12.18.2009

Comparative Musicology: "Baby, It's Cold Outside"

In this holiday season, it's easy to forget the important things. Sure, everyone thinks about presents, and christmas trees. Family traditions inevitably come up. The slightly-displaced birth of Jesus Christ. Wise Men. Donkeys. All these things have their place of course, but it's so easy in the midst of all these pleasant things to forget what Christmas is really all about.

Yes, I'm talking about Sexy Christmas Songs.

Sexy Christmas Songs: A Historical Introduction


Sexy Christmas Songs (SCS's) have, of course, been an important part of Christmas since that very first Christmas, when tradition reminds us how Joseph sang Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Baby, and Mary countered with 'Like A Virgin. And from there, of course the tradition has never slackened. According to contemporary historians, it was Henry VIII's steamy rendition of 'I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In' that finally convinced a timid Anne Boelyn that the two were right for each other. Shakespeare calls upon the tradition in the famous "Up on the Housetop" scene between Hamlet and Ophelia. And, of course here in the states, the Civil War might have ended up entirely differently had it not been for Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln's timely duet of 'Deck the Halls' - 'Ooh-la-la-la-la, la-la, la-la!' of course became the rallying cry of the demoralized Union Army through the hard slogs of the 1863 campaign.

Sadly, most of the old SCS's lost popularity in the prudish days of the 1920's: "Go Rest With Merry Gentlemen", "Good King Wenceslas", "The Holly and the Ivy" - all these SCS's have been relegated largely to the history books. To the modern listener, only the songs of the Second SCS Renaissance have survived.

The Second SCS Renaissance



It was in the wild-eyed days of excess that we now know as 'the 1950's' that the SCS returned to it's position of prominence, with what we like to refer to as 'The Sacred Trinity of Sexy Christmas Songs": Santa Baby (1953), Baby it's Cold Outside (1949), and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1952). Each of those songs, of course, has it's especial appeal as an example of the SCS idea. I Saw Mommy, unfortunately, may not be appropriate for discussion here, this being a family blog.

Santa Baby, of course, has it's own appeal, but unfortunately, most renditions are merely imitation of the original, and while we deeply admire Eartha Kitt's ability to form a career out of a mild smoker's voice and the ability to purr on cue, a discussion of the imitation of these talents would invariably devolve into a discussion on feline science, instead of sticking to the topic at hand. This, of course, leaves us with the famous SCS duet, "Baby It's Cold Outside".

Baby, It's Cold Outside: Methodology



Judgement of Baby, It's Cold Outside (BICO) renditions can have many different parameters: instrumentation, quality of recording, presence of hair pomade in the male lead, etc. For our purposes here, as this is an introductory course, we will discuss the different version based on a more basic set of standards:

1) WHERE ARE THE MAN'S HANDS
2) WHERE ARE THE WOMAN'S HANDS
3) LEVEL OF BLUSH WHEN LISTENING WITH CHILDREN

An additional difficulty is selecting the renditions to judge. For our purposes, we'll discuss four that, we feel, typify the interpretations of this timeless classic.

Dean Martin



We of the SCS Study Society, International (SCSSSI: pronounced 'Scuzzy') honestly have a general dislike for Dean Martin: The oily, chuckling variety of male sexiness reminds us to much of the drunken lecherous uncle character so frequently figured into Christmas films. This general distaste is heightened in his interpretation of BICO, for a very simple reason: He is duetting against a group of backup singers. Aside from the general tastelessness of singing a duet without a duettist, in the context of BICO, this gives us an uncomfortable feeling of groupness, as if Dino were trying to seduce the Delrubio triplets. While we of the SCSSSI are fully willing to admit the possiblity that Dino may have actually seduced the Delrubio triplets, we feel uncomfortable imagining in connection with the birth of the Christ child. We feel that even openmindedness should have it's reasonable limits.

Where are the Man's Hands? - Unquestionably, wrapped around his mildly Freudian symbolic microphone, held creepily close to his lips.
Where are the Woman's Hands? - Doing a strangely robotic dance while pretending to play the guitar
Level of Blush When Listening With Children? - I believe you can be arrested for playing this to minors in most states.

Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart



How does one begin? Here's the thing. Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart both share the unique condition of being simultaneously being associated largely with their sex symbol status while managing to be slightly repulsive at the same time. And not in the intriguingly dangerous way that that condition might be applied to, say, Bob Dylan. One is simply left listening to them thinking 'I know someone really finds these two deeply stirring, but I hope it's not my neighbor.' Listening to the two, then, sing a song about how they may or not make out after finishing a cigarette and a laced drink is something like imagining Jessica Tandy and Peter Lorre having a secret rendezvous - only that would be funny, in a strange way. And this isn't.

Where are the Man's Hands? - Desperately working to reattach his drooping eye-socket to it's proper location on his face.
Where are the Woman's Hands? - Making you hot cocoa while waiting for the sugar cookies to be done, without getting her calico apron dirty. Only sexy.
Level of Blush When Listening With Children? - You kidding? We recommend this as a way to help children sleep on Christmas Eve.

Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone



Okay.... well, here's the thing. Zooey Deschanel's rendition is playful, understated, refreshingly naive, with just the right intimations of cheekiness to let us know that she's batting her eyelashes, here and there. In a sense, she is the ideal 'Mouse' for the song. But, the other side is Leon Redbone. And while we have no real issue with Mr Redbone, when singing in a duet, he sounds... well, snickering and very drunk. It's sort of like, you're listening to someone sing a sizzling love duet with WC Fields. And, more than this, Mr Redbone sounds awfully old - and Ms Deschanel sounds even younger than she actually is. This makes us squirm a bit too much to enjoy this duet as much as Ms Deschanel would otherwise deserve. However, given that this comes from the Elf soundtrack, and that your alternative is to remember Ms Deschanel singing it in duet with Will Ferrel in tights, one is left to make their own judgement over which version ought, perhaps, to receive more radio play.

Where are the Man's Hands? - Wrapped loosely around a tumbler of bourbon.
Where are the Woman's Hands? - One has no idea, but one is deeply curious to find out, which is exactly as it should be.
Level of Blush When Listening With Children? - On the surface, it's clean, and the playful oboe line is distractingly whimisical enough to allow the song to work on multiple levels.

Harry Connick, Jr. and Leeanne Womack



Despite a deep affection for some of the swing stars of the past, we here at the SCSSSI hold no meaningful relationship with Mr. Connick. And to be perfectly frank, we don't really even remember who Ms Womack is - we believe she has some tenuous relationship with boot-scooting and American Idol, but remain convinced that these suppositions are at the very least incomplete. Nonetheless, this version receives high marks with us. Ms Womack's breathiness would be campy but for Mr. Connick's rich Nawlins patter, and Harry's understated performance and occaisional devolution into PSA-like alternate lyrics would feel gosh-darnish but for the fact that Ms Womack sounds continuously like she's just getting a long enough break from... whatever they're doing... to catch her breath. And that's how it ought to be with a SCS. Rowr!

Where are the Man's Hands? - Ummm... ask your mother
Where are the Woman's Hands? - No, really, go ask your mother, I'm not telling you.
Level of Blush When Listening With Children? - This could be the perfect opportunity to have 'the Talk'.

4 comments:

Amanda said...

You are, without a doubt, the biggest dork evah. :)

Jeanne said...

I never liked "Baby It's Cold Outside" until I heard Zooey and Will Farrell sing it together... my 16-year-old daughter says the lyrics are "creepy."

Jason Gignac said...

Amanda - BUT! This post DOES beat my long moaning diatribe about the little match girl last year, right?

Ms Jeanne - Zooey is a very cute singer, and it is adorable in the movie - I didn't like most of the movie, but that scene was cute. The lyrics CAN be a little creepy. Particularly depending on the singer.

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