World’s Worst Songs: “Baby It’s Cold Outside”

Please enjoy this lovely photo of a snowstorm by Peter Griffin (no, not that one) from

Between now and Christmas, World’s Worst Songs will single out some of the season’s ickiest perennials, starting with a song that has nothing to do with Christmas, but which gets most of its airplay this season. If you’d like to nominate something crappy for a future installment, please put it in the comments.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” first became a hit in 1949—and not even in the winter. Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting had the most popular version, which first charted in May. Versions by Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark and by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan also hit the top 10 on the charts of that era, while versions by Sammy Kaye’s orchestra and rural parodists Homer and Jethro charted further down. The song had been around since 1944, but few people heard it until writer Frank Loesser sold it to MGM for the movie Neptune’s Daughter (and won an Oscar for it). Since then, it’s been recorded by dozens of artists. But 60 years of ubiquity doesn’t change the fact that it is one of the World’s Worst Songs.

And that’s because “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is about a sexual predator trying to score.

When Loesser wrote the song, he gave each of the two vocal parts a name: the male is the “wolf,” while the female is the “mouse.” It’s pretty clear who’s intended to have the upper hand. The wolf keeps insisting that the mouse stay a little longer, and the mouse keeps trying to get away. It all seems pretty innocent until the mouse says, “Gee, what’s in this drink?” A roofie, maybe? From that moment on, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is mighty uncomfortable to listen to. You find yourself wishing the girl would kick the guy in the groin and get the hell out of there before she ends up ravished.

On this year’s new John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John Christmas album, the two stars take a cue from last year’s A Very She and Him Christmas and swap the gender roles. Make me choose and I’ll take Zooey Deschanel/M. Ward version (if “neither” isn’t an option).

  • arensb

    Amen. I love me some old-time winter/Christmas/solstice songs, but this one makes me uncomfortable every time I hear it ever since I actually paid attention to the lyrics.

  • notthere56

    The best version of this song is by Skeeter Davis and Don Bowman, one of the all-time great country comedians.

  • Thomas

    To me, no Christmas song is as blood-curdlingly awful as that recent country ‘perennial’…’Christmas Shoes.’

  • Rob Wynne

    Someone once pointed out to me that the song can be made even creepier by simply reversing the pronouns:

    “You really can’t stay”
    “But baby, it’s cold outside…”
    “You’ve got to go away.”
    “But it’s cold outside!”

  • Beau

    No, sorry. This is awesome. When sung by the right people — say, Buster Poindexter and Sigourney Weaver …

  • DwDunphy

    As I twirl my mustache…bwahh haahh haah! The deed to the ranch shall be mine, Pearl Pureheart!

    “Say, what’s in this drink?”


  • DwDunphy

    Yeah, I don’t see myself being offended if Zooey is being “fresh” with me.

  • jo

    Dean Martin version is best, and probably the least predatorial as I hear DM couldn’t get an erection when drunk.

  • Mordalo

    I’ve always wanted someone to reverse the roles, with the woman trying to convince some guy to stay. Imagine Pink or *shudder* Courtney Love in the dominant role.

  • mikesensei

    Interesting argument, but I always liked this song. I
    think it’s clear the “I really can’t stay” singer wants to stay but is
    worried what family and neighbors will think. Granted, in a modern
    context, “the answer is no” should end the conversation and “what’s in
    this drink?” conjures thoughts of roofies more than extra rum in the egg
    nog. But every performance I’ve heard makes it sound like both
    characters are having a great time. I’ll save my ire for “More Than Words,” the Triumph Of the Will of date-rape songs and a masterpiece of evil.

    I first
    learned to love “Cold Outside” when I heard Claudia Schmidt sing a role-reversed version with her guitarist at the Ark in the ’80s. Before
    that, the only version I knew was that popular but strange Dean Martin
    version, where double-tracking on the female part makes it sound like
    Dino’s trying to seduce a set of twins.

  • Jeffrey Thames

    The “rapey” (their word and mine) tone of “Cold Outside” was addressed a few weeks ago on my favorite television show currently in production:

    And here’s a better use of the title, something I played on the air this week.

  • Jeffrey Thames