Friday, May 16, 2008

“Baby” Week, Part 2

When I think of Andy Kim’s version of “Baby, I Love You,” my mind pairs it instantly with his next Top 20 hit, “Be My Baby” (Steed 729). This pairing rivals the connection I make between Donnie Elbert’s back-to-back Motown covers from 1971-72. In Andy’s case, there was a minor hit between the two pillars of his Steed period.

I don’t think I link them because of the Ronettes connection. I don’t think it’s the “baby-baby” thing. It could well be that it’s because, like next week’s tunes, they are two songs by the same artist that bracket my mother’s death. One brought me joy before her passing, and one brought me comfort after it.

These two songs are joined so tightly in my mind that I made the biggest (known) factual error of my blogging year (so far) when I wrote about “Baby, I Love You.” Perhaps everyone else connects these two songs the way I do, because no one called me on the obvious, huge mistake. Or were you all too polite to step on my toes? I do hope not!

I said that “Baby, I Love You” by the Ronettes peaked at #2. Their #2 hit was “Be My Baby.” They took “Baby, I Love You” to #24 four months later. In essence, the success of the Ronettes’ versions and Andy Kim’s versions was reversed. And if I don’t stay focused, my success will be reversed. Sorry.

My experiences with the two Andy Kim hits were similar: amazement at the production, delight at the voice, love of the melody and the message. They had “Jeff Barry” written all over them, though it wasn’t until the spate of 1970 hits came along that I knew Jeff Barry was responsible for all this music. I knew what I was getting by the time of “Be My Baby,” which entered the Top 40 on November 28, 1970 and peaked at #17. Even so, I didn’t know what I was getting.

Christmas, 1970 was pretty bleak. No mother, a new babysitter who was starting to change how things ran for my family (often for the better, but not always), few prospects for presents. It sounds shallow when I say that, but one thing I always associated with my mom was imaginative and unexpected gifts. That era was done.

But I had the radio. My babysitter, a woman a few years younger than my father who would become my stepmother in a couple of years, loved pop music as much as I did, and the stereo in her living room was always tuned to WLS. I picture that console, and the wall behind it, and the avocado sculptured carpet beneath it, when I hear “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “That’s Where I Went Wrong” and “Be My Baby.”

The difference among these songs is that “Be My Baby” got me to run to the stereo, turn it up if I was there alone, and press my ear to the speaker. As is surely the case with most of you, there are songs that reduce me to nothing but an ear-brain connection, one big auditory nerve. One of my hundred or so such songs is “Be My Baby” by Andy Kim.

The song’s production is a cousin of “Baby, I Love You,” from the big boom at the beginning to the energetic piano and the amazing bass line. The interwoven vocals in the chorus are what got me, and when everyone comes in on “Be my baby now,” I usually fall over.

But why this version, more than the Ronettes’ #2 hit? (Ha! Got it this time!)

By shifting the chord at the end of the second phrase of the chorus (“Be my little baby”) from the root of the relative minor to the major fourth (F minor to C# major in this case), Jeff and Andy made the chorus sound much happier to me. Around Christmas, 1970, I needed a happy song. Between Susan Jacks singing about being on a cold bus and some other dude moaning about raindrops falling on people’s heads (they were still playing that one), a lot of the radio music wasn’t helpful. Andy got me over the hump, even though the song didn’t get as much airplay as I would have liked.

It often happens that I have a jukebox story to attach to my 45s. In this case, I went roller skating sometime in early 1971, with a group that certainly was not my family. I took a break to get a drink, and I spied a jukebox. I had a dime for a song, so I was perusing my options when a luscious 16-year-old appeared over my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “Play that one, okay?”

She was pointing to “Be My Baby.” I gladly agreed, as it was the song I was after. Her friend, who must have known what a manipulative minx she was, called over to me not to listen to her; that I could play whatever I wanted. I replied that I was happy with that choice, and so I played “Be My Baby” for an older woman I never saw again. Then I went back to skating.

On this cut, the band is back, as the musicians seem not to have disappointed Jeff this time around. The interesting suggestion has been made that Jeff sped up some of Andy’s recordings, which put them into an uncomfortable key for live performances. I doodled with “Be My Baby,” and if you lower the pitch by a semitone, Andy’s voice sounds like the Andy of “Rock Me Gently.” Further evidence is that “Be My Baby” reached us in the key of G sharp, whereas G is a much easier key for recording. If you drop the pitch of “Baby, I Love You,” Andy sounds sluggish. Thus, I can believe Jeff sped up “Be My Baby,” but not “Baby, I Love You.” At least he sped it up exactly one half-step; it would be terrible if the song were out of tune to everyone’s guitar or piano. (I am including the slowed version below.)

I don’t know if this song would have even more resonance if it had arrived during the early caithiseach days, but it certainly filled a void in my soul at a time I needed one filled. The two Andy Kim songs I featured this week also serve as bookends to a huge helping of musical comfort food that helped me weather January, 1970; that song will get its due on Wednesday, at which point I’ll be a year older. See you then!

Andy Kim, Be My Baby original pitch

Andy Kim, Be My Baby lower pitch


Stephanie said...

And allow me to be the first to wish caithiseach a Very Happy Birthday!

May 19th, a day for celebrating all that is wonderful, precious you...

I adore you.


stackja1945 said...

You made an error. So what? We all learn. Now the music. I can notice a difference but still undecided which I prefer.