Raise your hand if you remember the British rock band The Babys. If you’re of a certain age you likely do, though their window of success was all too brief.
The original group, who performed from 1975-81, had so much going for them. They rocked hard and balladed soft, often in the manner of Bad Company and even Bruce Springsteen with great percussive beats, rockin’ sensibilities, and astounding backup singers.
Their biggest asset was frontman John Waite, with his curious helmet of Kool-Aid red hair and enormous charisma. He was able to belt or croon with equal parts chops and confidence.
And what about that quirky band name? The Babys’ moniker has been attributed to both a jokey reference to record companies seeking bands intended for a pre-teen audience and (according to Waite himself), a commentary on their own childish/churlish behavior.
Even their upbeat tunes had an ineffable whiff of melancholy which gave them depth and nuance. And they were lucky enough to have secured the services of The Babettes, the best female backup singers of the day.
So why aren’t The Babys more iconic? Hard to say, but they may have been victims of insidious timing: a little early for the melodic power tunes of the 1980s but a tad late for their often luxuriant, Phil Spector-ish sound that would have been celebrated a decade earlier. Zeitgeist aside, The Babys, in all their soulful versatility, are deserving of perpetual kudos. Here is a starter list of some of their memorable tracks.
“Head First” (1978)
This deliciously catchy track from their titular album has an infectious rhythm from the jump, riffs that get under the skin, and an earworm of a melody. It’s an unabashed love song that lays out the narrator’s growing investment in another human being in a way that is pithy and relatable. A terrific open-road tune.
“True Love True Confession” (1980)
From their 1980 Union Jacks album, “True Love True Confession” is all hooky rapture with a suave sound that would have been a total contender a few more years into the 1980s. It’s a glossy account of the relationship between a couple whose affair sputters bitterly in the public eye. Waite is in amazing voice, the backup vocals are harmonious and rich. And we get swept into a time machine with the lyrics, “I try to call you, but I only get your service/You’re the Playmate of the Year, so I guess that I deserve it.”
“Back On My Feet Again” (1980)
Another Union Jacks offering. Here, The Babys serve up unjaded relief as the protagonist finds love after being wounded from prior relationships. (“You light up my face with your jokes and your smiles and the way that you came every night/Don’t know what you got, but I’m sure glad I found you/Could be wrong but it sure feels right.”) Its bouncy percussiveness heralds the arrival of elusive happiness; it’s a sweet fist-pumper of a tune for people getting back on their feet for any reason at all.
“Every Time I Think of You” (1978)
One of two bona fide hits for The Babys (it reached #13 on the Billboard chart and #8 on the Cashbox charts). From their Broken Heart album, this gorgeous confection of keyboards, strings, and glowing backup by The Babettes starts sweet and plaintive. As the hero contemplates his growing love for a woman and contending with the naysaying of others, “Every Time I Think of You” is a track in triplicate – three distinct portions which add up to a superb whole. It builds to a crescendo of hope and passion, culminating in the soul-igniting key change at the 3:06 point that takes us all to the church of love. This masterpiece was written by Jack Conrad and Ray Kennedy.
“Isn’t it Time” (1977)
Probably The Babys’ best-known tune, “Isn’t it Time” (from Broken Heart) is the glorious triumph of hope over cynicism. Another spectacular opus by Jack Conrad and Ray Kennedy, it is thematically similar to “Every Time I Think of You” (and both, oddly, charted identically – #13 on Billboard, #8 on Cashbox). It opens with an exquisite piano solo and Waite’s tender vocals as he ponders getting past his doubts and giving in to true love. The Babettes provide an equal part of the serenading, doing a spine-tingling “call and answer” session with Waite as they build him up to a place of willingness. This results in one of classic rock’s greatest confessions of romantic readiness (“I finally found the answers to the questions that keep going through my mind…hey, babe!”). The build to a joyous musical climax continues with strings, horns, and mad percussion until the fade-out. It is one of the finest tunes of the 1970s but gets insufficient airplay these days. It is time to remedy this.
Photo of The Babys (Jbisaha via Wikimedia Commons)