I don’t know about you, but one of my Christmas traditions is reading endless hot takes on the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” In fact, I was going to write a “Top 5 Hot Takes on ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’” article as part of my quest to see if I can ride out the rest of the Trump administration by diving into my own belly button and hiding like a hermit crab.
Sanity prevailed, but man the takes keep on coming. The standard one is that the song is hella rapey in the modern context, and I think that’s it’s pretty hard to argue that that’s how the song comes across to a 2018 audience. After all, the most iconic usage of the song of the current generation still involves accidentally creeping on a woman in the shower.
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But that is still just one valid interpretation. Chris Williams over a Variety asserts it is really a feminist tune about the expectations of society for one example. Maybe it is, but my opinion has always been that in the time it takes to argue about it for 500 words you could always just pick another song that we aren’t going to fight about. I’m not surprised a bunch of radio stations just up an axed the tune instead of arguing.
Except you can’t just pick another song. Not really, and that’s why people are so protective of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
The tune is one of the only well-written dedicated holiday duets for a male and a female voice. It’s musical legend Frank Loesser at the top of his game. Even the people who don’t like the content of the song can admit it’s well-crafted, I hope.
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There’s really no other Christmas song like it. There are great duet performances, sure, but these are usually after-the-fact arrangements that will never eclipse the originals no matter how good. The duet version of “The Christmas Song” that Nat King Cole did with Natalie Cole is great. Of course it is, but there’s no denying that it’s a song for one singer opened up for another. Stuff like “Winter Wonderland” and “Silver Bells” are stiffer tracks that are more like group sing-alongs reduced down to two parts. They’re nothing like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” as far as being a vocal dance.
There are other great duets, but they don’t extrapolate as easy as “Baby.” The obvious choice is “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl. It’s one of my favorite songs period, but no one wants to sing it because of its depressing subject matter and the fact that it has a homophobic slur in it. I keep hoping my generation will make “When the River Meets the Sea” from Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas a standard like it deserves, but I admit that without context it’s not really much of a holiday or even a winter song.
This is why “Baby It’s Cold Outside” continues to be this giant thing in the road we have to drive around every December. In the lexicon of holiday songs, no one has been adequately able to replace it in more than half a century. Context and lyrics aside, it’s an equal-part duet for a romantic couple that can be fun and playful and is not too hard musically. As Elf showed, you don’t even need accompaniment to make it work.
If we want to toss the drama around the song out with the tree this January, then someone needs to hit the piano and craft a substitute. Until they do we are just going to keep having this discussion. Not because either side is more right than the other, but simply because there’s a need for this exact type of song. It’s as simple as that.