By Ken Sharp
The Babys members past and present John Waite, Wally Stocker, Tony Brock and Ricky Phillips share the stories behind some of the group’s most enduring songs.
“Looking For Love”
TONY BROCK: “Looking for Love” started off with the original drum beat with a cowbell. It’s an iconic rhythm that I was able to come up with that inspired the rest of the song. People to this day ask me to show them to play that drum pattern on drums. It’s the song we open our sets with today.
“Isn’t It Time”
JOHN WAITE: It was like a Philadelphia soul song. I think Ron Nevison came up with the song and said, “Hey, I’ve got these guys that I work with, and I’ve got a great song.” With “Isn’t It Time,” you have to really appreciate that we did an absolute number on it — all the backing vocals, I changed the melody.
WALLY STOCKER: That song was written by Ray Kennedy and Jack Conrad. The version Ron Nevison presented to us was very slow; it had an almost rhythm and blues feel to it. So we immediately brought up the tempo. We experimented with strings, brass, girl singers. We were enjoying doing that. It was taking rock and roll and giving it some finesse. We weren’t afraid of experimenting with different instruments, which, in the long run, makes for exciting music in the future, because the spectrum is so much wider as opposed to straight-ahead rock. The only thing that might have backfired on us was people that had heard “Isn’t It Time” and “Every Time I Think Of You” were given the false impression that all of our material was orchestrated pop.
“Every Time I Think Of You”
JOHN WAITE: We tried to repeat the success that “Isn’t It Time” had by using the same situation. That’s something that Steve Marriott and Paul Rodgers showed me from a distance, is you can sing hard rock, flip the coin and sing a ballad, and it’s still believable. Most of the bands that just stick to one thing are one-trick ponies.
TONY BROCK: The musical conception of “Head First” was written on a beautiful white piano in a front room in West Hollywood. I got Wally to come in to play the riff with me, and that’s where it really began to come alive musically.
WALLY STOCKER: We went in as a trio — John, Tony and I — and wrote “Head First.” That just came out of the blue. It was just something that came out in the studio one day. We didn’t have a song that was like that. Everybody just joined in. I showed them what I had in mind for it. For the chorus, Tony Brock and I kind of had an idea for how that was gonna go. I was around his house one day, and we were working on that descending chorus line. It’s the same hook though the whole descending thing. Not too many people were doing that at that time. It’s a melody within a melody. You’ve got the vocal, you’ve got the guitar melody and you’ve got the big chords for the descending thing. But the verses pretty much came together in the studio. Ironically, the song “Head First” wasn’t on the original album we gave the label.
“Back On My Feet Again”
WALLY STOCKER: The skeleton of the song was brought in, and we just fixed it up our way, as we did with most tunes. Everybody put in their style. It really didn’t matter who wrote the songs, just as long as we could project them in a way that we wanted the band to sound.
WALLY STOCKER: I think when it came out, it was actually quite different to what was out there. It was recognizable just by the opening riff. People knew what it was immediately. It has that pumping beat to it, with the line “driving faster than you want me to.” “Midnight Rendezvous” is a cruising song. For the end of the song, I contributed the little turnaround line. That and “Head First” have been played by countless bar bands across the country.
“Turn And Walk Away”
WALLY STOCKER: That was just a fun song to record. It’s a powerful song. I think it’s a song that has our stamp all over it; people know it’s The Babys doing that song.
TONY BROCK: It’s a wonderful song. “Turn and Walk Away” was part of the change in how we were as band when Jonathan and Ricky were part of the team. It was kind of hard to go into that commercial direction a little bit for me, but it ended up being such a good song and a strong statement for The Babys, so I was fine with it.
“Darker Side of Town”
JOHN WAITE: I was going through hell at the time living alone in L.A. Jon (Cain) played the piano, and I made these words up at the same time, and the studio went quiet, and I couldn’t talk. I went outside and stood in the parking lot, and I knew if I didn’t leave The Babys I’d be dead in a year. It made me realize just how fast I was living. The lyrics to that song — “I don’t know who I am on the darker side of town” — God, I realized that was my suicide note, and if I didn’t leave, I was dead.
“Rock ’n’ Roll Is (Alive and Well)”
JOHN WAITE: That’s one of my favorite songs The Babys ever did. “Rock And Roll Is (Alive and Well)” is a very current-sounding song. It’s pretty much taken from “Summertime Blues,” if you think about it.
RICKY PHILLIPS: I had become a little bit disenchanted with how everything was going on “On the Edge.” I was frustrated. It was sounding really slick to me. I loved pop music, but I liked to come from a different approach, like The Who and Zeppelin. John came to me and said, “I’m really missing your contribution on this record; come on, what have you got?” I came up with the riff on guitar; it was kind of like power Who chords. I started playing it for John over at Sound City, and Jonathan heard it and he went, “Wow, come out here by the piano.” John’s lyrics are absolutely brilliant. He said, “I’ve got this vibe,” and he told me what it was, and I just went, “Right on; that is so perfect.” GM