“Is this Prog?”, I hear you asking. Well the simple answer to that is clearly ‘No’. It is, however, superiorly crafted AOR from a British band whose history certainly makes for interesting reading, especially when you consider the various bands/careers that subsequently emerged from this outfit.
In brief, The Babys were formed in London when Michael Corby (keyboards/guitar) was joined by John Waite (vocals/bass), Tony Brock (drums) and, completing the line-up, Wally Stocker (guitar). The band were signed to Chrysalis Records for a record sum of a cool one million pounds and released their eponymous debut album in early 1977, swiftly followed by Broken Heart in September of the same year. In rapid succession the band released Head First (1978), which also marked the departure of co-founder Michael Corby, replaced by Jonathan Cain (keyboards) and Ricky Phillips (bass). They released both Union Jacks and On the Edge in 1980, before the band dissolved at the end of that year.
Before moving on, what happened to The Babys afterwards? John Waite went solo, reemerging in 1984 with the U.S. number one single Missing You. Johnathan Cain would join Journey, becoming one of the main songwriters within the band, especially on 1981’s Escape, where he co-wrote all the tracks, including the two singles Don’t Stop Believin’ and Who’s Crying Now. Wally Stocker and Tony Brock would go one to work with Rod Stewart and, latterly, Elton John.
Musically I would sit The Babys somewhere between Free and Bad Company, with distinct AOR leanings. Certainly, the Free influence can be heard in the epic Dying Man from their debut, you can almost hear Paul Kosoff being channelled through Wally Stocker’s guitar lines. These harder-edged and Free-like stylings might well surprise all who thought they were a pop band.
This excellent box-set from Cherry Red Records comprises the six albums released between 1975-1980 augmented with a multitude of bonus tracks – mainly single B-sides and mono versions of tracks. The exception can be found on the Union Jacks album, where we have six live cuts recorded in Cleveland circa 1979, and on the the ‘bonus’ sixth disc which includes their earliest recordings, The Unofficial Babys from 1975, along with the Live at the Tower Theatre Philadelphia set from 1977. Here the band were promoting their then debut album. So, all in all, a very fine collection of The Babys’ output during their years on the Chrysalis label, whilst showing just how strong they were as a musical entity.
Each of the albums has a mixture of radio-friendly and passionately sung and performed tracks with the earlier albums really showing their influences, which tended to be written out on later albums. John Waite’s voice is a revelation on all of these albums and shows that for a boy from Lancaster he certainly did well. They could certainly write both strong and interesting material too. There is a lot of promise on offer here and some fine bluesy Bad Company-ish guitar work on offer here too.
Give Me Your Love certainly stands out as a fine slow-paced rocker with its excellent guitar riffs. This album was also their U.S. Breakthrough with the track Isn’t It Time?, with its inspired use of strings and horn section to give it that extra punch. This album also had their other single, Silver Dreams, and it’s also worth mentioning And If You Could See Me Fly which has some more remarkably impressive Kossoff-type guitar playing from Wally Stocker. This guy certainly deserves a wider audience and acclaim for his fiery playing.
The Golden Mile also features some very fine keyboards and atmospherics to make this an epic sounding track along with a subtly graceful lead break from Wally, who was apparently a huge fan of Paul Kossoff and based his sound on that style of playing.Rescue Me also has a Free-style creeping in, and sounds all the better for it too.
Listening to these albums again makes you realise just how important this group actually were as a lot of ’80s bands found the music of The Babys to be a template for creating their own AOR music. They certainly had the songs and the chops to deliver them all in one tidy package and were far more than just a pop band. In any guise, much of their material would easily sit on a Free or Bad company album.
The B-side Money That’s What I Want is an old rock and roil track given The Babys’ treatment and sounds awesome with John Waite on red-hot form backed with excellent playing from the rest of the band; a very classy rocking number. the other extra tracks on this album are either mono versions or edits of album songs, but all make this is a very strong album of fine music.
Head First was the first album to really show their AOR prowess, with such fine examples as Every Time I Think of You and the title track Head First, but worthy of note is the fiery Run to Mexico which shows off Wally’s guitar once again, while the crunchy rock of Head First shows off John’s fine voice to fullest; this man could sing the phone book and still sound fine. The rest of the album is ok, but not of the same calibre somehow. Again, bonus tracks are edits and mono versions of Head First and Every Time I Think of You.
The fourth album, Union Jacks, is probably where they hit real paydirt, with new members Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips replacing Mike Corby and freeing John Waite to just sing while Phillips handled the bass duties. This album includes Back On My Feet Again and True Love True Confessions, both of which storm along very nicely with swipes at celebrity media stories that have sadly now come over the pond to ruin our press too. There is a return for Wally Stocker’s fiery guitar on Midnight Rendezvous as it gallops along with a strong melody and guitar and keyboard parts all in the right place and sounding very fine indeed.
I have to say, I think this is the best of all their albums as it contains the essences that made this band so good. The material is strong and varied with great performances from all parties and the addition of Jonathan Cain brings something fresh to the sound while his contributions to the songwriting elevate the songs – little wonder why Journey sought him out when The Babys had run its course.
This album also has the quirkier Jesus Are You There?, which questions faith and religious beliefs. I used to love this song in the early ’80s and I still enjoy it now, I think it still stands up well, as indeed does the whole album for me. This is followed by the excellent Turnaround in Tokyo which talks of life on the road whilst touring Japan, where the band had a huge following. With its interesting rhythmic stylings making this a fine song, and with Wally’s guitar interjections and Jonathan’s synths and piano pounding adding to the atmosphere of this song. The closing chant section of “Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo” finishes up the song in style.
Last track is another atmospheric slow-burner, Love Is Just A Mystery, which brings things to a good conclusion with its atmospheric keyboards and the space that makes it sound bigger somehow. Again, a couple of edits and mono versions round things out, but wait, there are also six live tracks. Exact line-up, location or recording dates are not disclosed, they seem to be from the Head First album tours but I think Jonathan Cain might be on keyboards, so timewise that would fit. These are solid performances and show how assured and confident the band were by this time.
The last official album, On the Edge is really more of the same as by this time the band had pretty much run its course, and it shows here as the songs are more show and lack substance, although Rock and Roll Is (Alive and Well) is a return to former glories giving Wally a rare chance to shine through once again. He also gets a chance on Downtown where he adds some crunchy guitar lines once again.
The rest of the tracks, Postcard, Too Far Gone and Love Won’t Wait are all standard fare. It’s a shame that the band didn’t manage to harness or play to the strengths that they had showcased so successfully on Union Jacks. I guess constant touring and insufficient time to write and record properly all take their toll eventually.
The final album is an oddity comprising their earliest recordings (pre-Chrysalis) and a live show from 1977 in Philadelphia and featuring songs from their then debut album (they did open for Kiss around this time so these recordings could be from them possibly) but they sound fiery and suitably hard-edged in concert, John Waite’s voice has promise here but is not fully formed. Wally’s guitar gets a chance to soar here though, and he sounds good.
The latter longer songs of this set are the better ones, the band getting a chance to stretch out a little bit and show how good they actually are. It’s a fine set, a tad brief but for a support act it certainly would capture your attention and possibly make you want to check them out for yourself.
The Unofficial Babys album is ok and generally shows the direction in which they would head later once they had signed their million-pound record deal. Interesting but not essential, whereas the rest of the excellent set from Hear No Evil/Cherry Red is most certainly worthy of your investigation, especially for those that like AOR or even Free or Bad Company. The sound is good and the packaging is of mini album sleeves in a clamshell box that Cherry Red do such a great job of. All in all, this is a very good value set and while it may not be to everyone’s taste it is certainly a very worthy set for Journey or John Waite or classic AOR Fans.
Disc One: The Babys (1976)
01. Looking For Love (4:48)
02. If You’ve Got The Time (2:34)
03. I Believe In Love (4:18)
04. Wild Man (3:32)
05. Laura (5:05)
06. I Love How You Love Me (2:25)
07. Rodeo (3:00)
08. Over And Over (4:45)
09. Read My Stars (2:46)
10. Dying Man (6:33)
~ Bonus Tracks:
11. If You’ve Got Time (Alt Version) (2:24)
12. Head Above The Waves (Single B Side) (2:47)
13. If You’ve Got The Time (Mono) (2:26)
Disc Two: Broken Heart (1977)
01. Wrong Or Right (3:28)
02. Give Me Your Love (3:37)
03. Isn’t It Time (4:03)
04. And If You Could See Me Fly (2:50)
05. The Golden Mile (2:53)
06. Broken Heart (3:02)
07. I’m Falling (3:55)
08. Rescue Me (3:50)
09. Silver Dreams (3:00)
10. A Piece Of The Action (4:35)
~ Bonus Tracks:
11. Money (That’s What I Want) (4:29)
12. Silver Dreams (Mono) (2:58)
13. Isn’t It Time (Single Edit) (3:03)
14. Isn’t It Time (Mono) (3:24)
Disc Three: Head First (1978)
01. Love Don’t Prove I’m Right (2:45)
02. Every Time I Think Of You (4:02)
03. I Was One (3:36)
04. White Lightning (3:19)
05. Run To Mexico (4:35)
06. Head First (4:00)
07. You (Got It) (4:28)
08. Please Don’t Leave Me Here (3:07)
09. California (4:02)
~ Bonus Tracks:
10. Head First (Single Edit) (3:48)
11. Every Time I Think Of You (Single Edit) (3:48)
12. Head First (Mono) (3:35)
13. Every Time I Think Of You (Mono) (3:48)
Disc Four: Union Jacks (1980)
01. Back On My Feet Again (3:19)
02. True Love True Confession (4:06)
03. Midnight Rendezvous (3:36)
04. Union Jacks (5:42)
05. In Your Eyes (4:05)
06. Anytime (3:21)
07. Jesus Are you There? (3:34)
08. Turn Around In Tokyo (3:53)
09. Love Is Just A Mystery (3:32)
~ Bonus Tracks:
10. Midnight Rendezvous (Single Edit) (3:08)
11. Intro (Live In Cleveland) (0:09)
12. Broken Heart (B-Side Live In Cleveland) (3:01)
13. Money (That’s What I Want) (B-Side Live In Cleveland) (4:22)
14. Every Time I Think OF You (B-Side Live In Cleveland) (2:39)
15. Isn’t It Time (B-Side Live In Cleveland) (3:59)
16. Head First (B-Side Live In Cleveland) (4:29)
17. Back On My Feet Again (Mono) (3:20)
18. Midnight Rendezvous (Mono) (3:07)
Disc Five: On The Edge (1980)
01. Turn And Walk Away (3:11)
02. Sweet 17 (2:46)
03. She’s My Girl (3:20)
04. Darker Side Of Town (2:25)
05. Rock ‘N’ Roll (Alive And Well) (4:07)
06. Downtown (3:36)
07. Postcard (2:41)
08. Too Far Gone (2:55)
09. Gonna Be Somebody (2:59)
10. Love Won’t Wait (3:01)
~ Bonus Tracks:
11. Turn And Walk Away (Mono) (3:11)
12. Postcard (Mono) (2:43)
Disc Six: Live At the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia (1977)
01. Looking For Love (5:53)
02. Rodeo (3:19)
03. Wild Man (3:58)
04. If You’ve Got the Time (2:45)
05. I Believe In Love (3:41)
06. Give Me Your Love (7:02)
07. If You Could See Me Fly (8:07)
The Unofficial Babys Album (1978)
08. Bitch Or Angel (2:46)
09. I Wear Your Ring (3:53)
10. I’m Falling (3:09)
11. Time On MY Hands (3:07)
12. You’ll Get Yours 2:13)
13. Do It Nice (2:42)
14. Step In Line (2:42)
15. Rainy Day (2:38)
16. Jack The Lad (3:15)
17. If You Could See My Fly (2:02)
Total Time – 316:13
John Waite – Bass, Vocals
Wally Stocker – Guitars, Vocals
Tony Brock – Drums, Percussion, Background Vocals
Michael Corby – Keyboards, Rhythm Guitar (Discs 1-3 & 6)
Johnathon Cain – Keyboards, Vocals (Discs 4 & 5)
Ricky Phillips – Bass (Discs 4 & 5)
Lisa Roberts – Background Vocals (Disc 2, tracks 3 & 9)
Pat Henderson – Background Vocals (Disc 2, tracks 3 & 9)
Myrna Matthews – Background Vocals (Disc 2, tracks 3 & 9)
Alan MacMillan – String & Horn Arrangements
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Date of Release: 6th December 2019