March 3, 2020

Music afficianados of the 70s and 80s are well aware of the musical contributions of The Babys and its members. John Waite’s unique rock tenor graced solo hits such as Missing You, and keyboardist Jonathan Cain became a part of Journey’s signature sound. But before those projects, The Babys made their mark. Founded in London in 1974, with Mike Corby, Adrian Millar, Wally Stocker, Tony Brock, and John Waite, they recorded a freshman album, which wasn’t released – until now. More on that later….

The box set is comprised of the band’s six albums, plus a live show from Philadelphia in 1977. The packaging is somewhat sparse, but attractive. A glossy clamshell box, graced with a picture of the band (including Jonathan Cain) holds the six CDs in folders with their album art. A fold-out with the album credits for all of the albums is also included. Fans may be disappointed by the lack of a booklet with more photos and other mementos, but the packaging makes efficient management and storage for the amount of material included. And the material is generous!

Disc one is The Babys (1976), produced by Brian Christian and Bob Ezrin, and includes 3 bonus tracks. John Waite’s “blue-eyed soul” shines from the beginning of their collaboration. Looking for Love is the standout track, for me, on this album (with bonus track Head Above the Waves as a close second). Disc two, Broken Heart (1977) brings out a different side of the melodic introduction. Ron Nevison’s production style lends more teeth to the sound, and strings and horns fill out the songs. Waite’s plaintive vocals on I’m Falling prove the complexity of his instrument. The delightful gem in the four bonus tracks here is Money (That’s What I Want), complete with rich female background vocals. Nevison also stayed with the band for disc three, Head First (1978), when they trimmed down to a trio of John Waite, Wally Stocker, and John Brock. The album hit #22 in the US, and produced to singles that charted, Everytime I Think of You and Head First. As it stands, Everytime I Think of You was my personal intro to the band, back in the day, and the vocal arrangements drew my ear. This album really seems to be the first time that the mature sound of the band really gels. Four bonus tracks are also included.

By 1980, the band made some changes. Jonathan Cain came on board for keys, as did Ricky Phillips on bass. The album Union Jacks also introduced Keith Olsen as producer (known for his work with Pat Benatar, Heart, Whitesnake, Foreigner, and REO Speedwagon). And out of the albums included, this is my favourite. Back On My Feet Again is peppered with Cain’s keyboard sound, and Waite growls appropriately full of rock angst. Midnight Rendezvous is what every female teenage fan wanted to hear from Waite at the time, and the growl (and invitation) is no less sexy now. Olsen’s gritty production gave the band more traction, and they dug into the kind of rock base they wanted. And the bonus tracks, once again, don’t disappoint.

The live tracks are a testament to what a grand group of musicians they were together – the sound is clear and cohesive. Waite’s voice can growl and cry and weep like the best operatic tenors, but make you feel like he’s 100% a rockstar. The interesting juxtaposition back to the first album shows that the band always had a core of genius in what they did …

Disc five brings us to On the Edge, with Keith Olsen back at the production helm. Some of the bright energy from Union Jacks seems to have dissipated in this album, but the guitar riffs still have bite, and the vocals shine. She’s My Girl stands out as an original piece of the melodic but edgy music that the band did so well, with Waite at the vocal helm. Two extra tracks are included.  

Disc six is a fascinating mix – half of it was recorded live in Philadelphia in 1977, and the other half is the previously unreleased first effort, The Official Unofficial Babys Album (1975). The live tracks are a testament to what a grand group of musicians they were together – the sound is clear and cohesive. Waite’s voice can growl and cry and weep like the best operatic tenors, but make you feel like he’s 100% a rockstar. The interesting juxtaposition back to the first album shows that the band always had a core of genius in what they did – in as much as it improved over time, the first album is a solid piece of work produced by Ian ‘Radar’ Mills. I’m Falling could have appeared on any of the subsequent albums, and done very well as a single.

Fans of the music of 70s and 80s pop/rock will find this collection interesting, and a good listen. Fans of the band will love the content, but may find the packaging a little lackluster.I hope it doesn’t keep them from buying this collection, which is full of the amazing breadth of the work over the Babys career, and will be rewarded with the gems within.

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