On this week’s Monday Mixtape, Marco Cartolano picks a few of the hundreds of song with “baby” in the title. This playlist is availabe on Spotify here.
[“Ooo Baby Baby” - The Miracles]
Hello everybody, and welcome to Monday Mixtape. Time to talk about pop music’s favorite word. That’s right, we’re talking about “baby.” Songs with baby in the title have existed since the birth of modern popular music. This mixtape is but a small sample of the hundreds of songs I could have chosen from. Let’s start with Motown. “Ooo Baby Baby” by the Miracles is a song of regret. Lead singer Smokey Robinson croons out an apology to a girlfriend that he cheated on. He says all humans, including the girlfriend, have made mistakes too. Like any great Motown song, this soul track has tight backing harmonies. They also get an assist from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on strings and from Motown’s in-house band, the Funk Brothers, on drum and bass.
[“Baby Love” - The Supremes]
Another Motown staple, “Baby Love” by the Supremes also involves pleas with a lover. This time, it’s towards an insensitive boyfriend who threatens to end their relationship. The Supremes were Motown’s premiere act, and many consider them to be the biggest girl group of all time. With “Baby Love,” they became the first Motown group to have more than one single top the charts. It has many similarities with their previous hit “Where Did Our Love Go.” Both feature Diana Ross’ cooing vocals, backing vocals that go “Baby, baby,” and a similar instrumental from the Funk Brothers. Songs like “Baby Love” helped establish Motown’s signature style, a style that has influenced countless R&B musicians.
[“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” - Bob Dylan]
On a less romantic note, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” by Bob Dylan is a bitter farewell to the titular “Baby Blue.” This track came at a fraught time in Dylan’s career. He left behind the traditions of the New York folk scene and the protest music that made him famous, and started to experiment with more abstract and personal lyrics. “Baby Blue” shows the influence of symbolist poetry. The identity of the subject is up for debate - some say it’s a former girlfriend, others say it’s his friends in the folk scene, and still more say it’s about Dylan himself. What’s not up for debate is the beauty of the acoustic guitar and the melancholic way Dylan delivers his lines.
[“Coney Island Baby” - Lou Reed]
Lou Reed was one of rock’s most famous assholes. He was known to be rude in interviews and treated his former bandmates in the Velvet Underground like dirt. His music would often reflect his abrasive personality – this is the guy that released an album that was nothing but guitar feedback. So it’s refreshing to hear a lighter side of him on “Coney Island Baby.” It’s anchored by a breezy guitar line and features warm backing vocals. Reed is also in a relatively good mood. He reflects on a past where he wanted to appear more masculine, but then he accepts his own version of love. If you listen to it knowing that a teenaged Reed was subjected to electroconvulsive therapy to cure homosexual urges, the sentiment feels even more real. He even dedicates the song to his transgender girlfriend at the time.
[“Give It To Me Baby” - Rick James]
Let’s talk about Rick James. Before Dave Chappelle immortalized James’ drugged-up antics on Chappelle’s Show, James was best known for his funky ‘80s singles. “Give It to Me Baby” has groovy horns and a bass line with more than a passing resemblance to the one in Michael Jackson’s later hit “Thriller.” James sounds so excited on the track to ask his girl for some late night sex. The chorus also never left my head.
[“Don’t Worry Baby” - Beach Boys]
The Beach Boys sure can sing, right? On “Don’t Worry Baby,” Brian Wilson takes lead vocals. While “Don’t Worry Baby” came out before the band reached their creative peak, its lyrics are more nuanced than the sunny Beach Boys singles that preceded it. It’s about a young driver who’s afraid to race in a competition after bragging about his car. But his girlfriend encourages him and asks him to keep her in his heart during the race. It’s got the tight harmonies and simple instrumentation that you would expect from early Beach Boys, but that nuance foreshadows the masterpieces that they would have in store.
[“Baby’s on Fire” - Brian Eno]
Finally, here’s a more unorthodox track with “Baby’s on Fire” by Brian Eno. Before the super producer revolutionized ambient music, he released several glam rock flavored albums. “Baby’s on Fire” comes from his debut, Here Come the Warm Jets. Eno sings for the first minute of the track, but then he gives the track over to guitarists Paul Rudolph and the legendary Robert Fripp. It’s a tense track aided by electronic loops, and Eno’s snotty delivery adds a sense of menace. The surreal lyrics also contribute to the weird atmosphere of the track.
[Reprise - “Baby’s on Fire”]
And that’s all for Monday Mixtape. This week’s playlist will be available on Spotify at mondaymixtape. Make sure to subscribe to Monday Mixtape on Apple Podcasts so you get a notification every time we post a new episode. Until next time baby, this has been Marco Cartolano for NBN Audio.