Saturday, December 24, 2011

A holiday treat

Thanks to the indispensable JES (who offered up a little playlist of seasonal songs for his regular readers a couple of days ago), I was led to this fascinating history of one of the greatest wintery songs, and one of the greatest of all duets, Baby, It's Cold Outside. It was composed by Frank Loesser, who wrote both music and lyrics, and is perhaps best known for the Damon Runyon musical Guys and Dolls. It seems he wrote this piece not for a show, but as an entertainment for his own house-warming party in 1944. For three years or so after that, he performed it regularly as a party piece with his first wife, Lynn, but the song enjoyed no commercial circulation. Eventually, realising that it was one of the best things he'd written and that he had to let it go out into the world, he sold the song to MGM who used it in an Esther Williams vehicle called Neptune's Daughter. It won the Oscar for Best Song in 1949, but apparently his wife wasn't best pleased about him having given up their private treasure.

I grew up with the classic version by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jourdan on the Ella and her Fellas anthology. More recently, I have come to like this Welsh transposition (they have the weather for it!) by Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews. [There are some fun live performances by this pair out there as well, of which this one seems to have the best picture quality.]

This version by Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell in Elf is rather sweet, too.

However, courtesy of that first link from JES - to the American Songwriter website - we can enjoy an extra special treat. This is where it all began: a rare recording from National Public Radio of Frank and Lynn Loesser singing their song. (Audio only, but magical.)

If you are still eager for more, the Songbook blog has a fairly comprehensive collection of videos of the numerous other recorded versions of this duet, and of a number of other seasonal favourites too - some hours of pleasant distraction.

Happy holidays, everyone!


JES said...

The Jones/Matthews version: quite nifty. (I like the staging symmetry, which starts with him, leg hooked over the big chair's left arm, and ends -- or almost ends -- with her in the chair, legs on the right arm.) It reminds me all over again, though, that Tom Jones and Albert Brooks are starting to converge in my mind like separated-at-birth twins.

Like you, I was honestly charmed by the story of the Loessers' original version. Wikipedia reports that he divorced Lynn in the mid-'50s, 7 or 8 years after the Oscar win, but I can't help wondering if that little betrayal of a private pleasure to the public marketplace continued to rankle with Mrs Loesser #1 for a long time afterwards.

If I were some decades younger, I'm pretty sure Zooey Deschanel would be on my Fantasy Girlfriends list. I haven't seen the sitcom she's currently starring in -- called something like The New Girl, maybe? -- but she seems utterly likable and smart in the films in which I've seen her. (I thought 500 Days of Summer, in which she plays the title character to Joseph-Gordon Levitt's protagonist, was a near-perfect pairing of lead actors.)

Froog said...

Ah yes, I also enjoyed 500 Days of Summer. Ms Deschanel seems to be enjoying a period of agelessness. I first saw her in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, which must be at least a dozen years ago now - but she doesn't seem to have changed at all.