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Why “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is NOT a holiday song…and other rantings about radio programming of the season

Posted in Beatles,Christmas,Cleveland,holiday,music,radio,Weird Al by catradhtem on the November 30th, 2011

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in the car lately; I wouldn’t necessarily say more time than usual, but enough to become a frequent radio listener. One thing everyone should know about me is that when listening to the radio, there are only three things that will make me want to immediately change the station without question or debate: the Kid Rock song “Picture,” one of the worst things ever committed to tape; Nickelback’s insipid “Rockstar”; and the whiny, wimpy, cancer-deserving voice of Dave Matthews.

And when it’s Christmastime every year, I add one fourth, final option: “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

For those of you who are unaware of it, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is an Academy Award-winning song originally written in 1936 by Frank Loesser that publicly debuted in the 1949 Esther Williams vehicle Neptune’s Daughter. To cash in on the success of the movie, a number of recordings of the song by such artists as Dinah Shore and Ella Fitzgerald were released throughout the year to commercial success. The song, in its most cynical form, is about a sexual predator trying to talk a girl into staying at his place so he can rape the shit out of her. It’s essentially the 1940s version of “Funky Cold Medina.”

Like a lot of torch songs from the 1930s-1940s, I first became aware of it from that celebration of all things entertainment, The Muppet Show. In one of the series’s watershed episodes, legendary ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev sings a duet of the song with Miss Piggy, with the roles reversed as the diva tries to prevent the (gay) ballet star from leaving a sauna. It’s a cute scene; heck, it’s a fairly cute song.

But it’s NOT a Christmas song. It was never meant to be. Yet for some reason, adult contemporary stations around the country have in recent years insisted on cramming various versions of it into their holiday programming–and now sadly to the point where modern artists are recording “new” versions in lieu of recordings of actual traditional holiday standards.

This is not open to debate or interpretation. It’s not a Christmas song; it wasn’t even written with any holiday in mind. It’s simply a song that mentions a temperature.

Everyone can blame this seasonal confusion in part on none other than Dean Martin. In 1959 Deano released A Winter Romance, an album primarily containing songs related to the winter months. Even though most of the album was reissued six years later as Holiday Cheer, only two of the album’s songs, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “White Christmas,” specifically mention the holiday that falls on December 25 (it also contains “Winter Wonderland,” but more on that in a moment). The rest of the album mainly focuses on things only related to the concept of being cold: winter, the month of January, Canada, etc. Despite the reissue, Dean never intended it to be a by-definition “holiday” album. Ironically, it worked better as simply a goofy concept album.

But the bigger culprit in this cultural crime has been radio programmers, who in the last couple of decades have been under increased pressure to provide more secular content in their otherwise all-Christmas lineups. Even though the Christmas season had traditionally been full of completely non-religious standards such as “Frosty the Snowman” and “Silver Bells,” stations had jumped on the political correctness train to include songs that couldn’t possibly be construed as appeasing religion.

Look, this isn’t some diatribe for or against religion or how it’s expressed at Christmastime. Frankly, I think Don Wildmon and his fellow “War on Christmas” assholes have a serious screw loose and are a bunch of bigoted hypocrites (I already had not one but two of my characters mock them back in December 2005). This is in fact about trying to curb the manufacturing of one more artificial tradition in a season that is already brimming with them to the point of saturation.

It’s something I’ve been saying to friends for years. With each passing year a new Christmas movie, a new Christmas TV special, or whatever emerges, and invariably some of those will become a part of some corporate interest’s annual tradition, and it will get to the point where all the television and radio stations will simply be forced to start their “Christmas” programming earlier and earlier in the year just to accommodate everything. That in fact started this year, where two local radio stations here in Cleveland–“soft rock” station 102.1 WDOK and “oldies” station 105.7 WMJI–officially switched to 24/7 holiday music a week before Thanksgiving. I’m pretty sure they both switched at the exact same time, even though one station is owned by Clear Channel and the other by CBS Radio. At this point, whatever, you know? It’s akin to Coke and Pepsi both offering the same new flavor at the same time. But the point is that it’s already happening; we’re starting the “Christmas season” earlier and earlier. How else does one explain stores opening at nine o’clock on Thanksgiving night?

But as far as television and radio go, there should at least be some sort of attempt at purity to it. I don’t think any of the Harry Potter movies after the second one mention Christmas at all, for example, yet the entire series takes up several nights of ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” campaign. And radio stations shouldn’t need to pad out what should otherwise be ample holiday programming with material that no matter how one slices it only has at best a tenuous connection to the season. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” seems to be included only because of the word “cold.” There are no mentions in the song of a time of year, a holiday of any sort, or even any real numerical temperature. It’s sort of like calling Dumb and Dumber a holiday movie only because Jim Carrey’s character is named Lloyd Christmas.

At the same time, I’m not really crazy about the idea that Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy”–a.k.a. the Peanuts theme–is considered a “Christmas” song as far as radio is concerned. I mean, yeah, I get it; it was originally composed for A Charlie Brown Christmas, but really, that piece of music has so transcended its original intent that to relegate it back to the holiday season is kind of missing the point. But I’ll nevertheless give it a pass only because it’s one of the only times that jazz music–or at least, what marble-headed Charles Schulz and the equally lamey white people at Coca-Cola thought was jazz music at the time–is heard on mainstream adult contemporary FM radio.

Granted a similar argument could be made for a lot of songs that we all consider to be “real” holiday standards. “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” etc. They don’t necessarily refer to Christmas, either, and it’s likely that they’ve all been grandfathered into tradition just by sheer time. But I have to say that it’s not that black and white. Those songs at least convey a sense of the spirit of the holiday season, whether it be because of the whimsical thought of a snowman coming to life or the imagery one conjures up upon hearing about sleigh bells and the like. To equate such elements with “It’s kinda chilly out, so let me rape you” is a little too extreme for me, and only a Sith deals in absolutes.

But honestly, the song supposedly counts because it mentions it being cold outside? Doesn’t that denigrate the meaning of Christmas and the holiday season in general? Even apart from the religious meaning of not only Christmas but the other December holidays, what about just the general spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill toward your fellow persons? I always thought Christmas was about more than just being “the cold holiday.” To negate it like that–and especially with a song that, again, was never meant to be a comment on a holiday by any means–is sort of a sign of ignorance or unfeeling.

This goes to a deeper problem we face every December: that radio stations are severely limiting their annual Christmas playlists, only sticking with maybe a couple dozen of tracks that they seem intent on overplaying ad nauseum to the point where one is sick of them. In the past it had usually been only one song per year that got overplayed. One year recently it was Lou Monte’s dumb but harmless “Dominick the Donkey,” another year it was Straight No Chaser’s oddball version of “12 Days of Christmas,” and this year it seems like it’s going to be the original Burl Ives version of “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like most of the songs that are a part of the normal holiday rotation. I need my Burl Ives fix. I don’t think it’s truly Christmas until I hear Bruce Springsteen screech out “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” the Harry Simeone Chorale “rum” out “The Little Drummer Boy,” or Thurl Ravenscroft croon about the Grinch. BUT, for every standard that I’ve already heard at least a dozen times on the radio this year I am missing some others that too were a part of the holiday season year after year. The handful that stations are sticking with are getting overplayed and overplayed. Heck, on more than one occasion I’ve switched over from one station to another only to hear the song that just ended on the station I had left.

Yes, there are certain songs that need to be buried and never to be heard from again. “The Christmas Shoes” for one. And this may sound incredibly insane, but we have had not one but two songs themed around Cleveland, “Christmas in Cleveland” and “Merry Cleveland Christmas.” The less said about either of these, the better, but let’s just say they reek of the work of some “fill in the blank” custom-song service. Do not seek these songs out for yourself, for your own sake!

But already this year I’m sorely missing songs that in the past I could always count on being a part of the normal holiday season. I need to hear the renditions of “12 Days of Christmas,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by John Denver and the Muppets; “Little St. Nick” by the Beach Boys; Bob Rivers’s “12 Pains of Christmas”; “Christmas in Hollis” via Run-D.M.C.; the Eurythmics’ “Winter Wonderland”; Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph”; the breathtaking Pretenders song “2000 Miles”; Willie Nelson’s bittersweet recording of “Pretty Paper”; and the king of novelty Christmas songs, the Seymour Swine version of “Blue Christmas.”

And that’s just the tip of the North Pole iceberg; that’s merely listing the songs that used to be standards on the radio this time of year. There is a whole slew of other songs–recorded by extremely well known artists–that as far as I can tell have never been a part of normal Christmas radio programming.

For example, I have never heard on the radio a song called “Christmas Time (Is Here Again),” which is a rather rockin’ and upbeat number from 1967.

Oh, and did I mention it was recorded by the Beatles?

Yeah, as in the Beatles Beatles. It was recorded shortly after production wrapped on Magical Mystery Tour and was initially released as a single through the group’s fan club. It would later see a more public release (albeit in edited form) as the b-side to their 1995 “reunion” single, “Free as a Bird.” So this is the Beatles at their peak–just six months removed from Sgt. Pepper’s–recording a Christmas song. It was not only one of the Fab Four’s rare group compositions, but each of the boys even get their only vocal spotlight–including George, who unlike his cohorts never recorded his own solo Christmas tune. It’s fun, catchy, and like everything else they touched represents a little bit of history.

But worthy to hear on the radio? Evidently not. Not even on the “oldies” station that during the rest of the year has a daily feature called “The Fab Four at Four” (as in o’clock). Nope, they would rather ram Celine Dion’s grating cover of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” down our throats.

Or did you know that the Monkees recorded a Christmas song? Or Norah Jones? Or the Moody Blues? Or Kenny Rogers? Or Spinal Tap? And you should know by now that I have to mention that “Weird Al” Yankovic recorded not one but two holiday songs (or three if one counts “Weasel Stomping Day”). But no, mixing up the selection with cuts by established artists is impossible; the stations have decided that people instead want umpteenth playings of “Last Christmas,” “Where Are You Christmas,” and whatever the hell that Dan Folgelberg song is (and more on that in a bit).

I cannot begin to explain how much I would love to be a radio program director at Christmastime. I would pull from all sources, make sure every kind of artist and genre is represented, and make sure the favorites are in rotation without sacrificing exposing listeners to a potential new favorite. I guess I sort of naively thought that the actual programmers would feel the same and with the same level of enthusiasm. But it seems instead every station just gets its government-issued copy of A Very Special Christmas Volume One and feels like that’s enough…or worse, they leave the decisions to an online poll. It’s crass laziness, and at a time of year where one would ideally eschew either crassness or laziness.

Speaking of otherwise irrelevant songs, why does that idiotic Dan Folgelberg song “Same Old Lang Syne” turn up every year? You know that one, the annoying “we drank a toast to innocence” song about some burnt-out singer who runs into an old girlfriend at a grocery store on Christmas Eve, but instead of either of them returning to their loved ones they go to a park to get hammered. It’s an otherwise sappy, whiny ballad, but because it has a reference to Christmas wedged into the beginning and then ends with the melody of “Auld Lang Syne” we have to hear this crap every year? Is that some last-ditch effort by pop/rock has-beens to remain immortal, cutting a quasi-Christmas record? How else does one explain repulsive shit like Neil Diamond’s recent A Cherry Cherry Christmas album? Dinosaurs desperately trying to prevent themselves from becoming oil.

I would say that radio listeners need to take a stand and tell stations to stop playing crap every year, but really, by now, what’s the point? Why stop at “Baby It’s Cold Outside?” Why not add “Ice Ice Baby” to the rotation? Or “Hot N Cold?” “Freeze Frame?” If we’re going to make a ridiculous exception for one, then how far can this possibly go?

And hey, John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” mentions Christmas, so why isn’t that ever added to the mix? So does Elton John’s “Levon,” Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” Ben Folds’s “Brick,” Neil Sedaka’s “Calendar Girl,” and many others. Hell, for years “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music was played at Christmas because it mentions–in passing!–snowflakes and wrapped packages (in brown paper, yet!). So really, what precedent is being set here?

Anyway, it’s something to think about. I’m off to watch my favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard.

Welcome to my blog…and it’s a sad time to be a Weird Al fan.

Posted in concert review,music,parody,satire,Weird Al by catradhtem on the July 17th, 2011

Hello!

This is my blog. There are many like it, but this one’s mine.

I’m not usually the hippest person when it comes to the latest web interfacy things. It took me a little while to get on the Twitter bandwagon and I’ve only started using Facebook with any sort of regularity. Heck, I have finally just gotten a phone with web capabilities! But you know, I felt it was finally time I got into the mid-00s and start a blog. A regular plain old blog. You know, with paragraphs and thoughts more than 100-some-odd characters long.

I’ll continue to use Twitter–and, by proxy, Faccibuke–regularly. Twitter is perfect for whatever’s going through my brain at a specific moment. But I wanted some more room to babble endlessly about things I’m doing and feeling. Yeah, yeah, I already have a web site, Dohtem.com, all to myself, but I never really intended that to be a place for me to just…you know…express myself.

This blog will hopefully be many things. Unlike the quick, here’s-something-off-the-top-of-my-head bon mots that I unleash onto Twitter, I’ll most likely use this blog for more drawn-out, carefully planned thoughts. You know, going on endlessly about specific subjects. Pure minutia, baby.

And also, I wanted a space for updates. I’m going to be starting a number of major (to me) projects later in the year, and I want a nice, formal place online to chat about the progress of such things. So yeah, this blog may be many things to many people, but it will be all things to me.

To start off, I thought I would dust off something I had written and posted on Facebook back in May. It’s rare for me to do something exclusively on Facebook. I like the site just fine, but I’ve yet to feel completely comfortable with it. You know how people use social networking to gain friends? I’ve actually lost a number of close, dear friends thanks (in part) to Facebook, so there you go. But I realize not everyone can “go” to Facebook because you need to register to it and all that crap, and I’m too proud of this writing to just let it linger there.

As most people who know me already…um, knows, I’m a huge fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic. I’ve been following his career for years, have started the international grassroots campaign Make the Rock Hall “Weird” to get him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and am proud to say that I’m on friendly terms with him, his drummer Bermuda, and many other fans from around the world.

But sadly, there’s been a…I don’t know…scarier(?) element in the fan circles brewing as of late. Weird Al fans are some of the most dedicated, rabid music fans around, and many of them will go cross-country (and cross-continent) in order to see him at multiple concerts. Hey, that’s fun. I’ve been a “concert tracker” before and will probably again be one in the future. But on the last couple of tours there has been one fan who has…well, stalked Al and the band at a concerning number of concerts, to the point where they consistently attempt to break into the performing venue before official business hours and attempt to present themselves as one of the peripheral crew. They have been ejected from venues on at least one occasion because they were attempting to crash the band’s private soundcheck…you know, bothering professionals at work.

Frustratingly, Al is just too nice of a guy to yell, “Good god, leave me alone!”, which sadly and apparently has given this person the impression of encouragement…to the point where they often post on the Weird Al forum bragging about their stalking exploits, even labeling their odd behavior “pre-concert,” as if it’s a natural part of the concert-going experience. A number of fans (myself included) consider such actions a gross invasion of privacy and especially consider it dangerous to post about in a public forum, because like it or not it does give others the impression that it’s acceptable to lurk about buildings, break in before business hours, and hound people at work.

In May Al started a quick U.S. tour, one done before the release of his latest album, Alpocalypse. To make a long story only slightly shorter, I posted on Facebook what was essentially a spoof of the “concert review” posts typical of this person, in which they usually spend more time and energy describing in detail the lengths they had gone to in order to harrass Al, the band, and even members of the crew before and/or after the show.

I don’t especially like being mean, and I don’t really like making fun of someone behind their back…I’ll gladly do it to their face, especially if it serves to call them on their bullshit. This person has for some reason felt persecuted online–maybe because of their public anti-homosexual comments and just their general douchebagginess–but I like to think it’s just been people finally annoyed with this, let’s say, “I’m so cool because nobody’s really stopped me from stalking people” attitude that this person has displayed. I felt it was time to proverbially call them out, and in the most approprate, Weird Allian way…through parody.

So here is that “concert review” in full….

I arrived at the venue exactly three-and-a-half hours before the crew’s truck arrived. I decided to skip breakfast because I needed the money to buy materials to make my welcome sign for the guys. Ramone, the East Coast weekday bus driver, said when I chatted with him at length before my last 2010 show what the crew likes to see when they get to the venue. He said, “signs.” Glad I could be on the team and do my part.

Instead of making the sign, I instead decided to scope out the building, specificially looking for all the exits so the guys couldn’t get away. Most people when they travel and visit new cities like to check out the area itself and find places and businesses that interest them, but I’m more concerned about knowing all the nooks and crannies of the venue and how often security does shift changes. You got to know where the guards are stationed. There are a lot of weirdos out there, you know.

The guys finally arrived at the venue in the early afternoon…pfft, late for a change, I see. I tried shouting at them through the security fence, but they didn’t seem to hear me and forgot to tell security to let me in. I’m sure it was just an oversight. I’ll see them at soundcheck.

The venue wasn’t open for business yet, but staff members were clearly using the front entrance in order to get to work, so I figured that was the best way inside. My ticket for the show said 8:00, but surely that didn’t apply to me. They must have been waiting for me because all the doors into the main hall were open and the ushers weren’t around yet. I found a seat in the back just as soundcheck had begun. It sounded as if they were doing the 45-minute S.C. as opposed to the typical 52-minute one, so I was sure they were going to cut a number tonight. I could tell by their mannerisms. They were different from soundcheck #162 from the Glenside show last year. I was eventually asked to leave soundcheck by the band, which surely was because they were acting on the best interests of the venue and didn’t want to get in any trouble with them. I told them it was cool and as far as I knew they were all pleasant to me to my face.

Pre-concert wasn’t done just yet, as I wanted to make sure I flirted with the merchandise booth girl before I was asked to leave the building for the second time. We have this routine together. I ask her these intrusive, annoying questions, and she pretends that she’s really trying to work and set up the table. I could almost see the tongue firmly planted in her cheek when she muttered, “Jesus Christ, another summer of this” under her breath. Ha ha, score one…I win.

I lost track of about two hours after that, but I’m sure I was the center of attention during that time. I arrived back at the venue for the show about twenty minutes late for me…I only had an hour before showtime at this point. I didn’t want to miss the start of the playing of the pre-show CD.

Ooo, I knew it! I could tell it was pre-show CD #4. It has perhaps the best selection of songs and fit nicely with the surroundings. I asked them on the last leg if they could use pre-show CD #4 (PSC4) more often, and I’m glad they’re finally listening to me. I go to enough shows and I deserve special treatment. They owe me.

Some employee of the venue eventually told me that I couldn’t sit on the edge of the stage while the crew was setting up. They were clearly looking out for my safety and I appreciate that. I tried to get the choice seat I wanted with my collectable VIP laminate, but I was kindly asked by the nice usher to go back to the seat on my ticket. I tried to explain that I was with the show and that I wanted to sit next to the cute girl that I saw, but the ushers were clearly distracted, trying to talk on their radios about something. It was cool, it was after all the first show of the tour. They’re still ironing things out.

So all in all, Pre-concert was an amazing experience. Time well spent.

It was a cathartic fake post to write, and I felt with Al’s new Alpocalypse Tour starting up this month, it was appropriate to post it somewhere where it can be a little more easily accessed.

That is all for now. Hope to see you back here. If not, then go to hell, I guess.