Frank Loesser prospered writing songs for the movies, for the war and for Broadway. As John Bush writes in his Allmusic profile of Loesser, “it appears that Frank Loesser had several careers packed into his one life.”
Loesser wrote “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” in April 1942. It was only the second song for which he had written both the words and the music; the first had preceded it by three years. Yet it made him a celebrity. In her memoir/biography of her father, Susan Loesser writes: “Schoolchildren sang it in assembly; housewives hummed it while they ironed; the Office of War Information, concerned that the public might tire of it prematurely, limited its performance to once every four hours….The song sold over two million records and a million copies of sheet music.” That’s the cover of Susan Loesser’s book on the right.
Mark Steyn’s admiration of Loesser’s work is manifest throughout his 2000 musical history Broadway Babies Say Goodnight: Musicals Then & Now. Loesser of course contributed the words and music to the incomparable Guys and Dolls. Mark opened his Wall Street Journal review of a new study of Loesser with a distincty Steynian post-9/11 tribute:
Frank Loesser isn’t as famous a songwriter as Irving Berlin or Cole Porter, but, unlike them, he’s apparently responsible for this whole clash-of- civilizations thing. A few decades back, a young middle-class Egyptian spending some time in the U.S. had the misfortune to be invited to a dance one weekend and was horrified at what he witnessed:
“The room convulsed with the feverish music from the gramophone. Dancing naked legs filled the hall, arms draped around the waists, chests met chests, lips met lips . . .”
Where was this den of debauchery? Studio 54 in the 1970s? Haight-Ashbury in the summer of love? No, the throbbing pulsating sewer of sin was Greeley, Colo., in 1949. As it happens, Greeley, Colo., in 1949 was a dry town. The dance was a church social. And the feverish music was “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” written by Frank Loesser and sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban in the film “Neptune’s Daughter.” Revolted by the experience, Sayyid Qutb decided that America (and modernity in general) was an abomination, returned to Egypt, became the leading intellectual muscle in the Muslim Brotherhood, and set off a chain that led from Qutb to Zawahiri to bin Laden to the Hindu Kush to the Balkans to 9/11.
I’m a reasonable chap, and I’d be willing to meet the Islamists halfway on a lot of the peripheral stuff like burqas for women, nuking the Zionists, beheading the sodomites and whatnot. But you’ll have to pry “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from my cold dead hands and my dancing naked legs. A world without Frank Loesser and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” would be very cold indeed.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been in the news thanks to a couple from — say it ain’t so! — Minneapolis, Josiah Lemanski and Lydia Liza. Lemanski and Liza have performed a task with a high degree of difficulty. They’ve rewritten the song to drain the wit and passion from it in the service of the party line on sex as prescribed in the precincts of the left.
In the Lemanski/Liza version of the song, the man no longer seeks to persuade his lady friend to succumb and she no longer engages with him. Lemanski and Liza render the song stupid and limp as a noodle. They have vandalized an American classic. They have turned it into an anthem for Pajama Boy.
The Star Tribune, of course, has dutifully celebrated the local angle. Speaking as a native Minnesotan, I will only say that this is not what we need — neither the rewrite nor the Star Tribune’s celebration of its success. Both of them confirm us in our well-earned sense of cultural inferiority. The gruesome twosome from Minneapolis have demonstrated how to destroy what was previously thought to be an indestructible classic of the Great American Songbook.
Revisiting the original song in light of the rewrite, Mark Steyn asks a rhetorical questions: “God Almighty: Is there anything Generation Snowflake can’t wreck?” Michel Bregande takes up the rewrite in “Baby, It’s Dumb Outside.” Heather Hunter explicates the text in “The Millennial Pushback on ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside.’”
Mark observes that “one can see why a 72-year-old standard might become an object of fascination. In its first couple of decades, this song was popular, but now it’s everywhere.” I thought I’d post a few renditions of the song that may not be quite so well known in the hope that they contribute to the joy of the season.
Here are Frank Loesser et ux. laying down the template. How can you not love this?
Here are Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting giving it a spin.
Ray Charles and Betty Carter made it new on their self-titled 1961 album. They turned the song into a number one hit on the R&B charts. The great Ray Charles!
Taking off from Charles and Carter, Al Hirt and Ann-Margaret recorded the song for their 1964 pairing on Beauty and the Beast. My dad loved this album.