Rosie Hamlin wrote this when she was 14 years old. It began as a poem about a boyfriend, and was based on "Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)" by The Penguins. Rosie had some experience as a singer with a local band, getting the job by telling them she was 16.
The appeal of the song rests in Rosie's bell-like vocals and the utter simplicity of both the lyrics and the single, repeated melodic line. The inexpert musicianship and unpolished recording quality contribute to its charm.
This made it to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1960. It remained on the charts for twelve weeks. It is listed as #34 on the 1961 Hot 100 for the year.
Immediately after writing this, Rosie certified-mailed herself a copy so that it would be legally dated, a wise move in view of the legal mess later created by Highland Records.
Many members of the Hamlin family were musically inclined. The Originals were a group of family friends who hung out and jammed at the house. They were Noah Tafolla, David Ponci, Tony Gomez, Carl Von Goodat and Alfred Barrett. Rosie later married Tafolla.
This was recorded on a two-track machine in an abandoned airline hangar which was being converted to a recording studio. Bass player Tony Gomez is on sax, because the sax player had to stay home and mow the lawn.
For publicity, the group went to Kresge's in San Diego and took advantage of a then-standard feature of variety stores - the preview or listening booth in the record department. They received permission to play this in the booths so teens shopping for records could hear it. The response was overwhelmingly positive. A scout for Highland Records was in the store and immediately offered them a contract.
Highland Records took possession of the master as a condition of the contract, and talked Rosie into allowing Ponci instead of herself to be named on the contract as "Angel Baby"'s composer. None of the promised royalties were paid, for this or any other recording the band made for Highland. Rosie got out of her Highland contract and signed with Brunswick. With Tafolla, she went to New York and recorded an LP, "Lonely Blue Nights," and performed with other Brunswick artists at the Brooklyn Paramount. Rosie won back the composer's rights to Angel Baby in 1961, but faced a series of court fights to obtain the royalties.
The B-side is "Give Me Love," in a completely different style, with vocals by Bluford Wade.
In a 1969 interview, John Lennon named Rosie as one of his favorite vocalists. He covered "Angel Baby" for his Rock & Roll album, but it wasn't released until 1986 on Menlove Avenue.
Rosie Hamlin has enjoyed a long, vital career in music. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. She also briefly worked as an art teacher. She has two children.
An amazing quote about this song has appeared on a number of websites. It is attributed to Mark Sten (of the Oblivion Seekers?) in "Rock Almanac" (which one of several books and blogs of that name is not specified). It describes the instrumentals as "generating a robot mantra devoid of embellishment or variation, the perfect underpinning for Rosie's piercing, disembodied-siren vocal. With 'Angel Baby,' rock had regressed as far as it could, some nameless dread loosed within the collective Top 40 mind had run its course and spent itself in a lost mournful wail. 'Angel Baby' was the final moonlit flowering of rock's medieval phase, paean to a purity and innocence no longer possible in the real world."