Sex: the thing that takes up the least amount of time and causes the most amount of trouble. [John Barrymore]
Welcome in. So, I got this email on the weekend and spent an unusual amount of time thinking about it. Okay, maybe not unusual...I do tend to overthink things...but it has to do with a song that's not Christmas-y but does get played only at this time of year.
I'm talking about “Baby It's Cold Outside”. Whether you like the song or not, you have probably noticed that its lyrics are a little “dirty”. Basically, a guy is trying to persuade a woman to stay for another drink, even though she's ready to leave. Or says she is. What prompted this train of thought – or over-thought – on an otherwise tinsel-sprinkled weekend? An email from a listener, Pat. Here it is:
I have been listening to CHFI and I know that you and Mike have recorded a version of "Baby It's Cold Outside", but I do want to mention that although I love the tune of this song by both you and other artists, I always find the lyrics disturbing. In a society that says "No means No" in the relationships between young couples on university campuses and elsewhere, these lyrics encourage the use of alcohol to overwhelm a woman who wants to say NO. I'm not sure that I would necessarily encourage censorship but a comment by a radio broadcaster as to the lyrics not being acceptable within Canadian laws might be an idea... (I'm the mother of three young men so I feel the messages they get from the media are confusing and contradictory and I wonder how they are supposed to find their way in relationships.)
I responded to Pat's email personally and with more brevity than what follows. But I hope she'll read this, too.
I've always thought this song – one with which I've more than a passing acquaintance - a little naughty. But unlawful? No. The phrase “No Means No” is of course absolute, but a lyric in the song that goes “I ought to say, 'no no no' sir - at least I'm gonna say that I tried...” illustrates as clearly as any line in the song that this is a playful exchange between two adults. Whether it's Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton, the cast of Glee, Bette Midler and James Caan, Robert Palmer and Carney Wilson, Darius Rucker and Sheryl Crow, Michael Bublé and Idina Menzel or (yep) Drew Carey and Shirley Jones...the song has never been about date rape.
Even in these times when the term is being heard so frequently as more women are bravely stepping forward to tell their stories, it's not wrong to play this song. There's a difference between naughty and dirty, suggestive and slimy. Believe me, we know it and don't take the weight of what we play on the air on CHFI lightly. In the past few years, certain artists have had their music pulled in light of allegations of wrongdoing. Most of them have had to do with their treatment of women. We take this stuff seriously.
But if we were to pull every song with suggestive lyrics, we'd be left with a lot of instrumentals. Just Google the words for most of the songs nominated for Grammy Awards on Friday. That “maiden aunt” referred to in “Baby It's Cold Outside” would drop dead if she read them. Kids need to be taught right from wrong long before they start listening to music and parsing the lyrics. Just as there were when we were teens (“Kiss You All Over”, “Tonight's The Night”, “Afternoon Delight” and “Like a Virgin” to name a few), there will always be songs that raise eyebrows. Pushing envelopes and making us ask questions are what art is supposed to do, and it's up to us how we filter those things to which we and our children are exposed.
Although Pat's email raises questions that have been asked before – not necessarily of us, though - we do think these things through and I thought you should know that. As Pat mentioned, Mike and I do a pretty good/hammy version of the song (originally written by a husband to sing to/with his wife) that you can endure or enjoy here.
I'd be lying if I didn't say that after all of these Cosby allegations that have surfaced in the past few months (although they've been floating around for decades) I didn't wonder if the “hey, what's in this drink?” line would have to go. But here I defer to the bosses at NBC.
With all of the stuff hitting the fan there these days (after all, this is the network that was practically saved by Dr. Huxtable and his family), for the Peacock Network to decide it was okay to have Seth MacFarlane and Sara Bareilles sing that very song last week at the Rockefeller Tree Lighting shows me that when it comes to “Baby It's Cold Outside”...baby, it's cool. And thanks to fellow broadcasters – two generations' worth – Lisa Brandt and Lauren Davis for their input on this one.
(Announcer voice): And now, back to our previously scheduled songs about a cheerful but rather suspicious morbidly obese man breaking into our homes after surreptitiously watching children 24/7 to make sure they were being “good”.