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December 24, 2006

"Baby, It's Cold Outside"

Brad has an interesting post on the Baby It's Cold Outside. I'm glad I'm not the only person who finds the full lyrics to the song somewhat disturbing.

Contemporary radio versions usually omit what appear to be date rape jokes...

My mother will start to worry. (Beautiful, what's your hurry?)
And father will be pacing the floor. (Listen to that fireplace roar.)
So really I'd better scurry. (Beautiful, please don't hurry.)
Well, maybe just a 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 the 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 hurtin' my pride?)
I really can't stay ... (Baby, don't hold out.)
Ah, but it's cold outside.

Brad has some very interesting observations about the history of the song. I agree that the song is intended as a light-hearted parody of seduction--not as a straight-faced endorsement of date rape. This is supposed to be a mellow, funny song about seduction. The joke is that the guy will go to any lengths to get this woman to stay over. But some of his ploys just don't sound as funny to a contemporary audience. At the time the song was written, the average listener probably didn't consider date rape to be rape. These days, it's not as easy to laugh along.

Moving from the questionable to the downright icky, Why I Hate DC has a delightfully scathing synopsis Franklin Schneider's creepy adventures in the DC bar scene.

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Comments

When the Asylum Street Spankers do the song (on their excellent Christmas album), Wammo really plays up the sleaziness. It's my favorite take on the song, hands down, just because the mood seems to match the lyrics so much better. But yeah, it's pretty creepy.

I pretty much got the same impression of the song when I saw Miss Piggy sing the guy's part in a duet with Rudolf Nureyev on "The Muppet Show".

Society's in a bad way when we can't tell the difference between seduction and rape.

Let me give you a hint:

Rape is violent. Rape is an assault. Rape renders one possibly helpless.

When it comes to confusing love and power issues, society has almost always been in a bad way. Cold, indeed.

And I used to like that song!

It seems equally likely the song is also gently mocking womens' need to maintain the appearance of propriety. In a nutshell, she really wants to, but she can't square that with societal mores. Indeed, the structure of the song is more reminiscent of a negotiation - where each side has equal resources and interests - than it is of one-sided demands or anything resembling actual rape. A key point is that it's a duet. If my reading's correct, the song, I think, would cede more power to the woman than your reading of it would.

It would be unfortunate to let the existence of roofies revise our understanding of the woman's power in this song.

Those lyrics pale compared to this Doris Day song from 1951:

I walked down the street like a good girl should
He followed me down the street like I knew he would
Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be
So listen and I'll tell you what this fella did to me

I walked to my house like a good girl should
He followed me to my house like I knew he would
Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be
So listen while I tell you what this fella did to me

I never saw the boy before
So nothin' could be sillier
At closer range his face was strange
But his manner was familiar

So I walked up the stairs like a good girl should
He followed me up the stairs like I knew he would
Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be
So listen and I'll tell you what this fella did to me

I stepped to my door like a good girl should
He stopped at my door like I knew he would
Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be
So listen while I tell you what this fella did to me
He asked me for a good-night kiss
I said, "It's still good day"
I would have told him more except
His lips got in the way. . .

This is one of the reasons my preferred version is the role-reversed one that Garrison Keillor and Kasey Jones sang on "A Prairie Home Companion" back in 2004. It's just funny to hear Keillor croaking out lines like, "My father will be pacing the floor."

The only line that gives me pause is the, "Say, what's in this drink?" one, like he's slipped her a Roofie. Otherwise, it does seem more like a negotiation/seduction than a date rape situation.

Plus the woman's part has all of the best lines. The guy just keeps saying, "Baby, it's cold outside" over and over again.

That song has always given me the creeps.


I never did trust that Miss Piggy!!

Sorry. I just don't see date rape here and not just because I have always liked this song. I always particularly enjoyed the Betty Carter/Ray Charles duet.

I have heard maybe half a dozen interpretations and I really think that its essentially impossible to listen to the song actually being sung and think that the women is somehow being forcefully compelled to do anything against her will. In fact the whole point is that she is in the position to definitively say "no," to leave, to forcefully reject her pursuer, but she specifically never does. In the end her response is always well "maybe." I ought to say no. Well maybe one more drink. After all, it is cold outside.

As for the male part, his approach is tentative and really more desperate than menacing or intimidating. He is grasping for lame excuses to convince her, not constructing barriers to compel her. Even Ray Charles's powerful voice cannot hide the basic desperation in the lyrics.

Focusing particularly on the what's in this drink line is a bit of a stretch and a pretty decontextualized analysis. Its a line that can mean many things but the idea that the male part is trying to knock her unconscious so that he can sexually assault her insensible body is a scenario, I think, quite a bit removed from the general tone of this song.

I think it's pertinent to mention the 1949 version of this tune by America's Song Butchers Homer & Jethro, featuring a 19-year-old June Carter. Not only was it the pair's first national hit and introduction to the public beyond the sticks, it was also one of June's first recordings apart from her famous family. Those familiar with H&J know the song is full of fierce picking (Jethro Burns was a monster mandolin picker and both had as much jazz influence as country) and some seriously bent "courtin'" of the America's Sweetheart.

That being said, the logical conclusion of the song - a three-way between the Future Mrs. Cash and the guys who sang "How Much Is That Hound Dog In The Winder" - is a bit disturbing. Never could figure out how that'd work out when I was a kid, and I'm not real sure I want to think too hard about it now.

It's worth mentioning that one person who genuinely hated this song was Sayyid Qutb, intellectual father of the Muslim Brotherhood and to Ayman al-Zawahiri in particular. Qutb, in a 1951 volume, describes hearing a record of Baby It's Cold Outside played at a church dance as a proof of American decadence. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby%2C_It%27s_Cold_Outside_%28song%29 . So I suppose one could blame 9/11 on Frank Loesser, if one had a mind to. I just think of it as yet another Loesser song in which the cad is revealed as a nebbish, in the mode of "Sue Me."

People shouldn't be too uptight about music. Many songs have funny or sleazy angles or jokingly promote sleazy values, even in a satirical way.

I used to be the lead singer for a punk rock outfit, The Inputs, which would open shows for Frank Zappa's Band and others. And I wrote most songs to be offensive and funny. We had limited radio airplay on a song, "Elvis Is Dead", which included lyrics like "Elvis is dead. Elvis is gone. He cannot...Get it on". The then boyfriend of Courtney Love, Rozz later replaced me on vocals when the band decided to go more mainstream and stop doing outrageous songs like "Dog In Heat", "Dry Humpin'", "Puke All Over The Floor", "Dry Humpin' Queen Of New Orleans", "Botulism Boogie", "Landmines" and other awful songs that were favorites of some published music critics and fans, but kept us banned for obscenity ressons at times.(I guess these sample song titles are acceptable to list here based on the language used to describe the court case in Georgia involving two teenagers).

The bottom line is that people can tell a joke when it's there. Political correctness doen't have to act like everyone's dad and restrict what you can laugh at. Some bands like The Stranglers have made a pretty good career out of making outrageous music.

By the way, April Winchell, the daughter of the late, great Paul Winchell, has a great website at www.aprilwinchell.com with a ton of outrageous awful Christmas and other song downloads for those who also love bad songs as much as I do.

The first time I saw it performed was Red Skelton and Betty Garrett -- just as text without emoticons can be misread, so too do you need to hear, and perhaps hopefully see, the performers during many songs, and this is one. You can't really see Red and Betty sing it and be thinking rape.

Well maybe you can, but that says more about you then...

I heard this song for the first time this Christmas season (or at least it was the first time that I paid attention to it) and it seriously creeped me out. I mean, sure, it's *meant* to be a nice seduction song, but when she says "the answer is no!" right in the middle of the song and he keeps pressing, when it's that obvious that she's trying to come up with polite excuses to get away...yeah, not a guy I'd want to be hanging out with.
The part where she says "I ought to say no, no, no sir./At least I'm gonna say that I tried," I pointed out to Mom that from his point of view, unless he's really trying to bring off a rape, the part where she says that she'll accuse him of it afterward should definitely have been the point where he backs off if he honestly missed the earlier signals. Probably because I was pointing this out to her, I missed his response to this, which was "(What's the sense of hurtin' my pride?)" Reading it now: yes, that is seriously creepy. He's clearly one of those guys who looks at sex as conquest and it sounds like he takes "winning through her defenses with questionable drinks, irritating persistence, and veiled threats" as earning him Bonus Man-Points or something. Which makes his ignoring "the answer is no!" line make a lot more sense, and taken together with him telling her "your lips look delicious" in the middle of her protests and then informing her that they *are* delicious while she's still protesting--I don't care how some of the female performers of the song play up the "she was asking for it" foxiness stereotype (and it's noted in the linked-to post; he points out that in the one he hears the most, with Bing Crosby and Doris Day, she gasps when he takes off her hat unexpectedly--and the most common one is the one that affects public consciousness, right?), the fact is that as a transcript of a conversation, if the Mouse made good on her promise to say that she said no (which she did), the prosecution would have a darn good case against the Wolf for date rape.
I've noticed that a lot of songs I enjoyed back before I paid attention to lyrics have a scary stalker subtext, which Stephen Colbert played up in his song "Charlene (I'm Right Behind You)". Just because someone notices that "Baby, It's Cold Outside" sounds like a song about date rape doesn't mean that "it says more about" that person; it means that we as a society define rape differently since the song was written, and that apparently different people define rape differently from each other today as well. (For the record, I'm with the "if there's any confusion, the answer is 'no'" crowd. And for demographic data, I'm a woman (more likely to be raped) with Asperger's (more likely to screw up the giving/reading of nonverbal signals), so I have a rather vested interest in getting society to agree with me.)

Both Frank Loesser and his wife have archived interviews regarding this song, its composition, and premiere at a party they gave for friends. Sorry, I don't have URLs for them. Neither allude to anything that would lend credence to these darker interpretations of the lyrics.

All that for analysis on an old pop tune. What would a modern woman think of La Ci Darem La Mano
from Don Giovanni? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a song is just a song.

I don't think I see anything nonconsensual here, but the dude is putting on some pretty shameful moves. The following line, from Brad's post, was one of the particularly bad ones:

But don't you see? (How can you do this thing to me?)

Speaking of Qutb, 'Cold Outside' was used as the theme to the magnificent 'Power of Nightmares' as a metaphor for the Cold War and how Leo Strauss originated the neocon vision of permanent war as a replacement for Western hedonistic materialism.

I signed up for hedonistic materialism myself. Fuck Qutb and Leo Strauss and every GOP war-lover I can think of.

You want horror? Compare Lil Hardin Armstrong's lines in "That's When I'll Come Back To You," ca. 1925: "Now daddy I'll treat you right, promise never to fight/If you'll only come back to me...You can knock me down, treat me rough and even kick me/Black both my eyes but daddy, please don't quit me..." She should have been glad of Armstrong's response: "When the rain turns to snow/And it's 90 below/That's when I'll come back to you..."

That being said, the logical conclusion of the song - a three-way between the Future Mrs. Cash and the guys who sang "How Much Is That Hound Dog In The Winder" - is a bit disturbing.

I notice that my Dean Martin version seems to have the female portion sung by at least two women, so it's not the first time a threesome was cheekily hinted at.

Like I said above, though you can analyze the song in multiple ways, it really is all in the interpretation. There probably could be a creepy date-rape version of the song. I haven't heard it, but I only have 4 versions in my iTunes.

It's more a relic of early 20th century culture where a woman was expected to protest that no, really, she didn't really want sex, she'd been talked into it by a smooth seducer, yeah, that's it, that's the ticket.

All that for analysis on an old pop tune. What would a modern woman think of "La Ci Darem La Mano" from Don Giovanni?

Let's face it, all of Don Giovanni is quite iffy by modern standards. Is Donna Anna a woman scorned or a rape victim seeking justifiable revenge? Is Zerlina a willing seducee or is she too intimidated by the Don's power and position to say no? And what's with that creepy "Batti batti o bel Masetto" aria anyway?

That being said, the logical conclusion of the song - a three-way between the Future Mrs. Cash and the guys who sang "How Much Is That Hound Dog In The Winder" - is a bit disturbing.

I notice that my Dean Martin version seems to have the female portion sung by at least two women, so it's not the first time a threesome was cheekily hinted at.

Like I said above, though you can analyze the song in multiple ways, it really is all in the interpretation. There probably could be a creepy date-rape version of the song. I haven't heard it, but I only have 4 versions in my iTunes.

It's more a relic of early 20th century culture where a woman was expected to protest that no, really, she didn't really want sex, she'd been talked into it by a smooth seducer, yeah, that's it, that's the ticket.

All that for analysis on an old pop tune. What would a modern woman think of "La Ci Darem La Mano" from Don Giovanni?

Let's face it, all of Don Giovanni is quite iffy by modern standards. Is Donna Anna a woman scorned or a rape victim seeking justifiable revenge? Is Zerlina a willing seducee or is she too intimidated by the Don's power and position to say no? And what's with that creepy "Batti batti o bel Masetto" aria anyway?

D'oh. Sorry for the double post -- itchy trigger finger.

The Schneider article is disgusting but unsurprising. Hip Young D.C. is absolutely filthy with that kind of trying-too-hard machismo. It's more or less the worst aspects of Hip Young New York with a giant chip on everyone's shoulder.

D.C. just wasn't made for hipsters. They end up all mutated.

And the City Paper is a disgraceful joke. That article's not even their worst transgression to come to light this week.

Googling the phrase "misogynistic lyrics" gets you 10700 hits. Offensive and/or stupid lyrics are as common as corn in Iowa. Which is one reason I like instrumental tunes and songs sung in foreign languages. Very few musicians are poets or even barely competent lyricists, much less ethicists. Asking for music, lyrics and wisdom all at once is asking for disappointment.

As for Mr. Schneider. Sir, pull your pants up.

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