This is the 51st post in a weekly, yearlong series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song will be posted each Monday throughout 2016. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.

Songwriter Frank Loesser wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in 1944, debuting it shortly thereafter at a party with his wife Lynn. The duet featured two characters, referred to on the sheet music as Wolf and Mouse, with Frank Loesser singing the role of Wolf and Lynn Loesser singing the role of Mouse. The premise was that Mouse and Wolf had just been out on a date, and as Mouse prepared to go home, Wolf tried to persuade Mouse to stay.

Frank and Lynn Loesser’s performance was a hit, such that the couple earned invites to some of the best parties of the 1940s. “We became instant parlor room stars,” Lynn Loesser later said.

In 1948, Frank Loesser sold “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to MGM to use in the film “Neptune’s Daughter,” starring Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams.

The film featured two versions of the song: one in which Montalbán played the role of Wolf and Williams played the role of Mouse…

And a second version, in which Red Skelton was the Mouse and Betty Garrett played the Wolf.

Initially, Lynn Loesser was not pleased that her husband had sold the song. “I felt as betrayed as if I’d caught him in bed with another woman,” she later said. But the sale of the song ultimately paid off for the Loessers, as the inclusion of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in “Neptune’s Daughter” won Frank Loesser an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Almost 70 years after that Academy Award win, the original lyrics can seem jarringly inappropriate, when viewed in a modern lens:

(I really can’t stay) But baby, it’s cold outside
(Got to go away) But baby, it’s cold outside
(This evening has been) Been hoping you’d drop in
(So very nice) I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
(My mother will start to worry) Beautiful watch you’re wearing
(My father will be pacing the floor) Listen to the fireplace roar
(So really I’d better scurry) Beautiful, please don’t hurry
(Well, maybe just half a drink) 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 this spell) I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
(I ought to say no, no) Mind if I move in closer?
(At least I’m going to say I tried) What’s the sense of hurting my pride?
(I really can’t stay) Baby don’t hold out

In an era where we have constant discussions about consent, assault, and rape culture, this song seems casually flippant and out of place. Of all the objectionable lines in the song, the most unsettling might be “Say, what’s in this drink?” Of course, the whole song seems objectionable in a modern lens; even the names “Wolf” and “Mouse” seem predatory.

And yet despite those lyrics (and all the debate around them), “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has remained a staple to be played around the holidays. In the nearly 70 years since its release, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has become a standard recorded by some of the biggest names in show business. There have been a dizzying number of versions, many of which sound similar and are mostly noteworthy because of the performers, rather than the performances themselves.

The versions in “Neptune’s Daughter” might have been the first performances, but the 1949 recording by Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark was the first release.

Since then, it has been followed by this version by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan with The Tympany Five in 1949…

…and this country parody of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by June Carter and Homer and Jethro…

…and this version by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer…

…and Louis Armstrong and The All Stars’ version from 1952…

…and this 1957 version by Carmen McRae and Sammy Davis, Jr….

…and this 1959 version by Dean Martin, in which Mouse was performed by a chorus of backup singers…

…and this 1961 cover by Betty Carter and Ray Charles…

…and this 1964 version by Ann-Margret and Al Hirt…

…and this 1990 version by K.T. Oslin and Barry Manilow…

…and this rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Bette Midler and James Caan, from the movie “For The Boys” in 1991…

…and this 1992 cover by Carnie Wilson and Robert Palmer…

…and this 1996 version by Vanessa Williams and Bobby Caldwell…

…and this cover for Tom Jones’ 1999 album, “Reloaded,” with Cerys Matthews…

…and this 2002 version by Lee Ann Womack and Harry Connick, Jr….

…and this 2002 version by Ann-Margret (her second “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”) and The Brian Setzer Orchestra…

…and this 2003 version for the “Elf” soundtrack, by Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel, who later recorded “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as part of She & Him…

…and this 2004 version by married couple Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey…

…and this “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart from 2004…

…and this 2004 version by Natalie Cole and James Taylor…

…and this 2005 version by Regis Philbin and his wife, Joy Philbin…

…and this 2008 version by Anne Murray and Michael Bublé…

…and this 2009 version by Norah Jones and Willie Nelson…

…and this 2012 version by Colbie Caillat and Gavin DeGraw…

…and this 2012 version by Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green…

…and this 2012 “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Sharon Van Etten and Rufus Wainwright…

…and this 2014 version by Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker…

…and this 2014 version by Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé, which excised the “what’s in this drink” line.

I told you it was a dizzying number of versions. And as I said when introducing these versions, many them sound similar and are mostly noteworthy because of the performers, rather than the performances themselves.

In the sea of versions that featured men in the role of Wolf and women in the role of Mouse, it’s those that challenge the traditional Wolf/Mouse dynamic that stand out most.

On a 2010 episode of “Glee,” same-sex couple Blaine and Kurt performed “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Duo She & Him performed “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” on its 2011 album, “A Very She & Him Christmas.” In this version, female Zooey Deschanel was Wolf, and a rather pushy one, singing over a sped-up tempo.

“Grease” veterans Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta sang “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” on the 2012 album, “This Christmas.” Like She & Him’s version, Newton-John and Travolta changed the gender dynamics, with Travolta playing a hesitant Mouse and Newton-John singing the part of a rather forward Wolf.

In 2014, singer Ashley Stroud and tap dancer Alex MacDonald joined Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox for a version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” that featured Stroud as Mouse and no one as Wolf. Essentially a solo, this cover recast the back-and-forth into Mouse’s inner monologue.

Pop duo Karmin, comprising married couple Amy Noonan and Nick Noonan, released a version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in 2015. Like the Postmodern Jukebox version featuring Stroud, Karmin’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” featured only one singer: Amy Noonan. But she kept both the Wolf and Mouse parts. As a result, she sounded as if she were fighting with herself, rather than another person.

For the 2016 album, “Tis the SeaSon,” Nadirah Shakoor and Jimmy Buffett switched roles, with Buffett singing the role of Mouse and Shakoor singing the role of Wolf.

While these covers challenged the premise of the song by changing the genders of Wolf and Mouse, a recent version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” went a step further.

In November 2016, Minnesota couple Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski recorded a version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” that went viral, getting mentions from several media outlets. The cover led to a recording deal with nonprofit label Rock the Cause, and early the next month, Liza and Lemanski professionally recorded the cover at Pearl Recording Studio in Minneapolis.

The cover was lauded because it wasn’t just a cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside;” it was a complete overhaul. Every single line was modified to emphasize sexual consent. When Liza asked, “Say, what’s in this drink,” Lemanski responded, “Pomegranate LaCroix!”

While Liza and Lemanski got a lot of recognition for their update of the song, they aren’t the first to call out the song’s troubling lyrics.

In a 2012 episode of “Key & Peele,” the comedy duo performed a parody of the song called “Just Stay for the Night.” In it, Keegan-Michael Key played an overzealous version of the Wolf who was not prepared for Jordan Peele’s Mouse to fight back.

In 2014, blogger Dara Laine recorded a short called “Baby, It’s Consent Inside,” showing a couple that peacefully parted ways for the night when the woman said she could not stay.

But for all the recent objections to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” there is debate whether the song should be judged according the time it was released. Laine said her “Baby, It’s Consent Inside” was not universally received:

Half the people love what I’ve done; the other half really mad that some feminist killjoy is trying to ruin a really nice wholesome song that wasn’t intended to be creepy or date-rapey.

Even some feminists say the backlash against the song is misguided. A Persephone Magazine blog post in 2010, titled “Listening While Feminist: In Defense of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,'” argued that the modern interpretations of the lyrics ignore the context and intent of Loesser’s original song. The song was written at a time when it was frowned upon for unmarried women to stay the night at a man’s house, and that’s reflected in the lyrics: there will be talk tomorrow, the neighbors might gossip, and her aunt would be uptight. According to the Persephone post, the Mouse is worried about societal reaction, and the Wolf in the song is listing off excuses that the Mouse can use so that she can stay over guilt-free.

But to buy into that framing of the song would require overlooking lines like “What’s the sense of hurting my pride?” Mouse could want to stay over, but Wolf doesn’t seem to care whether she wants to or not.

And then there’s the line, “Say, what’s in this drink?” The Persephone piece argued that this line should also be judged in context of the era, as this was a colloquial phrase used by people looking to blame alcohol for their actions. But clearly, that’s not how we would interpret this now. As Marya Hannun pointed out in The Washington Post, “as languages evolve, so too do words take on new meanings. Today, the song’s subtext finds itself at odds with basic notions of consent.” Frank Loesser’s words — perhaps viewed as harmless in the 1940s — stand out in an era when rufies are a legitimate concern.

Liza and Lemanski could have ignored “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by covering something else or recording an entirely new song. By changing the lyrics and preserving Loesser’s melody, Liza and Lemanski breathed new life into it while removing what doesn’t hold up in modern times. In that regard, their update was not just a cover, but a form of social commentary.

You can listen to these songs and previously discussed cover songs in a Spotify playlist.
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