Frank Loesser’s 1944 winter standard Baby It’s Cold Outside is not being played on some radio stations. While some people insist the song is a classic, the lyrics are especially controversial right now because we’re looking more closely than usual at suggestions of sexual harassment and assault. Here’s a link to yesterday’s USA Today article, which includes the complete lyrics:
I never heard the song until this week, when I learned about the controversy. Initially, I was repulsed, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. The song was written more than seventy years ago, when the scenario may have been perceived differently. I hope Mr. Loesser didn’t set out to endorse the type of selfishness I thought I found in the lyrics.
This controversy made me think of two more recent songs which were interpreted differently from the way the lyricists intended. Every Breathe You Take (1983), recorded by The Police, was written by Sting when he was recovering from a trauma in his personal life. Some people think of the song as a touching rubber stamp approval of commitment in a relationship, while actually it’s a cautionary tale about stalking and totalitarian state tactics. Sting has explained that, but it’s uncertain how many people care to listen to his side of the story after playing the song at their weddings. Gosh, this is awkward:
The 1993 Melissa Etheridge hit Come to My Window is another creative work which is a lot more complicated than most people think. Ms. Etheridge explained in her 2002 memoir, The Truth is…My Life in Love and Music, that the lyrics are a human nightmare, not a romantic message. If you aren’t too exhausted from clicking links, please take a look at what she actually wrote:
The public has been mistaken before.
Frank Loesser may have had only good intentions when he wrote Baby It’s Cold Outside. He may not have been thinking of manipulative people who care only about instant gratification, and if so it probably didn’t occur to him that someday his song would be associated with violence against women. He passed in 1969, and although he obviously can’t defend himself his daughter, Susan Loesser, has spoken to the news media about the controversy:
Although some radio stations have banned the song from their broadcasts, we still have a right to access recordings of Baby It’s Cold Outside in other places, such as YouTube and Spotify. We can think carefully, and reach our own conclusions about whether we want to enter the debate.
It’s possible Mr. Loesser’s song has become dated. Something that was meant innocently in 1944 (Say, what’s in this drink?) has taken on a different meaning. Although my first reaction was to call the song “vulgar,” I also understand the importance of being patient with the creative work of someone who lived during a different time. It’s Frank Loesser’s work, not mine, and I shouldn’t risk unfairly trashing it.