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Nathaniel Rateliff and Julie Davis's "Baby It's Cold Outside" Survives Bans

If Santa were still young, he might look a bit like Nathaniel Rateliff.
If Santa were still young, he might look a bit like Nathaniel Rateliff. Brandon Marshall
The #MeToo-inspired tug-of-war over whether “Baby It’s Cold Outside” should be banned from the airwaves is not impacting radio play of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats' version of the song, says Chris Tetzeli of 7S Management, which represents the group. In that version, Rateliff sings the duet with longtime collaborator Julie Davis, the visionary Denver musician behind Bluebook.

The most recent debate over “Baby It’s Cold Outside” started when Cleveland radio personality Glen Anderson posted an explanation on Star 102’s website about why the station would no longer play the song.

“I gotta be honest, I didn't understand why the lyrics were so bad...until I read them,” he wrote on November 27. “Now, I do realize that when the song was written in 1944, it was a different time, but now while reading it, it seems very manipulative and wrong. The world we live in is extra sensitive now, and people get easily offended, but in a world where #MeToo has finally given women the voice they deserve, the song has no place.”

Radio stations across the United States followed suit, including Denver's KOSI 101.1, which initially quit playing the tune and then held a poll to decide its fate, ultimately bringing it back on air

"We value the opinion of all our listeners and appreciate the feedback we received,” says KOSI 101.1 program director Jim Lawson in a statement. “Respondents voted 95 percent in favor of us keeping the song as part of KOSI 101.1’s tradition of playing all of your holiday favorites. While we are sensitive to those who may be upset by some of the lyrics, the majority of our listeners have expressed their interpretation of the song to be non-offensive.”

“Baby It’s Cold Outside,” written by Frank Loesser in the ’40s, has long been a holiday favorite. Before being further popularized by Dean Martin, it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song from the 1949 movie Neptune’s Daughter, in which the number is sung by both a man pursuing a woman and a woman pursuing a man.

See the original context for yourself:

Davis disputes claims that the song promotes date rape. “I’ve been hearing all the noise about it,” she told Westword in an email. “But I’ve always thought of the song as an anthem of foreplay heading toward consensual sex.”

She says her perspective is summed up in a recent article, "End the War on ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’! It’s Feminist — Really," by Chris Willman in Variety, in which the author writes:
“‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ is the story of a woman doing battle — not with a guy who won’t take no for an answer, but with the expectations of a society that won’t take yes for an answer. The most critical word in the whole piece is ‘ought,’ as in, ‘I ought to say no, no, no sir.’ She isn’t trying to fend off advances — she is mouthing excuses so she can ‘at least… say that I tried.’ He won’t face judgment sneaking home, whereas she can tick off at least three family members who’ll notice when she sneaks in after hours. It’s not just the kinfolk but a nation of suspicious minds there at the door, waiting to sniff the cigarettes, booze and boys on her breath. At least two out of three of which she is explicitly the one asking for, by the way: ‘maybe just a cigarette more,’ she requests, along with ‘maybe just half a drink more.’ She is not being plied with alcohol — she is plying herself, with intoxicating stalling tactics she hopes will make the ‘spell’ of romance and sexual chemistry finally out-loom the specter of the family scowling behind the porch light.”
One reason Rateliff and Davis’s version might be faring well despite several radio stations taking the song out of rotation is that the duo reverses the traditional gender roles established in Martin’s popular version, and in their cover, Davis aggressively pursues a demure Rateliff instead.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” isn’t Rateliff’s only classic holiday-themed song with a surprising gender twist. He and the Night Sweats also recorded a swingy, sexy rendition of "Santa Baby." In it, Rateliff, in an even coyer voice, sings longingly to “Santa, baby” and “Santa, cutie,” about all the pleasures he’s denied himself for Christmas riches — a convertible, a duplex and more.

“Think of all the fun I’ve missed," he croons. "Think of all the fellows that I haven’t kissed.”

Catch Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats when they play their annual holiday concert with the Texas Gentlemen on December 19 and 20 at the Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue. 
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris