Who Sang It Best? "Baby It's Cold Outside"

Updated on February 8, 2019
FlourishAnyway profile image

Music enthusiast FlourishAnyway introduces some fun competition into the holidays by ranking cover versions of popular Christmas songs.

Some of the best known Christmas songs have been covered by a variety of artists. We look at the classic tune, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," by Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer, then rank 14 contenders. Who do you prefer?
Some of the best known Christmas songs have been covered by a variety of artists. We look at the classic tune, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," by Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer, then rank 14 contenders. Who do you prefer? | Source

Now-Scandalous Christmas Song: Is It Creepy or Are We Overreacting?

Mention this song and you're bound to have a disagreement on your hand. Express a strong opinion about it one way or another, and you're begging for an all-out argument. Is it possible that what how one interprets the song says as much about the listener as it does about the music itself?

There's not much middle ground when it comes to this controversial Christmas song. Some say it's about a man who doesn't understand "no" and uses Rohypnol to engage in non-consensual sex with his date. Others say that's nonsense, we're rewriting history using a cultural context that differs from the era in which the song was recorded. Either way, some radio stations have now taken this holiday song off the air.

Since "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was first released seven decades ago, artists have interpreted this song with varying degrees of sex appeal. Their musical style, quality, and even some of the lyrics also vary. Do you ever wonder, "Who sang it best?" Here's your chance to step up and compare their efforts.

Reader Poll

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is ...

See results

"Who Sang It Best?": Here's How It Works

With many artists singing the same Christmas tunes, the sleigh has become overloaded. Let's rank them and cross some versions off the list.

In the "Who Sang It Best?" series, we start with the original rendition of popular songs that have been covered multiple times. Then we present a set of contenders, artists who have released cover versions in any genre. Some cover versions honor the original artist's style while others are reinterpretations.

Since the original song version is typically considered "the standard," we don't include it in our overall rankings. Instead, we display it first for comparison, with up to 14 contenders presented next in ranked order. Vote on your preferences:

  • Do you prefer the original song or a cover version?

  • Of all the cover versions, which you prefer?

The Classic Song

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer (1949)

Back in the 1940s, prominent Broadway music composer Frank Loesser wrote this song to perform with his wife, Lynn Garland, at celebrity parties as a signal that the event was ending. Artists were expected to entertain guests, and the couple was invited to all the A-list parties based on the promise of its performance as a closing act.

Loesser sold MGM the rights to use the song in the 1949 romantic comedy, Neptune's Daughter, thus angering the Mrs. The tune became wildly popular, however, and Loesser won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

At least eight versions of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" were released by various artists in 1949 alone. The one by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer stayed on the charts for nearly five months. Note that there's nothing in the song's lyrics that reference Christmas per se. Many people mistake the singers in this song for Doris Day and Bing Crosby, but those two never recorded "Baby, It's Cold Outside" together.

Mercer was a well-known singer-songwriter and co-founder of Capitol records, while Whiting was a popular singer for the record label. In this classic version, both the prominent big band sound and chirpiness of Whiting's voice make the whole creative effort seem more campy than seductive. Mercer even chuckles at one point (2:32/"How can you do this thing to me?").

The two artists merrily sing over one another, giving the impression that perhaps the man is pursuing her jauntily around the room. The rapidly increasing pace signals that the cat and mouse game between them is reaching a decision (or crisis?) point. But it's an ending we'll never know.

In years since, artists have delivered cover versions of this song that include role reversals, male duets, sexually amped up renditions, and politically correct editions. Choose your favorite below.

Reader Poll

Which version would you rather listen to -- Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer's classic song or your favorite cover version?

See results

The Contenders

Cover Versions in Ranked Order

1. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Al Hirt & Ann-Margaret (1964)

Far and away, my favorite version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is this 1964 rendition. It features the breathy, seductive voice of Ann-Margaret and the pleading reassurance of Al Hirt. Ann-Margaret is a singer, dancer, and actress who was initially regarded as the "female Elvis." Al Hirt, old enough to be her father, was a prominent bandleader and trumpet player. Together the two dance a vocal tango.

Hirt portrays the part of the male narrator in a way that is debonair rather than overbearing, and it is clear from Ann-Margaret's sultry vocalizations (e.g., sighs, mmms) that at least in this version, the narrator is no victim. The two execute their song in a clean call-and-response pattern instead of singing over one another. (Seduction should not be rushed.)

Mutually flirting, the pair play a cat and mouse game, but considering how Ann-Margaret purrs her way through her lyrics, you may find yourself wondering at some point who's the mouse here.

2. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Idina Menzel & Michael Bublé (2014)

If the lyrics of the "regular" version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" cause you great angst, then Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé offer a family-friendly version with sanitized lyrics. Bublé's voice is gorgeously Sinatra-like while Menzel's is playful and feminine without being spill-out-of-the-top-of-your-bra sexy. What works especially well are their harmonies.

When listening to their "clean" version of the song, see if you notice some of the modified lyrics:

  • "Maybe just a soda pop more" instead of "But maybe just a cigarette more"
  • "Say, what's that -- a wink?" instead of "Say, what's in this drink?"
  • "I ought to get home for dinner, so it's time for me to cast you aside" instead of "I ought to say 'no, no, no, sir' At least I'm gonna say that I tried"
  • "I simply must go, so thanks for the show" instead of "I simply must go / The answer is 'No'" and
  • "But maybe just another dance more" instead of "But maybe just a cigarette more"

Michael Bublé is a Grammy Award-winning Canadian singer known for his jazz throwback style that resembles some of the greatest crooners of yesteryear. Idina Menzel is a Tony Award-winning Broadway actress perhaps most widely known for the triumphant song "Let It Go" from the 2013 animated film Frozen, a song which earned her an Oscar as well as a Grammy.

3. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Lady Gaga (featuring Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) (2013)

What a shame! I'm not talking about the fact that this version was performed on a family special during prime time (Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular on ABC in November 2013). Rather, I think it's a shame that this saucy, creative cover has never been released as a single. Neither, for that matter, has Lady Gaga's duet of the song with Tony Bennett. Their version appeared in a Barnes & Noble commercial in 2015.

Lady Gaga has a strong sense of who she is artistically and is one of the best selling musicians in history. She's been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (2015), has snagged multiple Grammys, a Golden Globe Award, and many other accolades. Thus, if anyone was going to effectively flip this song on its head, it would be Gaga.

You'll find a charming reversal of roles in this cover of the controversial Christmas classic, with the woman trying to convince her suitor to stay over. This version is particularly flirtatious and fun, with Lady Gaga expertly offering vocal intonations that beautifully differ from the original. Although Gordon-Leavitt wanders a little off key in parts, we should cut him a break because he's foremost an actor and filmmaker.

By not releasing this as a single with a strong male vocal partner, Lady Gaga deprives her fans of her talent.

4. "Baby, It's Cold Out There" by Darren Criss & Chris Colfer (2011)

This cover version features two men, and it's absolutely adorable with or without the accompanying video. Welcome to the LGBT-friendly twenty-first century.

On Glee, a musical comedy-drama television series, actor and singer Chris Colfer played an openly gay character, and Broadway standout Darren Criss played his romantic interest. Colfer, the one with the angelic voice who sings the traditionally female role, plays it coy while Criss demonstrates just the right amount of confident persuasiveness. Neither overplays his role vocally, thereby resulting in a classy rather than seductive delivery of this Christmas favorite—beautiful.

And since many people ask whether they are both gay in real life, Criss is not while Colfer is. Not that it matters.

5. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Haley Reinhart & Casey Abrams (2011)

Two former American Idol contestants team up in this bluesy, jazz-filled edition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams render their cover version as it's meant to be—a conversation bouncing about between two people, neither abruptly cutting the other off. Abrams plays his narrator role in an understated manner, and their chemistry doesn't sizzle so much as it simmers. In real life, the two are good friends, and in this cover that shines through.

6. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Dean Martin (1959)

Between the buoyant background chorus and perky instrumentals, this classic 1950s tune signals this is the fella your mother warned you about. Dean Martin was known for his boundless confidence and charisma, thus he was an excellent fit for singing the male narrator role. He convincingly portrays the narrator as self-assured, well rehearsed with the compliments, and as having an answer for every objection.

The song's snappy vocals, however, are a little too quick through key phrases (e.g., "if you got pneumonia and died"). Additionally, the use of a female chorus is less convincing than if a strong female narrator had been used. For this reason, I'm partial to Martin's 2006 duet with country songbird Martina McBride singing the female role. It was released after Martin's death and was made possible thanks only to technology.

7. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Darius Rucker & Sheryl Crow (2014)

This cover features a delightful pairing of rocker Sheryl Crow and country star Darius Rucker ("Hootie" of Hootie & the Blowfish fame). The background instrumentals let the Grammy Award-winning vocalists take the spotlight. Crow's cherubic voice is balanced nicely by Rucker's low, gravelly vocals. I could do without the extra conversation during the intro and outro, but it's otherwise a noteworthy rendition.

8. "Baby, It's Cold Out There" by Brett Eldredge & Meghan Trainor (2016)

Grammy Award winner Meghan Trainor lends her golden voice to this Christmas classic, and she is joined by ever-persuasive country crooner Brett Eldredge. Together they form a perfect vocal pair in a rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Out There" that is particularly upbeat with a quick pace.

While the quality of their vocals is impeccable, I found the rapid-fire nature of their verbal back-and-forth to be a little overwhelming. What's the rush here? The speed of question-asking seems to pick up just after the half-way point. As a result, rather than dazzling, this version comes across as a bit quarrelsome. Slow it down a little!

9. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Jacob Whitesides & Orion Carloto

With more than 1.5 million hits on YouTube, this jazz-inspired cover by singer-songwriter Jacob Whitesides and YouTube star Orion Carloto doesn't rush a good thing. Whitesides, however, doesn't employ much vocal fluctuation, perhaps in an attempt to portray a male narrator who can comfortably lull his date into staying the night. (Carloto's voice has more lilt and thus carries the song.)

Even though both performers could have added expressiveness to certain phrases, this cover represents a laudable delivery of "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

10. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Leon Redbone & Zooey Deschanel (2003)

When this cover was featured in the Christmas comedy, Elf, actress Zooey Deschanel didn't yet label herself as a singer. She had been too shy about her singing to share her talent, but that changed as a result of her appearance in the movie.

This cover of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is slower paced than many, and it is far superior to Deschanel's later release of the song in 2011 as a part of the She & Him duo. In this 2003 cover of the classic, Deschanel's voice is soft, airy, and conversationally-paced without being overly seductive. Leon Redbone's deep voice, however, tips the delicate power balance in their cat and mouse game, and the effect is low-key creepy to me. Redbone is a retired singer-songwriter, actor, and voiceover actor.

11. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Lady Antebellum (2009)

As much as I wanted this country version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to work, it comes across more as a cheap hook-up in the making than an intimate conversation between two would-be lovers. The male vocalist seems inexplicably restrained emotionally. His casual ad-libbing at the end of the song suggests the narrator's lack of sentimental investment in the woman he's trying to seduce: "Stay right here, baby. You ain't gotta be nowhere." While Hillary Scott's vocals are impressibly flexible, their joint singing of the refrain "Oh, but it's cold outside" especially is strikingly unharmonious.

Lady Antebellum is a Grammy Award-winning country group that is known for "Need You Now" (2009), "Just a Kiss" (2011), and other songs that have crossed over to mainstream charts.

12. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Ray Charles & Nina Simone

The brass band intro signals this cover will have an extra dose of drama. Now that the song has captured your attention, you'll nearly need to strain to hear the sultry banter between the couple. The tension they share is palpable. For me, however, they need to dial up the volume on their private conversation so we can all eavesdrop better.

Ray Charles and Nina Simone provide an understated R&B version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," a little too understated in spite of their raw talent. Ray Charles, nicknamed "The Genius," was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1987) and was recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Nina Simone was known as "The High Priestess of Soul." She was both a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (2018) and the recipient of the recipient of a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

13. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Rod Stewart & Dolly Parton (2004)

In this rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart go together like peanut butter and pickles—on their own, both artists are grand, but when you combine them like this, something doesn't work. Dolly is a phenomenal country singer, an inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and a winner of numerous Grammys and other prestigious awards. In this cover, however, her voice inflections are unusual. They distract rather than intrigue, and she sounds like she is asking a series of questions rather than making statements (e.g., "I really can't stay?", "I've got to go away?").

For his contribution, Rod Stewart delivers his lyrics with an air of confidence and persuasiveness that befit his reputation. The raspy-voiced "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" rocker was named to Rolling Stone magazine's list of "100 Greatest Singers of All Time." Stewart has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

But even Sir Rod Stewart's performance isn't without fault. When he joins Dolly for harmonies (e.g., "I simply must go"), the combined effort is ... peanut butter and pickles, somewhat cringe-worthy.

14. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Jessica Simpson & Nick Lachey (2004)

Did this really happen? In this unfortunate rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," former married couple Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey show us how a classic song can be ruined. In addition to being recognized for her beauty and influence, pop and country singer Jessica Simpson starred on the MTV reality television series Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica along with her then-husband. Nick Lachey was a founding member of 1990s boy band 98 Degrees.

Although she would seem to fit the part, Simpson overplays her role, executing the vocals of this Christmas favorite with all the care of a soused coworker at the office holiday party. Simpson is so ridiculously breathy that it's hardly singing. She nearly seems to gag over her words at points (e.g., "There's got to be talk tomorrow.")

Lachey is erstwhile unremarkable in his vocals, as he is overshadowed by his partner. As if that were not enough, the high notes are also regrettable feats, and the jammin' instrumentals in the middle of the song seem to clash.

I realize it's the Christmas season and all, but someone needed to say it.

Readers Weigh In

So which CONTENDER do YOU think sang it best?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 FlourishAnyway

    Comments

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      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 months ago from USA

        Mona - Thanks for stopping by. I loved the Ann-Margaret version too!

      • grand old lady profile image

        Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

        4 months ago from Philippines

        I loved listening to the different versions of the song and reading your commentary each time. I didn't realize there were so many covers on the song. But for me, Anne Margaret captured the spirit of the song best. Wishing you a very happy and prosperous 2019:).

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 months ago from USA

        Heidi - Merry Christmas to you too! Hope yours was a happy one!

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        4 months ago from Chicago Area

        When I saw all the ruckus about the lyrics recently, I thought "over-reacting," though I understand the concern. Yes, we have to put it in context of the day in which it was created. I can't imagine what people will say about some of the songs being created now!

        Anyway, I like the original, of course. But I think Ray Charles is the best contender. Happy Christmas, Flourish!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 months ago from USA

        Yves - I could play this song on repeat and never tire of it. I love it. Glad you enjoy it too! Hope you're having a joyful Christmas season! Merry Christmas!

      • savvydating profile image

        Yves 

        4 months ago

        Leon and Zooey do it for me. I've been listening to my Xmas playlist quite often during these past two weeks. I never tire of their rendition. I think the political correctness hysteria over this song is silly. After all, the gal made it clear her whole family was "waiting at the door." No way would this guy be able to get away with anything. The song is flirtatious and charming in a bygone era kind of way. Nothing more, nothing less.

        Lastly, I hadn't heard Rucker and Crow sing the song. They actually do it rather nicely. :)

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 months ago from USA

        Dora - Thank you for stopping by. I should have started the series months ago in the off-season, but the idea just came to me. Hope your holiday season is a good one thus far!

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        5 months ago from The Caribbean

        At the end of the season, it might be interesting to show the polling results of who sang it best. This is a very interesting series.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 months ago from USA

        Jason - It's a song that has been around for many years here in the US, and while there have always been rumblings about its lyrics, this year was a time of action against the song in some areas. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your opinion. Merry Christmas!

      • manunulat profile image

        Jason M Quinapondan 

        5 months ago from Cebu, Philippines

        Honestly, I am not familiar with the song. But as I listened to it, I find it sweet and cute. And the video which caught my attention was the LGBT-friendly version. Indeed, it was adorable.

        Thanks for this article I have come to know such sweet Christmas song!

      • Robert Sacchi profile image

        Robert Sacchi 

        5 months ago

        Rather than a missed detail the choreography seems to play out as if it's an obvious falsehood. Maybe someone has the official answer.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 months ago from USA

        Mary - Isn't it funny how the first one we hear seems to be our favorite? Thank you for registering your favorite. I enjoy knowing what version people like and why.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        5 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        Because Dean Martin was the first version I've listened to, it is still my favourite. Once again, you have done a fine job of presenting this song and its varied versions.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 months ago from USA

        Pamela - Thank you for weighing in. A lot of these versions were good! You can't say that with all of these Christmas favorites.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        5 months ago from Sunny Florida

        So many of these versions were good. I tend to like the male singers a little better, but many are good. I Ilike this song and think it is rediculous that is is banned from a radio station.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 months ago from USA

        Bob - I've never watched the movie but did know about the role reversal. Interesting that there was no snow in the scene. I wonder if the director missed that detail in the movie. Thanks for adding that information!

      • Robert Sacchi profile image

        Robert Sacchi 

        5 months ago

        "Neptune's Daughter" had 2 scenes with the song "Baby it's Cold Outside". One scene was with Red Skelton & Batty Garrett where the woman was the aggressor. If you hadn't seen this and the other "Baby it's Cold Outside" they are definitely worth a look. In neither scene was it snowing out.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 months ago from USA

        Doris, I LOVE that you have such a different opinion. Thanks for chiming in! I enjoyed your commentary. Merry Christmas!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 months ago from USA

        Tim,

        This song is my absolute favorite song of the Christmas season. I don't know what that says about me, but we can't always help what we like. I think if I were the victim of predatory behavior in real life, it would absolutely color my viewpoint, thus I understand people's distaste for the song. The first time I heard it, I laughed in disbelief and amazement that it wasn't causing a stir at that time. Of course, it's hard for me to separate my interpretations from my experience and HR background filled with years of investigating sexual harassment at work. There are some humorous politically correct versions of the song which are pretty good and make you think.

        Thanks for stopping by! Have a very Merry Christmas!

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James MizBejabbers 

        5 months ago from Beautiful South

        Flourish, you always do a superb job of research and writing no matter what the songs, so I'm certainly not going to diminish that. Lovely job. This just happens to be one of the songs that I've loathed forever. I didn't like big band when I was a child and I still don't. However if I have to listen to the song, my choices are in order: 1. Darius Rucker and Sheryl Crow; 2. Lady Antebellum and 3. Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart. The reason is obvious, they put their own sounds into it and it doesn't sound so big bandish. But congratulations on a job well done.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 months ago from USA

        Bill - Hope you are doing well and getting through the holiday season. Thanks for stopping by!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 months ago from USA

        Steve - I haven't heard that one yet. Thanks for alerting me to it. Merry Christmas!

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        5 months ago from Houston, Texas

        In your first poll, I voted that the song is from a cute bygone era and truthfully I never gave it much thought as to any sexual connotation. Call me naive but that is okay with me.

      • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

        Tim Truzy 

        5 months ago from U.S.A.

        Loved this, Flourish.

        An Margaret's version is my champion, too. Gaga ranks a close second. Ray Charles would go up there as well.

        I like the versions with the role reversals in this song, Flourish. I understand the controversy surrounding the tune, but I just look at it in a positive light, avoiding all of the discussion because, let's face it: every song, book, poem, etc., can offend.

        Seeing the original intent of the song helps. It was meant to be a fun loving song.

        Thanks.

        Much respect, and if I forgot to tell you: Merry Christmas my creative, talented, and prolific writing friend,

        Tim

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 months ago from Olympia, WA

        Tough one, but Nina Simone will always hold a special place in my musical heart. :)

      • stevarino profile image

        Steve Dowell 

        5 months ago from East Central Indiana

        My favorite version is by Bobby Caldwell and Vanessa Williams in 1996.

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