Angel Baby (1960)

Rosie And The Originals

Written by Rosalie Hamlin
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20100703031715-016441b5One day in late 1960, a 15-year-old girl walked up to a microphone in an airplane hangar outside of San Diego. The girl’s name was Rosalie Hamlin and her group was called Rosie And The Originals.

She summed up and effectively had the last word in what we now know as the Doo-Wop era in Rock-N-Roll.

(This is not to say groups did not churn out more doo-woppy songs, but the ’60s were dawning and the style would thereafter be thought of as one of the many influences on future Rock and Pop.)

“Angel Baby”

 The period genre spooled out lots of hits. Many were great uptempo rockers by performers like Dion, The Coasters and The Cadillacs. More often, out leaked sap-soaked songs that were long on both sentiment and turbidity. Productions were murky, overladen with an obese hybrid of orchestral music mated to a limp version of Rock-N-Roll. The singers were on key and in harmony, but you can easily tell that the songs are simple “product.”

And then along came Rosie with a handwritten poem addressed to her first “boyfriend,” and enough savvy to borrow many melodic elements from what was perhaps Doo Wop’s biggest slow song, “Earth Angel.”

“Earth Angel”

 

Angel Baby Rosie MainRosie’s song is not an “answer” to The Penguins’ monster chart-topper, but rather the cry of an innocent overcome by the big hit. Her voice signals not so much that she had become a woman but that she was leaving childhood behind even as it still filled her rearview mirror.

In a lucky accident the makeshift studio that “Angel Baby” was recorded in sported only a two-track tape machine. The acoustics were those of a metal-walled building.

Yet, rather than being detriments, those two characteristics on recording day lent an otherworldliness to Hamlin’s vocals and prevented the group from shmearing on the schmaltz.

So naive were the young performers that they failed to realize that they had to cut a B-side to their beloved first song.

“Angel Baby” begins with a lone electric lead guitar playing unadorned and solemn before it slips naturally into the rest of the arrangement including Rosie’s singing. It carries the shimmering tang of Hawaiian slack-key guitar as well as the ghostly portent of hushed opening solos yet to come. Compare it, for instance, to the opening of Zep’s “Stairway To Heaven,” which is, granted, long and spacious, but the inspiration comes from those guitars of the early-’60s.

“Stairway To Heaven”

 

The guitar piece in “Angel Baby” lasts about 20 seconds. In the middle of those too-few seconds, it is joined by a reverential brush on a snare drum and a slow, dignified bass. Without anyone knowing, the song ushers us into a church, or a chapel. (The chapel of love?)

Angel Baby at 17When Rosie Hamlin (right, at 17) first opens her mouth and heart, the listener knows immediately a unique talent is at work. Her voice lifts up an offering in a tone that is better suited to a song treating with unrequited love, yet she is expressing the happiness of love in first flower.

If Shakespeare’s Juliet lived as a flesh and blood person in 1961, “Angel Baby” would be her song. We gain a glimpse of how it really feels when someone falls in love for the first time. There it is, living under a bell jar. It makes “Angel Baby” one of the most emotional Rock-N-Roll songs ever recorded.

The lyrics come across as nursery-rhyme simple:

Angel Baby highland recordIt’s just like heaven bein’ here with you
You’re like an angel, too good to be true
But after all, I love you, I do
Angel baby, my angel baby

When you are near me, my heart skips a beat
I can hardly stand on my own two feet
Because I love you, I love you, I do
Angel baby, my angel baby

Ooh, I love you, ooh I do
No one could love you like I do

The declaration is unadorned. It is the mind of a 14-year-old and the voice of a 15-year-old merging to re-inform us of some of the most basic truths about love: it is real, it is overwhelming and it is inexplicable. Rosie lilts, gropes for the proper emotional tone, finds it, loses it, regains it and then lets out with a magically pure “Ooo-oo-oo,” the likes of which Rock-N-Roll – or any pop music – has never heard again.

Stepping into the midst of this higher honesty the saxophone solo break brings in a sobering note, unusually meditative for the time, contrasting so diametrically as it does with the simple white linen voice. Amazingly, the sax part was played by someone who did not know how to play the instrument. Hamlin tells it this way:

20100703031612-1937243c“Our [regular] sax player, Alfred Barrett, was not with us when we arrived at the studio. He said he’d be joining us later. As it got later we started to worry. Noah called Alfred at home. We all became worried when we heard Noah asking; ‘Can’t you mow the yard tomorrow?’ Alfred’s mother was very strict and he couldn’t go anywhere until he mowed and raked the yard. We realized then that he wasn’t going to make it. So there we sat all bummed out until Noah got this great idea. He’d played a little sax and decided to teach our bass player, Tony Gomez, the sax part. I guess the rest is history.”

History, oh yes. The sax is as frank, endearing and emotional as the vocal. The tentativeness – like the uncertainty in Rosie’s voice – adds something you can’t coach or notate on sheet music. It is beautiful in the same subdued way that cave paintings are. Some things simply take your breath away.

The brooding bass line holds steady through the saxophone solo. The lead guitar line peeks in and out and in and out, a tantalizer. The vocals return unexpectedly. We are in the mind of a lovesick adolescent and odd things will happen.

Please never leave me blue and alone
If you ever go, I’m sure you’ll come back home
Because I love you, I love you, I do
Angel baby, my angel baby

It’s just like heaven, bein’ with you dear
I could never stay away without you near

Because I love you, I love you, I do
Angel baby, my angel baby

Ooh, I love you, ooh I do
No one could love you like I do

The band swims on to the end as the vocals deliver, and deliver again a sense of haunting. The singer’s love is perfect, so perfect that even a young teenager can recognize and express in sound and tone the premonition that something so astonishing must end.

Life in the early 21st century has grown edgy, and there is a wash of cynical irony over almost everything. Especially love.

“Angel Baby” reminds us it doesn’t have to be that way.

mangoids
  • In 1973 while recording songs for his album Rock ‘N’ Roll John Lennon said of “Angel Baby”: “This here is one of my all-time favourite songs. Send my love to Rosie, wherever she may be.” (Lennon’s version would appear on the posthumous Menlove Ave. It was produced by the former Beatle and Phil Spector.)

  • Because he was the oldest member of the group, executives from Highland Records insisted that David Ponci be named as author. Rosie Hamlin had to fight for 30 years to get her back royalties. Most likely she was never fully compensated for the multimillion-selling classic.

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