An Angel, Baby: Rosie & The Originals

In countless interviews, rich rock stars have paid an exorbitant amount of lip service to their influences but there aren’t many reports of them giving cash to any of their down-on-their-luck heroes. Such was the case of Rose Hamlin who was fifteen years old when she and her band, the Originals, recorded “Angel Baby” in a makeshift studio located in an airplane hangar.

Before the record was released in 1961 and went to #5 in America, Rosie’s mother accompanied her daughter to a meeting at Highland Records where they met two men whom Rosie described as “grungy and scary.” Highland agreed to release the tune but made Hamlin an offer she wanted to refuse: it stated that the Originals’ guitarist, David Ponci, was the composer even though the lyrics came from a poem Rosie had written. Highland said that if she didn’t sign the contract, the record wouldn’t be released. Reluctantly, she went along.

Rosie, who believed that David was in cahoots with the label, wound up spending most of her adult years consulting lawyers who tried to get her music publishing royalties and credit for her work. When she finally succeeded in 1994, Ponci’s lone “songwriting” credit had disappeared.

An abbreviated version of the single (59 seconds shorter than what was released in America ) failed to chart in England. But it did score with a future band (Led Zeppelin) plus George Harrison and John Lennon.

Before there were Swifties, the Beatles could’ve been called “Rosies” because they were such ardent admirers; in a 1969 Life magazine interview, Lennon cited Rosie as one of his favorite singers. On his birthday in 1971, The Beatles even serenaded John with “Angel Baby.” Finally, in 1973, Lennon recorded the song that had been intended for his Rock ‘n’ Roll album but was later released on 1986’s Menlove Ave. It begins with John saying, “This is one of my all-time favorite songs. My love to Rosie wherever she may be.”

Lennon might not have recorded the tune at all if it wasn’t for May Pang, his live-in girlfriend when he was separated from Yoko. May explained to Billboard magazine: “One of the things that John and I had in common was our love for old rock ‘n’ roll. His heroes were mine and he was really impressed that I knew as many songs and artists as he did. When he started to assemble a possible track list for his Rock ‘n’ Roll album, we started throwing out names. He was naming all the guys like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy, Elvis and I chimed in, ‘What, no ladies?’ With that, one of the first out of my mouth was Rosie and ‘Angel Baby.’ ‘I love that song!’ he said and decided to do it.”

Lennon was equally enamored with the flip side to “Angel Baby,” the amateurish “Give Me Love” recorded in ten minutes because the Originals didn’t have any original material. In 1968, Lennon gushed to Rolling Stone, “This is really one of the greatest strange records. It’s all just out of beat and everyone misses it.”

In 1973, Rosie received another shout-out when Led Zeppelin inserted in the liner notes to Houses of the Holy: “Whatever happened to Rosie and the Originals?”

The answer was that Rosie was twice divorced with three children to feed. She made her living by singing her signature song at concerts and received a grant from the California Council of Arts to teach music to underprivileged children. At 59, she was almost destitute. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a disorder that numbed the left side of her face and wracked her body with non-stop pain. She noted on her blog: “I spent six months to a year of pacing at night, just crying because of the extreme burning. The burning was so bad that I’d put my arm in the freezer and I’d do that for 15, 20 minutes. Then I’d grab a bag of ice, put it on my head, on my face, on my hip, on my legs—wherever the pain moved to would be such extreme burning. The pain I experienced was worse than breaking a leg or giving birth.”

The Oxycontin her doctor prescribed was costing Rosie $500 a month. She stated, “I used up all my savings. I tried to do concerts wherever I could. At first, I could fake it and people didn’t know I was sick.” Thankfully, MusicCares, a foundation that helps musicians in need, heard of her plight.

Rosalie Méndez Hamlin passed away on March 1, 2017, at 71, but, as the cliché goes, her one-hit wonder lives on. It was featured in 1995 as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s exhibit on One-Hit Wonders, with Rosie noting: “I was the first Latina to be in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.” After she got her masters of “Angel Baby” returned to her, Rosie succinctly summed up her legacy: “It looks like that song will be around longer than I will.”

-Mark Daponte

Fair use image of “Angel Baby” by Rosie and the Originals

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Mark Daponte is a copy/blog writer for an advertising company and has published/sold four short stories, three full length screenplays, nine short screenplays (including two animation scripts) and punches up screenplays—because they don’t punch back. He has had six short comedic plays performed by various theater companies, including one in Los Angeles, (Sacred Fools) and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Actors Theater Company). When he isn’t sinking down to a thirteen-year-old’s level to make his teenaged sons laugh, he can be found seeking signs of intelligent life in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

2 comments on “An Angel, Baby: Rosie & The Originals

  1. John Smistad


  2. Sylvana E

    I hope she felt blessed in spite of her suffering…

    So many people felt the tenderness and heartfelt dreamy love of that song!

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