Angel Baby by Rosie and the Originals, 1961

In 1961, a 15-year-old SoCal girl named Rosie Hamlin wrote a simple little song she called “Angel Baby.” She managed to put together a band, and a friend arranged for her to have a few hours at a recording studio. When her mother drove her there one Saturday morning, they were a little surprised to find that the “studio” was a corner of a disused airplane hanger in the Mojave Desert. It was over 100 degrees out, and much worse in the studio. The band ran through the song a few times, hit “record” and did the song in one sweaty take.

Listening to it, the first thing you realize is that, well, the Originals suck. You can see how all the record execs they schlepped the song to would listen to the first eight bars and say “No thanks, kid.” Frustrated, they finally convinced a department store to play the acetate disk, now damaged from overplaying and sounding even worse than before, over the PA system. Folks loved it, and before long it was a Top Ten hit.

Obviously, the kicker here is Rosie’s voice. I have heard this song endless times in the last 50 years, and it still gives me chills. Somehow the murky band (you can almost hear the sweat dripping off the strings), the lugubrious beat and lousy sax solo just make Rosie’s voice more ethereal, more other-worldly. And for a 15-year-old songwriter, the song has some cool odd features. I especially love that the lowest note in the song is the first note of the title phrase. That’s outside the box.

As usual, the record company screwed over Rosie. They decided that since she was a minor, her name couldn’t appear on the song as the writer, and randomly gave the writing credit to the oldest Original. She spent decades in court, and was finally vindicated.

John Lennon once said his two favorite songs were “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” by Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Angel Baby” by Rosie and the Originals. As usual, he was right.

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