Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the queen and king of young white indie cuddliness, posted a short video of themselves singing “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” on Deschanel’s Hello Giggles website yesterday. The two-minute video features a tiara-wearing, ukulele-strumming Deschanel and a sleepy-eyed, guitar-strumming Gordon-Levitt exchanging meaningful glances, tittering, and harmonizing sweetly. The actors’ brazen ploy for the Internet’s adoration appears to have worked—the video spread quickly across Twitter and Facebook and earned 43,296 (and counting) likes on YouTube.
Their version may dominate the Web as the clock ticks down to 2012, but Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt aren’t the first or even the most twee singers to cover the song, which was written in the 1940s by songwriter Frank Loesser. Such masters of sap as The Carpenters, Johnny Mathis, and Clay Aiken have recorded it, along with many of the usual jazz-standard suspects (Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Harry Connick, Jr.). But some artists have managed to avoid schmaltziness and take the song to more interesting new places.
The best-known version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” is probably Nancy Wilson’s, which, with its swelling violins and casually plinked piano riffs, is far sexier than Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt’s neutered cover:
Canadian jazz singer Diana Krall’s cover is similarly sultry but also extremely depressing—note the funereal horn section—and a little boozy, as though she’d downed a couple of martinis before taking to the studio. This is the version for the broken-hearted—there is no chance that the person to whom Krall addresses the song’s titular question is going to provide a satisfactory answer.
On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum is Lou Rawls’s cover. His upbeat, jazzy version, which begins and ends on a few brassy phrases from “Auld Lang Syne,” is a cocky pickup line from a man who thinks he’s going to get what he wants.
Finally, there’s Chicago’s take, from their third Christmas album, the brilliantly titled O Christmas Three. Their version starts out sentimental, with humorless piano chords and the wistfully repeated line, “What are you doin’?”, but—like any successful New Year’s Eve—it gets funkier as time goes on.