John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

Baby It’s Cold Outside

Is this duet by Betty Carter & Ray Charles the best ever recorded?

By - Jan 9th, 2015 03:11 pm
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Ray Charles and Betty Carter

Ray Charles and Betty Carter

I had the pleasure of seeing both Betty Carter and Ray Charles — two great artists — back in the ‘80s, and I have a short tale about each you may find amusing. We’ll start with the really surreal one.

Walking through the Boston Store at Grand Avenue around lunchtime, I turned a corner to find none other than Ray Charles there with a tight little combo. He was playing and looking like he did this gig all the time. The disconnect couldn’t have been more confusing. Like the scene in Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles where Count Basie and His Orchestra are playing in the middle of the desert, it was both disorienting and perfect. It turns out Brother Ray was promoting a line of Pepsi related clothing that day, as that beloved corporation tried to wring every penny they could out of his popular TV ad. Uh huh…

Betty Carter played the Jazz Gallery on Center Street at least once and I watched the show, loving every minute. She was a stylist with a perfectly unique voice and delivery. No one before or since has done anything quite like it and you could tell she knew. After the show, she chatted with some women. It was loud and funny, so I couldn’t help eavesdropping. I heard her laughing as she bragged, “I didn’t go anywhere near the melody all night!” Hardly the thing most singers would brag about, but for this free jazz spirit it was a refreshing moment of liberation from everything proper and restrained. She and Ray were meant for each other.

When they got together to sing the classic, Baby It’s Cold Outside, they weren’t the first or the last, but they may have been the best. (I can only guess what Mae West & Rock Hudson did with it.) Written and composed by lyrical genius Frank Loesser to perform with his wife, Lynn Garland, it was intended as a duet between “Wolf “ and “Mouse” — it was actually marked like that on the score. Since their first performance it has gone on to be everybody’s favorite. It almost didn’t, as Lynn considered it her song and was quite upset when he let MGM use it in a film with another hot duo, Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams. (Again, I can only imagine what that was. I don’t want go down that particular Youtube rabbit hole.)

The song has been associated with Christmas and the holidays, but that’s a recent development. Before it was crooned by every American Idol also-ran, helping me dread Christmas even more, it was just a standard. In fact, the record it came from, Ray Charles & Betty Carter, was released in August, 1961. Not too cold then.

In the early 1980s, a local duet, Paul Cebar & Claudia Schmidt, did a very nice version of this song. It was released as a 45 on real old-school vinyl for Paul’s Just Think label. Had he lived past 1969, I imagine Frank Loesser would have been thrilled to be a writer on the same disc as me — my song, ˆThe Outskirts Of You” was the B-side.

Now, from the golden age of American song, an age of genius long gone and sorely missed by some, here’s a slab of lyric writing that has stood the test of time:

(I really can’t stay) But, baby, it’s cold outside
(I’ve got to go away) But, baby, it’s cold outside
(This evening has been) Been hoping that you’d drop in
(So very nice) I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice

(My mother will start to worry) You’re beautiful, what’s your hurry
(My father will be pacing the floor) Listen to the fireplace roar
(So really I’d better scurry) You’re beautiful, please don’t hurry
(Well, maybe just half a drink more) 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, no, sir) Mind if I move in closer
(At least I’m gonna say that I tried) What’s the sense of hurting my pride
(I really can’t stay) Baby, don’t hold doubt
[Both] Baby, it’s cold outside

(I simply must go) Baby, it’s cold outside
(The answer is no) Baby, it’s cold outside
(The welcome has been) How lucky that you dropped in
(So nice and warm) Look out the window at the 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
(But maybe just a cigarette more) Never such a blizzard before

(I got to get home) But, baby, you’d freeze out there
(Say lend me a coat) It’s up to your knees out there
(You’ve really been grand) I thrill when you touch my 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 doubt
[Both] Baby, it’s cold
[Both] Baby, it’s cold outside

Maybe the best duet ever? It has to be, I can’t even think of another when I’m listening to it. Hearing this almost makes me forget the brutal plunge to the bottom of the thermometer we have to endure on a yearly basis. I’m guessing it was probably inspired by a couple nights in the mid-forties out in California — what do they know about The Polar Vortex? The closest they ever got to snow was Ivory flakes drifting down from the catwalk above the soundstage. But human nature is the same wherever you go, so put this on an endless loop and sit in front of your fire, real or electronic, for another month or two. It’s all a dream and we can wake up next spring.

2 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: Baby It’s Cold Outside”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I continue to be just amazed that this version rarely has gotten radio play. The best by far. Never got to see/hear Ms. Carter but saw Brother Ray somewhere between 27 and 30 times. I know he performed it occasionally with one of the Raelettes, but unfortunately I never caught this one live. He did perform “People will Say We’re in Love” quite often during his later concert years. Thanks for the interesting insight, as your observations are right on.

  2. John Parrott says:

    …such a great song deserves a fine parody. And it got one!

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