Angel Baby by Rosie & The Originals is one of those oldies around which an entire legend, if not a career, has been built, such is its lasting impact among a generation of a certain age. Rosie Hamlin's primordial squeak, with its pangs of earnest yearning, was a sound with which every adolescent female in America could identify because they knew instinctively that she was one of their own. As Phil Spector used to ask his flunky, Sonny Bono, when the latest Spector masterpiece was blasting back at them over the studio monitors - "Is it dumb enough?" "What he meant was, did it grab the kids at their level enough to make them go out and buy it," Bono later remarked.
If ever there was a record that met this criterion, then it was Angel Baby, which propelled a group of hapless amateurs into national prominence during the early months of 1961. It wasn't just a hit, but an absolute smash, hitting the Hot 100 at #40 on 12 December 1960, a feat only groups like the Beatles were able to better in the mid-60s. In fact John Lennon frequently cited Angel Baby as one of his all-time favourites and later recorded the song himself.
Rosalie (Rosie) Hamlin was born in Klamath Falls, Oregon in 1944 and grew up in Anchorage, Alaska where her parents had settled when she was about a year old. In the summer of 1956 Rosie's mother bought her an old upright piano from a thrift store and an aunt taught her a few chords and helped her with her vocal technique. The shy schoolgirl began sitting in with local country bands to gain experience and was still attending school, in San Diego, when she teamed up with a quintet of teenage instrumentalists named the Originals.
During the summer school holiday of 1960 they recorded Angel Baby, a song she had scribbled on the back of her notebook as a sophomore at San Diego High School. "It started out as a poem," she says, "I had a puppy love crush on a young boy, the very first boyfriend I ever had, right before I joined the Originals. In San Diego there were no recording studios at all. We called around and we heard about a man in San Marcos, a farming area out in the country. He had an old barn-type building where he had retired to and he'd built a recording studio. I think it was two-track. So we went there and spent the whole day recording it over and over and over again. On the day of the recording, our sax player had to stay at home and rake leaves - his mother wouldn't let him go until he had cleaned the yard. We kept calling him from the recording studio telling him to hurry on over but he said, 'I can't, my mother won't let me leave'. So the bass player had to play sax on the record even though he hardly know how to hold the instrument. Because we were so inexperienced - we had never really played before - we just had very basic raw talent. All of our mistakes went into the record. But, being so simple, all the kids could relate to it."
The contrast between Angel Baby and the flipside, Give Me Love was so extreme that they sounded as though they has been recorded by two different groups. A blues jam which seemingly teetered on the brink of collapse from start to finish, Give Me Love featured a vocal by a local R&B vocalist named Bluford Wade who had written the song at the last moment because the band had failed to come up with a B-side of their own. What followed next reads like the script of a bad 50s teen movie, the full story being related in the accompanying CD booklet.
A record distributor in LA issued Angel Baby on his tiny Highland label only to lose the group once the record had hit the charts, even though they had several more sides in the can. A chance meeting with soul legend, Jackie Wilson, resulted in Rosie signing with the Brunswick label who issued a follow-up, Lonely Blue Nights, which also made the charts, and an LP of the same title.
Compiled for the first time on CD, The Best Of Rosie & The Originals includes all the Highland recordings, the cream of her Brunswick sides and ten previously unissued titles.