Classic '40s Christmas song gets caught up in sex pest paranoia

"What's in this drink?" has plenty of people up in arms about the classic Christmas song 'Baby, It's Cold Outside'.

With the soul-searching currently going on in the entertainment industry over its long-term probably with sexual harassment and abuse, pretty much anything is in the line of fire, even time-honoured Christmas songs.

‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ has been playing on festive season soundtracks, over mall loudspeakers, and in Christmas ad campaigns for decades, but now the suggestive lyrics are being examined under a new microscope and some people don’t approve of what they’re hearing.

As Alice Vincent explains in The Australian, the song’s story is simple.

“A man and a woman have spent a pleasant evening together, and she attempts to make her departure. He is insistent on her staying and, during the course of the song, persuades her — rather forcefully,” Vincent writes.

“No longer a playful flirtation, Baby, It’s Cold Outside conjures up questions about consent, wrapped around a smoking gun of a lyric that many have suggested narrates a date rape: ‘What’s in this drink?’.”

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The US National Sexual Violence Resource Center, for example, acknowledges that the song was written in a different era, but reckons it’s impossible to not link the actions implied in it to accused date rapists such as Bill Cosby.

“Maybe it’s time for the song to go by the wayside,” the centre says in a blog post.

“After all, is nostalgia reason enough to keep something around that seems to celebrate and even poke fun at the implication of sexual assault?” 

But The Washington Examiner argues that critics should calm down, however, and quit attributing modern mores to a song from the 1940s, when it was far more socially difficult for women to say yes to sex when they wished to than it was for them to say no – and that that’s what the song’s about.

“The best interpretation is that the woman wants to stay, but the neighbors and ‘vicious’ aunt she mentions will gossip, and the parents who will be concerned – and although her man is smitten, she can’t come off too forward,” the media outlet’s Liz Wolfe and Lucy Steigerwalk wrote on December 15. 

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“The repeated ‘I ought to say no, no, no’ is key here. She is supposed to do one thing, but she’s finding another thing very appealing.”

In fact, Vincent says, the song was written by professional songwriter Frank Loesser in 1944 to be sung with his own wife, singer Lynn Garland, as a party piece, not really intended for public consumption at all. It was common for the pair to compose together, with Loesser on the piano and Garland singing, and their flirty performances of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ were the hit of the social circuit.

Word of the song spread and and it eventually became public, going on to win an Oscar for Best Song in Neptune’s Daughter in 1949.

Loesser went on to write the music and lyrics for the musical Guys and Dolls as well as many other movies, which means that his place in Hollywood musical history would be safe, regardless of what happened to ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’.

These are the full lyrics to the song. What do you think – harmless fun or celebration of sexual harassment?

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I really can’t stay (Baby it’s cold outside)
I gotta go away (Baby it’s cold outside)
This evening has been (Been hoping that you’d dropped in)
So very nice (I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice)
My mother will start to worry (Beautiful what’s your hurry?)
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 a half a drink more (I’ll 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) (Why thank you)
I ought to say no, no, no sir (Mind if 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)
Baby it’s cold outside
Ah, you’re very pushy you know?
I like to think of it as opportunistic
I simply must go (Baby it’s cold outside)
The answer is no (But baby it’s cold outside)
The welcome has been (How lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (Look out the window at that storm)
My sister will be suspicious (Gosh your lips look delicious!)
My brother will be there at the door (Waves upon a tropical shore)
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious (Gosh your lips are delicious!)
Well maybe just a cigarette more (Never such a blizzard before) (And I don’t even smoke)
I’ve got to get home (Baby you’ll freeze out there)
Say lend me a coat? (It’s up to your knees out there!)
You’ve really been grand, (I feel when I touch your hand)
But don’t you see? (How can you do this thing to me?)
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow (Think of my life long sorrow!)
At least there will be plenty implied (If you caught pneumonia and died!)
I really can’t stay (Get over that old out)
Baby it’s cold
Baby it’s cold outside
Okay fine, just another drink then
That took a lot of convincing!