The Beatles. The Posies. American Music Club. What have those bands got in common? Well, aside from the fact that they’re all brilliant, they’re all saddled with terrible, terrible names. The Posies and American Music Club saddled themselves with ludicrous monikers because they thought they’d only last a couple of gigs and the Fabs were so in awe of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, they thought an insect related name was the way to go. It turned out quite well for them though, didn’t it?
This brings us neatly to the subject in hand. It’s 1976. You’re a rocker with UFO, Rush, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath embroidered neatly on to the back of your tatty denim jacket. Would you be seen dead with an album by a band called The Babys?
The Babys are the AOR Yardbirds, more famous for their ex-members than their body of work. In the space of five years, the band featured John “Missing You” Waite, Jonathan “Journey” Cain, Tony “Elton John/Rod Stewart” Brock and Ricky “Styx” Phillips. They were (quite) big in the USA, but they never became a household name. In spite of that, Cherry Red have scooped up pretty much everything they ever recorded and released it as the definitive Babys artefact – Silver Dreams: The Complete Albums 1975-1980. As a Babys fan, you really couldn’t ask for more – literally.
The first album, The Babys, was a slightly less than auspicious start. It’s an OK-ish record, in the way that a lot of albums from this era are. Rock was in a weird place in 1976, in the netherworld between the Zep/Purple/Sabbath years and the AOR explosion of the late seventies. If their debut had come out 18 months later, it could have been a different story. In spite of Bob Ezrin’s production, it was doomed to moderate sales and little else. Only one track, the strident “Rodeo,” comes across with any real impact.
Album two, Broken Heart, is loads better and features “Isn’t it Time,” their breakthrough hit, which would have been a top-forty smash, whoever recorded it. It’s an FM radio classic, from the tinkly piano intro to the big-ass horn arrangement via a colossal chorus. If you don’t like it, you’re wrong. Album three, Head First, is sort of the same, but not quite as good. There was another hit on it, “Every Time I Think of You,” but this sounds like a band treading water.
For album four, the band made an unapologetic, American Rock Radio album. “Union Jacks” (oh, the irony…) sees the addition of Americans Ricky Phillips and Jonathan Cain, with Keith Olsen in the producer’s chair. It’s a slick, polished, air conditioned, turbo-powered roadster of an album, with every tune a guaranteed radio hit. Girly backing vocals and string arrangements are out and enormous choruses are in. It’s ace. If you’ve ever punched the air to REO Speedwagon and wondered if Journey recorded any albums apart from the one with “Don’t Stop Believing” on, this record is very much for you.
Apparently, Brian “Fifty Year Career With The Same Haircut” May was a bit of a fan of the band at this point, and we all know that disagreeing with Brian May is like stealing lollipops from orphans, don’t we? Their second album of 1980, On The Edge, is OK. It sticks to the formula, but the writing was on the wall. The band fragmented and became AOR royalty in their new positions as solo stars or superstar sidemen. There’s a version of the band currently playing the nostalgia circuit in the US and fair play to ‘em, It’s a great legacy.
Bolted on to this boxed set are a couple of tasty rarities, a live album from 1977 and what was to be their first album. Recorded in 1975, “The Official Unofficial Babys Album” is pretty decent, better than the “real” first album in many ways. It’s got an energy that the major label debut lacks, as is often the way.
Hats off to Cherry Red for putting this together. It’s not a massively important historical document, but it rings the changes from the Classic Rock era, to what the eighties would sound like. There are some great tunes on this and there’s enough rare stuff to make it an essential purchase for the person who thought they had everything by the band already.
It might be a big ol’ lump for the casual listener, but if you’ve ever wished that UFO were a bit poppier or Smokie were a bit heavier, well here you go. Maybe, in the topsy-turvy world of 2020, it’s finally OK to admit that you like a band with such a profoundly daft name.
You can buy this set everywhere.