Ray Charles And Betty Carter, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

Written by December 19th, 2011 at 9:37 am

In 1960, following the pop success of “What’d I Say,” Ray Charles signed a new record deal with ABC-Paramount. A new five-volume box set, Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles, from Concord Music Group covers this era, which followed his productive years at Atlantic Records.

Charles’ post-”What’d I Say” career can be characterized by an exploration of a bigger and more orchestral sound, not necessarily leaving behind R&B, but adding more ornate country and jazz productions to his grand vision for popular music.

It wasn’t long after Charles left his friends and supporters Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic for the bigger pastures of ABC-Paramount that he and jazz vocalist Betty Carter tackled the holiday classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

First released in January 1962 as ABC-10298, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with “We’ll Be Together Again” on the flip side) would go on to appear on the LP, Ray Charles And Betty Carter, released in August 1961. The single did not become a runaway hit like “Georgia On My Mind” and “Hit The Road, Jack,” both released in the early years of his ABC career, but it did manage to make it into the Top 100. According to Billy Vera’s Singular Genius liner notes, it was “inescapable on the nation’s jukeboxes and on jazz radio in early 1962.”

But in 1962, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was already close to being two decades old, having had a long history as an entertainment industry party song, Oscar-winning motion picture hit, and a duet for some of the day’s biggest stars like Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting (1949), Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan (1949), and Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton (1952).

The tune was composed by Frank Loesser, a New York-born songwriter who worked in Hollywood and on Broadway, penning classics like “Heart And Soul” in 1938 and composing the music and lyrics to Guys And Dolls in 1950.

In 1944, Loesser wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as a duet to sing with his wife. After performing it at a housewarming party, the couple became “instant parlor room stars” and began singing it at other entertainment industry parties, as recounted in the biography written by their daughter, Susan Loesser, A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life; A Portrait by His Daughter.

Loesser and his wife split up the song’s dialogue, playing the male “wolf” and female “mouse,” as the parts were dubbed in the original sheet music.

After five years of singing the tune together, Loesser surprised his wife when he sold “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to MGM in 1948 to be used in the romantic comedy film, Neptune’s Daughter. Filmed partly in Florida and filled with polo and bathing suits, it hardly intimated the song’s future holiday success. But, the tune caught on, with two performances in the film — by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban and, in reversed roles, by Betty Garrett and Red Skelton — and picked up the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1949.

According to Susan Loesser’s biography, one reason her father sold the song was to get out from under its shadow. “If I don’t let go of ‘Baby’ I’ll begin to think I can never write another song as good as I think this one is,” he tells his disappointed wife in the book.

On June 14, 1961, Ray Charles and Betty Carter entered United Studios in Hollywood to cut “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” giving the song a full arrangement by Marty Paich. It opens with strangely-ominous horn calls and Charles’ piano responses, before Carter opens with the first line, “I really can’t stay.” Charles then comes in, speaking as if he’s tired and greeting his wife reluctantly after a long day at the office, “Betty. It’s cold outside.” Carter sings like a bird in the high register, while Charles at one point growls his line with sexual innuendo.

The song certainly endures today as a popular holiday duet, with recent covers by James Taylor and Natalie Cole, Norah Jones and Willie Nelson, and this year entering the indie lexicon with Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s version for A Very She & Him Christmas, where they make it a sped-up, reverb-y ’50s hipster romp. (Deschanel also sang the song in a shower scene, along with an intruding Will Farrell, in the movie Elf, and with Leon Redbone for the film’s soundtrack.)

But, of all the versions (and I must admit I’m especially partial to Ella and Louis Jordan’s), the original must go down as the all-time great. NPR tracked down the very rare recording of Frank and Lynn Loesser’s original duet when they interviewed Susan Loesser in 2006.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

Mouse: I really can’t stay.
Wolf: But baby, it’s cold outside!
Mouse: I’ve got to go ‘way–
Wolf: But baby, it’s cold outside!
Mouse: This evening has been–
Wolf: Been hoping that you’d drop in.
Mouse: So very nice.
Wolf: I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice.
Mouse: My mother will start to worry–
Wolf: Beautiful, what’s your hurry?
Mouse: And father will be pacing the floor.
Wolf: Listen to the fireplace roar!
Mouse: So really I’d better scurry.
Wolf: Beautiful, please don’t hurry.
Mouse: Well maybe just a half a drink more.
Wolf: Put some records on while I pour.
Mouse: The neighbors might think–
Wolf: But baby, it’s bad out there.
Mouse: Say, what’s in this drink?
Wolf: No cabs to be had out there.
Mouse: I wish I knew how–
Wolf: Your eyes are like starlight now.
Mouse: To break the spell.
Wolf: I’ll take your hat. Your hair looks swell.
Mouse: I ought to say, “No, no, no, sir!”
Wolf: Mind if I move in closer?
Mouse: At least I’m gonna say that I tried.
Wolf: What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
Mouse: I really can’t stay.
Wolf: Oh, baby, don’t hold out.
Mouse: Ah, but it’s–
Wolf: Cold outside…

Mouse: I simply must go!
Wolf: But baby, it’s cold outside!
Mouse: The answer is no!
Wolf: But baby, it’s cold outside.
Mouse: The welcome has been–
Wolf: How lucky that you dropped in!
Mouse: So very nice and warm.
Wolf: Look out the window at that storm.
Mouse: My sister will be suspicious.
Wolf: Gosh, your lips look delicious.
Mouse: My brother will be there at the door.
Wolf: Waves upon a tropical shore!
Mouse: My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious.
Wolf: Gosh, your lips are delicious.
Mouse: Well, maybe just a cigarette more.
Wolf: Never such a blizzard before…

Mouse: I’ve got to get home.
Wolf: But baby, you’d freeze out there.
Mouse: Say, lend me your comb.
Wolf: It’s up to your knees out there.
Mouse: You’ve really been grand–
Wolf: Your eyes are like starlight now.
Mouse: But don’t you see–
Wolf: How can you do this thing to me?
Mouse: There’s bound to be talk tomorrow.
Wolf: Think of my lifelong sorrow–
Mouse: At least there will be plenty implied.
Wolf: If you caught pneumonia and died.
Mouse: I really can’t stay.
Wolf: Get over that old doubt.
Mouse: Ah, but–
Wolf: Baby, it’s
Both: Cold outside…

Written by Frank Loesser

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