It’s Up to Your Knees Out There

In keeping with my holiday tradition of trying to perform music that is beyond my abilities, I have made another Christmas recording for you, the Precious Few.Blinking-Tree

This is my fourth such presentation here on the blog, so I figure at this rate in about eight more years I’ll have a complete half-assed Christmas album. In the meantime you could, if you were so inclined, listen to the entire collection by clicking on the “Categories” menu in the right sidebar over there, selecting “Musix,” and scrolling down to whatever looks Christmas-ey.

I do almost all my writing and recording all by myself. I like to work that way because I can do things at my own pace and make all the final decisions myself without having to argue with anybody about it. Mind you, I don’t claim that all my decisions are the “right” ones. It’s just that I’m no longer trying to make hit records or satisfy music publishers or record companies, so why shouldn’t I give myself the final, undisputed say on how the project sounds?

This year, however, I decided to try “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which is a duet, so by definition I’m not alone on this one. Frank Loesser wrote this song in 1944, and sang it at parties with his wife, Lynn, for years. But Frank, being a professional songwriter, eventually sold it to MGM for a movie. According to the story, Lynn was furious, because she considered it “their song.” On the other hand, it won an Oscar for Best Original Song in 1949, and Frank could always write another song for him and Lynn.

I’ve always been amused at the story underlying the words to this song. The girl is acting as if she can’t and won’t stay with the guy, but even she knows that she will in the end. And the guy seems pretty sure of himself, too, though he continues to make his case all the way to the end, as if the outcome is in doubt. Personally I like the charade.

My singing partner is my friend Kitti Lynn Pagano. I love her sweet voice and her perfect pitch. I called her during the summer and asked if she wanted to sing a Christmas song with me. She might have thought I was kidding or crazy, but she agreed. Then before I knew it it was almost Thanksgiving, and time to get started.

First I called Kitti and suggested we make sure we agreed on a good key for us both to sing in. To my relief she not only remembered, she said she’d been about to call me! I sent her a couple of MP3’s of different versions of the song, but it turns out there are many, many versions of it on YouTube, and she found one that was just right for her. Turns out it is a little low for me, but I can hit all the notes, at least theoretically, so we went with it (It’s B-flat if you’re keeping score).

I recorded a rhythm guitar part, and immediately started regretting my choice of song, the deadline that I had (Christmas!), and occasionally even being born. This kind of music is not in my wheelhouse. I love it, but I’m no good at it. Add to that the fact that I do not play piano — and there is a piano part on this — and I was not feeling very good about the endeavor.

But it was too late to back out, and finally I had enough music recorded to invite Kitti over to sing. I had already sung a rough version of the boy vocal part and sent it to her, so she’d know what she was getting into. Kitti’s not a recording artist, so when she came to the house I tried to make her feel at home, gave her some Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice tea (I highly recommend this, especially at the holidays), schmoozed her for a while, let her choose from four different headsets to wear, and generally tried to put her at ease.

I need not have gone to the trouble. As soon as I pressed record Kitti delivered a series of near-perfect takes, and while I did try to coach her about her delivery, in the end I felt as if I could use any one of them as the “final.” Still, I’ve worked with a lot of singers in the studio, and they always want to “correct” something after they’ve gone home and listened to the rough mix for a while. So when we were finished for the evening I told her I’d email her a rough mix and she could come back in a week and sing it again if she wanted.

I was about half right: When I spoke to her on the phone a few days later she did want to come back and fix something. But when we got back together the following weekend it turned out that what she wanted to do was go back and sing it the way she sang it before I coached her. And so she did, and she was right. I shouldn’t have been meddling with such a sweet sound in the first place. I’m lucky Kitti ignored my “help,” and went with her instinct.

After that I sang my own part again, enough times to convince myself that it wasn’t going to get any better, and then returned attention to the music track. The problem was that it didn’t have much spark or bounce. The piano playing sounded like a junior high school teacher accompanying a student recital. I brought in the great Don Wittsten to play bass, and he added some jazzy motion to the track with his homemade Schecter fretless bass, but maybe not enough to cover my own amateur playing on everything else.

I kept messing with the mix and trying different guitar parts. I think I ended up keeping four guitars, the piano, drums and bass, plus the charmingly out-of-tune synthesizer bells. I learned a lot during this project. I probably should have started doing this kind of thing decades ago. Then I might be able to pull it off better by now.

At last, here it is: Baby, It’s Cold Outside. I hope you enjoy it, even with the blemishes that I couldn’t fix. It’s a little awkward, but it’s heartfelt, and so is my wish that you all have a very merry Christmas.

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