Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting. Buddy Clark and Dinah Shore. Ray Charles and Betty Carter. Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton. Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson. Will Hackney and Katie Zickefoose.... These pairs are but a sampling of the dozens of vocalists who have shared the overlapping lyrics on "Baby, It's Cold Outside," a song written in 1944 by Frank Loesser that skyrocketed into popularity after it was featured in the 1948 film Neptune's Daughter.
Hackney and Zickefoose supplied their version to last year's debut from Chapel Hill's Trekky Yuletide Orchestra. The pair may not be as famous as many of their predecessors, but their simple guitar-and-voices rendition gets several things right: There's the casually innocent crack of Zickefoose's voice as she tells her lover it's time to go home, and the sweet manners that temper Hackney's insistence. Hackney and Zickefoose also omitted parts of the song's second verse, which pushes the limits of Loesser's mild sexual aggression a bit far with mentions of lips and shores. And if you're wondering, Simpson and Lachey indeed sang the whole song, second verse included, in 2004. Bad tidings, for sure.
Independent: When did you first hear this song?
Will Hackney: I'm pretty sure I heard it at some point in my childhood, but really when it came to my attention was last year when we were making the album. I went through all of the random records I've accumulated and all of the Christmas records I have. I heard the Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting version, which I think is the most famous. So yeah, I had probably heard it before, but I never really got into it until last summer.
What caught your ear?
I thought it was pretty funny. It's a pretty creepy set-up. I was reading about the song, and the guy [Frank Loesser] who wrote it. The male is called "The Wolf," and the female is called "The Mouse." That's really disturbing. I guess the values were a little different then, and it was more acceptable for the predator than it would be now. In today's values, it was interesting. But it's also just a really awesome song. I really like how the vocals overlap, and, generally, I think the male/female duet is generally underused in indie rock or more serious music.
Most people don't pick up on the creepy aspect of the song at first, if ever. They think it's about cuddling...
Yeah, people think it's a cute kind of song.
So when did you really notice it?
It was when we were learning the lyrics for the record last year. We were doing everything really fast. We did the whole record in a week, so it was a bit of a whirlwind. We omitted one verse because it was too ridiculous, the one with lines like "Gosh, your lips look delicious" and "waves upon a tropical shore." We were trying to have fun with it, but I couldn't sing those lines. Pretty soon, as we were rehearsing, people were like, "Yeah, this is kind of weird." So at first, I just though it was a cute song. The Johnny Mercer version has a lot of big-band instrumentation, too, and I really like that about it.
How does the Trekky Yuletide Orchestra work in terms of deciding who sings what or what arrangement you'll work from? You and Katie work together pretty well here.
It was whatever anyone was excited about that week we were putting it together. People brought their different ideas and versions of songs they wanted to do. My initial idea was to have one of the couples in the Orchestra do the verses. We have two married couples and a few dating couples. That kind of got scrapped because I really wanted to sing on it and I wasn't really dating anyone. Katie is also probably our strongest female singer. It was arbitrary, but—interestingly enough—Josh Kimbrough is dating Katie, and he plays guitar on it. In the end, they are the actual couple.
It's probably good that a couple didn't sing it.
Yeah, it might have been a little creepy.
And will you perform this tonight?
We are. We worked up a bossa nova version of it. We figured people who saw it last year would like something different.
Trekky Yuletide Orchestra performs tonight Wednesday, Dec. 19, at Cat's Cradle at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $7-$10. Other bands on the Christmas at the Cradle bill: Portastatic, Annuals, Ivan Rosebud, The Moaners, Midtown Dickens, I Was Totally Destroying It, Hammer No More the Fingers, Schooner, Robo Sapein and Sweater Weather. Billy Sugarfix hosts.