ago.
I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.
And if it is a little rapey… well, then the assault is mutual.