Monday, December 8, 2014

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

 Frank Loesser and Lynn Garland

 The older I get Christmas is less and less about presents and more about, family, friends, a long road trip home, that hopeful feeling which accompanies the season, the cold winter weather, snow, hot chocolate, and of course Christmas music.

Christmas music means different things to different people. For me the only kind of Christmas music is old Christmas music. Give me some Bing Crosby or Perry Como or Burl Ives. I don’t want to hear any of the new stuff.

On Pandora, I’ve got a station called White Christmas Radio and I can put that on and hear great Christmas tunes whenever I want.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” There is just something about it that I find irresistible. Maybe it’s because it sounds like something out of an old musical or maybe it’s because of the “innocence” of the seduction. It’s a song from a simpler time, untouched by modern sensibilities.

The score of the music lists the two people in this duet as Wolf and Mouse. The Wolf, usually the male part, wants the woman to stay overnight while the Mouse, usually the female part, despite partly wanting to stay worries what people would think of her if she stayed.

I mean let’s all be adults here the Wolf is trying to sleep with the Mouse, but we know that he isn’t going to push her, but merely tempt her. Like I said simpler times. Today the sequel to the song might be “Baby, What’s With This Restraining Order?”  

“Baby it’s Cold Outside” was written by Frank Loesser, who wrote the music and lyrics for such Broadway shows as “Guys and Doll” and “How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying.”

Loesser wrote “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in 1944 and performed it at his parties with his wife, Lynn Garland. She considered it “their song” and was furious with him when he sold the rights of the song to MGM in 1949. That year it was featured in the movie “Neptune’s Daughter.” The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

In addition to the version of the song in the movie, 7 other renditions of the song were recorded in 1949. 5 of those versions charted on Billboard that year. Ironically the film version didn’t chart.

So which version of the song is the definitive version? Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it? Lots of versions of the song are great for different reasons. Some versions of the song are not so great. Here’s a look at several versions, but it is definitely not an attempt to look at every version just the ones that interested me.

Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting’s 1949 version is probably one of the first versions people think of. I think Whiting sounds excellent her voice has a youthful innocence, but Mercer sounds a bit too rehearsed and his crying during the line “How can you do this to me” is really awkwardly bad.

Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark (1949) this is one of the best versions the singers sound really good together. Shore lacks the innocence she instead sounds commanding and sure of herself, but it works for her. And Clark meshes with her well. The only thing is the song's pace seems really quick.

Don Cornell and Laura Leslie’s version (1949) has the backing of the Sammy Kaye Orchestra. Which make it feel more like a piece in a musical rather than the versions of the song with less instruments that feel more intimate, like we are looking in on a couple’s private moments. But I think this version works well. However instead of the normally ambiguous ending this version end with the Mouse telling the Wolf that she’s staying.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan (1949) is sort of unbalance because Fitzgerald is one of the greatest singers of the 20th century and Jordan just can’t begin to compete with her so I just keep wondering why she’d be at all interested in this guy that can’t sing as well as her.

June Carter made a parody version of the song with a comedy duo Homer and Jethro (1949). This version is a humorous country western version of the song that is played for laughs and over 60 years later the humor is hit and miss.

The versions in “Neptune’s Daughter” itself are quite good. Richardo Montalban and Esther Williams give a fantastic performance and then Red Skelton and Betty Garrat do a hilarious role reversal in their version of the song in which Skelton is the Mouse trying to get away and Garrat is the Wolf. I don’t understand how the Montalban/Williams version wasn’t ever on the Billboard chart. I guess it was somehow ignored because of all the other versions.

The Pearl Bailey and Hot Lips Page version (1949) just doesn’t sound right to my ear. I can hear in their voices that these two don’t think much of the material. To them this is a corny song, so they just sort of try to get through it. They also change the ending, in this version Bailey sees another woman out there and she says Page wants her to leave cause he’s got another woman coming over and Page admits it’s true so Bailey stays just to spite him.

Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton did a hilarious version of the song in 1949, but their version quickly goes off the rails and becomes more of a comedy routine than a real version of the song. It’s really amusing to listen to though.

There is also other 1949 version that I haven’t been able to find. Bing Crosby sang the song with Jimmy Stewart on Bing’s radio show. I’m sure it was either hilarious or painfully awkward. I’d love to hear it though.

Sammy Davis, Jr. and Carmen McRae did a great version of the song in 1957 on their duet album Boy Meets Girl. This is my personal favorite version. Davis does some funny ad-libs and McRae is clearly laughing sometimes, but it doesn’t detract from the song.

Dean Martin did a version of the song in 1959. In this version the Mouse part is played by a chorus of women. Leave it to Dino to up the ante and seduce not one woman but a whole chorus. Despite that one bit of strangeness, I like this version, maybe because Martin is really believable in his role of the Wolf.

James Taylor and Natalie Cole did a version in 2006 and Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton did a version in 2004. I’m lumping these versions together because they are both horrible for the same reason. They forgot or didn’t care that the beauty of the song is the battle of wills that the couple is having. In addition to being a song it’s a scene. In these versions the song is just a duet. I mean the Wolf is not much of a Wolf if he’s more interested in hitting his notes than seducing the Mouse. But the very worst version I’ve heard is Norah Jones and Willie Nelson. Luckily they sing the song like a duet too, so we are spared the truly horrifying mental picture of Nelson attempting to seduce Jones. But their voices are like oil and water or more accurately water and sandpaper. They just don’t mesh in any way that is pleasing to the ears.