Babies, more than ten thousand of them, are born in this country every day. What’s the big deal?
Well, it’s a big deal, all right — probably the biggest deal — when it’s YOUR baby. Perhaps just as big a deal is when it’s your baby’s baby, and suddenly, you’re a grandparent!
My daughter, Emily, the talented singer/songwriter many of you know from YouTube and Spotify, had a seven-pound baby boy last week, and she and husband Mike have named him Blue. A colorful name, to be sure, and with a Joni Mitchell connection to boot! My wife Judy and I are so thrilled for them, of course, but also for ourselves, as we begin this exciting new chapter of life.
So for this week’s blog, I’ve assembled a collection of songs about babies. Most of these in the classic rock catalog were written about specific babies (their own or a relative’s baby) rather than babies in general. There are many hundreds of songs with “baby” in the title that are actually about girlfriends or boyfriends, so my list will instead focus on songs about real babies, or the children they grow into soon enough. There’s a Spotify playlist at the end, as usual.
Let’s celebrate the miracle of birth!
“It’s a Boy,” The Who, 1969
At the beginning of The Who’s magnum opus “Tommy,” right after the “Overture,” there’s a brief track that announces the arrival of a baby son, which I felt was a fine way to kick off this set of songs. The rest of the story of Pete Townshend’s “Tommy” is full of traumas and setbacks that we needn’t go into here, but the album (and its single “Pinball Wizard”) proved to be huge commercial breakthroughs for The Who, reaching #4 on US charts and turning them into one of the top concert draws in their peak years.
“Lullaby Baby Blues,” Keb’ Mo’, 1996
Country blues singer/guitarist Kevin Moore adopted the ebonic stage name Keb’ Mo’ in 1990 and has won multiple Grammys for Best Contemporary Blues Album, including his third effort, “Just Like You,” in 1996. The closing track on that LP is this delicate blues ballad, written in honor of his nephew, then just a three-year-old: “Hush now, no need to talk, hear the ticking of the clock, /Stars that twinkle, stars that shine, dream and you’ll have wings to fly, /Goodnight baby blues, close your eyes, baby blues…”
“Beautiful Boy,” John Lennon, 1980
When Lennon’s son Sean was born in 1975, Lennon withdrew from the music business and public eye to spend full time raising the boy while his wife tended to business affairs. When the time came for John to return to the studio to record new songs, probably the best one he came up with was “Beautiful Boy,” sung to Sean to calm him after a nightmare. The lyrics profess his profound love for Sean, and contain the Allen Saunders quote, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
“St. Judy’s Comet,” Paul Simon, 1973
Simon and first wife Peggy had a son named Harper in the autumn of 1972, just as Simon was writing the material that would comprise his hugely popular “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” LP (back cover shown). While “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like a Rock” received most of the airplay and attention, I’ve always been charmed by “St. Judy’s Comet,” a lovely song for his infant son, in which he whimsically sings, “If I can’t sing my boy to sleep, well it makes your famous daddy look so dumb, look so dumb…”
“Cry Baby Cry,” The Beatles, 1968
This is one of those expertly arranged tunes that makes The Beatles’ “White Album” so compelling. Lennon and McCartney (and Harrison too) wrote an engagingly diverse collection of songs while on retreat in India, and while Lennon said he thought “Cry Baby Cry” didn’t amount to much, I love the melody, chords and instrumentation, and John’s use of words from the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence” move the song along nicely.
“Too Busy Thinking ‘Bout My Baby,” Marvin Gaye, 1969
First recorded by The Temptations in 1966, this Motown classic by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong became a Top Five hit when Marvin Gaye recorded it in 1969. Although the song is actually about a woman rather than a baby, I’ve included it here because the lyrics work for both. The narrator doesn’t have time to think about money, or how flowers grow, or the weather, because “when it comes to thinkin’ about anything but my baby, I just don’t have the time…”
“Isn’t She Lovely,” Stevie Wonder, 1976
Among the most joyous songs Stevie Wonder ever wrote and recorded is this effervescent tribute to the birth of his daughter Aisha in 1976, whose first cry, captured at the time of birth, can be heard in the song’s introduction. He refused to edit the song’s six-minute running time, so it wasn’t released as a single, but it still received plenty of airplay: “Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wonderful? Isn’t she precious? Less than one minute old… I can’t believe what God has done, /Through us, He’s given life to one…”
“Baby Blue,” Badfinger, 1972
Guitarist Pete Ham wrote this upbeat rocker about a woman he once cared for, not a baby, but based on the title, I don’t see how I could omit it from the list! Indeed, I’ve used one line of lyric as this blog’s title. It ended up as Badfinger’s final hit, reaching #14 in 1972, and appears on their “Straight Up” LP. More recently, it was played in the background of the final scene of the final episode of the landmark “Breaking Bad” TV series in 2013.
“Danny’s Song,” Loggins and Messina, 1971
When Kenny Loggins was still in high school in 1966, he was moved to write a song for his brother Danny to commemorate the birth of Kenny’s nephew, Colin: “People smile and tell me I’m the lucky one, and we’ve just begun, think I’m gonna have a son…” Five years later, Loggins resurrected it for use on his debut LP with Jim Messina, “Sittin’ In,” and it became one of his most beloved tunes. The following year, Canadian singer Anne Murray recorded a cover version that reached the Top Ten on the US pop charts.
“Hush a Bye,” Livingston Taylor, 1970
Thanks to James Taylor’s mother Trudy, all of the children in the family had musical talent. They used to have “kitchen concerts” growing up in North Carolina, with brother Livingston on banjo and harmonies. In 1970, he won his own recording contract with Capricorn, and his debut LP, produced by Jon Landau, included his minor hit “Carolina Day,” sort of a companion tune to James’s “Carolina In My Mind.” Among the nine Livingston originals was the touching lullaby, “Hush a Bye.”
“The Greatest Discovery,” Elton John, 1970
Lyricist Bernie Taupin came up with an inventive spin on the birth of a baby by seeing it through the eyes of a curious toddler brother who wants to know why there’s so much excitement in the household. “The Greatest Discovery,” from the 1970 “Elton John” album, captures the moment the youngster first hears and sees the infant: “His puzzled head tipped to one side, amazement swims in those bright green eyes, /Glancing down upon this thing that makes strange sounds, strange sounds that sing…”
“Child of Mine,” Carole King, 1970
King, with her former husband Gerry Goffin, wrote many hit singles for an array of different artists in the 1960s, and had one of the biggest selling albums of all time, “Tapestry,” in 1971. Just prior to that LP, though, her debut album (“Writer”) was largely ignored, except for the pretty ballad “Child of Mine,” a song of hope to her daughter Louise, then ten years old: “I don’t want to hold you back, I just want to watch you grow… /Oh yes, sweet darling, so glad you are a child of mine…”
“Baby Mine,” Bette Midler, 1988
Written in 1940 for the Walt Disney animated film “Dumbo,” this old-fashioned ballad about a mother’s unconditional love has been recorded by numerous artists in more recent years, including Kenny Loggins and Art Garfunkel. I’m partial to the version Bette Midler rendered for the soundtrack of the poignant 1988 film “Beaches”: “Baby mine, don’t you cry, /Baby mine, dry your eyes, /Rest your head close to my heart, /Never to part, baby of mine…”
“Sweet Baby James,” James Taylor, 1970
In 1969, Taylor’s older brother Alex had a baby and named it after younger brother James, inspiring the singer-songwriter to write what he described as “a cowboy lullaby.” He came up with the words to “Sweet Baby James” while he was driving from Massachusetts to North Carolina to visit the infant. It became the title track to the album that put Taylor on the map: “Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, won’t you let me go down in my dreams, and rock-a-bye, sweet baby James…”
“The Things We’ve Handed Down,” Marc Cohn, 1993
Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” was a Song of the Year Grammy nominee in 1991, and his 1993 sophomore LP, “The Rainy Season,” showed he was no flash in the pan, with 11 great original songs. The album closer perfectly captures the loving speculation of how a not-yet-born baby might turn out: “Will you laugh just like your mother? Will you sigh like your old man? Will some things skip a generation like I’ve heard they often can? Are you a poet or a dancer, a devil or a clown, or a strange new combination of the things we’ve handed down?…”