“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Frank Loesser

This classic standard is often given sanitized, inoffensive performances, but in reality, the disturbing elements that everyone likes to point out now as though they’re being clever at the expense of a song from their grandparents’ time that many people still love, were almost indisputably completely intentional on the part of the songwriter (who was, by the way, the great Frank Loesser, the man who gave us Guys and Dolls). It wasn’t quite as nightmarish at the time as some people find it these days, since the concept of ‘date rape’ (more specifically, the idea that manipulating a girl into bed is no different from taking her by force) hadn’t really been introduced into the public consciousness yet. Still, this is a rather dark, predatory tale of a ‘couch artist’ (what we would now call a ‘Playa’) aggressively putting the moves on a not entirely willing girl, and that would have seemed sketchy and unwholesome at best even to audiences of the time. That’s why the best renditions have always been the ones that don’t sugarcoat the song’s vaguely creepy elements, like Ray Charles’ deeply unnerving duet with Betty Carter, or Norah Jones and Willie Nelson, who nicely emphasized the song’s predatory subtext simply through the obvious age difference between the singers. The reason so many performances try to distance themselves from the song’s real implications can probably be chalked up to the song’s inexplicable transformation into a Christmas standard simply because it takes place in winter, and I suppose that sexual coercion, however subtle, is not something you want the kiddies to realize they’re singing about. But in reality, this is a sly, cynical piece of innuendo in the tradition of much of Cole Porter’s work, and it deserves to be acknowledged for its dark wit rather than being dismissed as either just another squeaky-clean Christmas novelty, or worse, as some horribly dated relic of its time that has become unspeakably offensive now, like Al Jolson’s blackface routines.

Verdict: Good.

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