From what I can tell this song has less connection to Christmas than “Frosty The Snowman” or “Winter Wonderland” in that it’s hardly even about winter. I’ve discussed before that for a song to be a Christmas song certain criteria have to be met. 1942’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” meets none of them. Originally written for a gala event by Frank Loesser and performed by him and his wife, the song first went public for the movie Neptune’s Daughter, a romantic comedy that from what I can tell doesn’t even take place on Christmas and is about the comedy of errors involving a visiting polo player, a male masseuse, and the two sisters they’re trying to woo.
That leads to the question of just what the heck this is doing as a Christmas staple, which is granted the only way 1940s music usually gets kept on the radio. It’s also a song that has a number of critics, mostly against the male in the piece. The song is what’s known as a “call and response” song, in which two characters are playing off each other’s comments. Another example would be “The Girl Is Mine” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, which is about as Christmas as this song. In it, one person is trying to convince the other to stay despite the second party thinking they should go home. A little research softened me a bit on the song, at least compared to harsher critics, but I still have misgivings despite it’s lack of holiday connection.
The version we’re going with (unless it gets taken down or the YouTube poster goes away) is by Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting, the credit is corrected in the annotations, because I can’t find the better version or who even performed it. There are so many covers it’s only slightly harder to find that animated A Christmas Carol that I love so much than the preferred duet of this song. (I’ll find out who they are eventually anyway and I’m not giving up of relocating my favorite toon Scrooge.)
I would be remiss not to mention a recent remake by another married couple, who tried to counteract the more questionable content since it fits into my review. So let’s go into that first.
I’ll give Liza and Lemanski credit for trying. Certain, and especially nowadays, some of what…actually I need to name our characters properly because it doesn’t have to be male and female. In fact in Neptune’s Daughter there is a second version where the woman and man switch roles as the guy-crazy sister tries to keep the guy around. Of course the “wolf” and “mouse” (as they’re listed in the score) are usually male and female respectively, as was the case with the first couple in the movie, but who says it can’t switch sides? Every other cover I’ve ever heard apparently.
[UPDATE: 12/5/2018: While finding a new recording of this “updated” version people in the comments suggested it sounds more like she’s a very clingy date and he’s trying to get rid of her. I don’t think that’s what they were going for, but now I can’t unhear it.]
Anyway, in this time of date rape drugs I understand that “what’s in this drink?” is going to raise some eyebrows. But while I do agree that the guy comes off too pushy for comfort let’s remember the time this song was created in. There were no date rape drugs, or at least weren’t known to have widespread use unless they used sleeping pills to rape her snoozing body, which is not what this guy is going for. While I’m not fool enough to believe pre-marital hanky panky wasn’t going on in the 1940s (especially after World War II was declared over, if only to break the long-standing tension) it was frowned upon in polite society and that’s where this story takes place. If you pay attention, especially with the selected cover, she seems to be trying to convince herself to go but wants to stay as much as the wolf wants her to. She may be wondering how much booze is in her cocktail but I don’t think they’re implying he gave the drink a Mickie. Granted right now I’m really glad there’s no known Bill Cosby cover. You know that would be buried faster than copies of Song Of The South.
As Songfacts points out, they do try to make it clear that this is the mouse’s decision by having her be the stronger voice, while the wolf is merely “whispering” what he knows she’s thinking to get her to stay and cuddle on the couch some more, despite how it may look to her reputation. It is unclear if they’re dating or engaged but it was still a stigma and the mouse appears to still be living with her parents, which back then might still happen to a woman in, say, her twenties or something. it wasn’t as derided as it would be today. But even giving this song a pass based on the fact that he probably isn’t trying to rape her, or that she may actually want to stay, he should still be on her side. Basically he’s saying that he doesn’t mind if she comes off as a “loose woman” based on the culture of the time because he wants her to stay, possibly until morning. Which granted could mean bedtime fun but he could also have a spare bed or willing to sleep on the couch. Again, it was a different time. They could just fall asleep cuddled on the couch and their necks be their punishment. He does come off as a little creepy even by 1940s standards but definitely by today’s. Maybe whomever performs the “mouse” in this song should remember than in her (or the occasional “his” if anyone ever tries that–hint hint) manner of “speaking” when singing the song. Make it sound like the wolf is just playing on her desire to stay as she tries to talk herself out of it.
While I appreciate what the remake was trying to do by having the wolf actually respect the mouse’s desire to go home, spending the night doesn’t have the same stigma today that it did back then and as mentioned the wolf isn’t necessarily messing with her drink. Also, we don’t know for sure if the mouse stays or leaves, while in the remake the woman is actually shown leaving. So this comes off more as a parody, intentional or not, of the original rather than trying to show respect for what the mouse wants, because again if you pay attention she seems to be trying to talk herself into going when she wants to spend more time with her beloved as well. Although I do like that the lyric that’s only controversial in modern culture is replaced by actually answering what’s in the darn drink. I tried pomegranate juice once. I didn’t care for it. It also kind of kills the point of the song. Mouse wants to go, wolf is totally fine with it. I heard there’s another parody where the man is actually trying to get the woman out of his apartment after a night of fooling around. Sure, our remake wolf is pushing for a second date, but this song lacks any tension, any romance, and misses the fact that the song is supposed to be about a couple who don’t want to leave each other, just that the wolf is more insistent than the mouse.
But I ask you again, why is this a Christmas staple? It doesn’t even have to be winter as even California isn’t immune to a cold night. Granted my nights get colder than theirs ever will because Connecticut has had 10s and even the occasional negative, while you’d have to go to northern Cali just to catch cold. It’s a cute, if not a little discomforting, song but nothing about it has any connection to Jesus, Santa, snow, reindeer, angels, or anything else usually tied to Christmas. Maybe that question will never be answered and the wolf will just join the guests demanding figgy pudding and declaring “tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” on the “not really appropriate for Christmas”.