If it’s the final Friday of the month, then it’s the second installment of the special Top 10 Songs of All-Time edition of Flashback Friday at Faith and Fear in Flushing.
The Mets of Rick Cerone and Wally Whitehurst and Mark Carreon and the second coming of Hubie Brooks and the arrival of wildly miscast Vince Coleman…they don’t sound so great, do they? The 1991 Mets would reveal themselves a worthy candidate to be the team that ended the Shea good times in short order. But in April and May, the idea that this post-Strawberry, pre-Bonilla amalgam of used veterans, bitter mercenaries, limited talents and Charlie O’Brien could add up to a contender made perfect sense.
Why? ‘Cause everything sounds better in spring.
Give me a May morning. Make it warm so I don’t need a jacket. Sunny, too. Put me behind the wheel of my old orange Corolla. Have me drop off my fiancée at the Long Island Rail Road station. Roll my window down. Send me home to get ready for work. Direct me across Sunrise Highway while I fiddle with the Realistic FM converter. Make sure Howard Stern is in commercial so I land on WKJY — K-Joy 98.3. As I approach Merrick Road, make the next song “Baby Baby” by Amy Grant.
Nothing ever sounded better in my life than that song did at that moment on that spring morning 16 years ago. Maybe if I’d heard it in February it would have been grating. Maybe if I’d heard it in September it would have seemed sappy. But in early May, it was perfect. No wonder it’s the No. 9 Song of All-Time.
“Baby Baby” remains perfect to my ears. No matter when I hear it now, it’s the most endearing love song I’ve ever experienced and the highest-ranking pure love song on the Top 500. It’s not deep, it doesn’t probe, it’s only as original as it has to be. But Amy Grant nailed it. As the spring of 1991 continued, I couldn’t get enough of “Baby Baby”. When it pops up nowadays, it’s that May morning all over again.
I guess “love song” describes “Baby Baby,” though when you think of “love song,” you might think of something slower, something sexier, something breathy or emotional. By these standards, “Baby Baby” is a trifle. But it works. It works on its own merits. I love “Baby Baby” in the context of hearing “Baby Baby” when I did. There’s not a lot more to it than that.
Even though Stephanie and I were six months from marriage, it’s not “our song” by any means (see No. 18 on the Top 500 for what we chose as our first dance at our wedding). She liked it OK and we certainly derived some goodness from it as it topped the pop and adult contemporary charts that spring for two and three weeks, respectively. Mostly, though, we cringed at the video, in which Amy and some hunky guy rolled an orange back and forth.
Of course the dude in the clip was an actor. The song wasn’t about him. It wasn’t about The Dude Upstairs either despite Amy’s fame as a spiritual vocalist. I’d first heard of her in 1985, my final semester in college. One of my journalism classmates, Carolyn, gave me a ride and had an Amy Grant tape in her cassette deck. This is Christian music, she said, which surprised me (people I knew actually listened to this stuff?). I saw my first Amy Grant video that summer on VH-1: “Love Will Find A Way”. Didn’t mention hellfire. It was OK.
Wasn’t giving much thought to Amy Grant when she reappeared all secularlike in the spring of ’91. I didn’t know she was crossing over from the Christian section of the record store nor did I know she had a baby girl she named Millie. Millie, inspiring her mom at six weeks old, is literally the baby in “Baby Baby,” which is amusing in that some variation on “baby baby” is the granddaddy of rock ‘n’ roll clichés, especially when adults want to make fun of that music the kids like (à la Jet Screamer from The Jetsons). Dedicating “Baby Baby” to her infant certainly turned that criticism on its head. And the byplay with the hunk in the video — framing Amy as just a touch less innocent to a not necessarily righteous audience — probably helped it go to No. 1.
The musical reference running through Keith Thomas’s melody for “Baby Baby” is a light-synth approximation of a calliope. I was never much for merry-go-rounds, but this is one ride I never want to STOP…for a minute, not even a second. I’m still going round and round when she gets to her penultimate proclamation of affection, “I’m so glad you’re mine”. The rhymes sync perfectly to the hooks. They’re not brilliant — notion to devotion to ocean, leading eventually to the day you put my heart in motion — but they are effective. Amy is just so damn loving and optimistic that I’m convinced it’s never going to cease being a morning in May.
If there’s a love object for me in “Baby Baby,” explicit or otherwise, it’s not Amy’s baby or my sweetie or even my notion of Stephanie’s ocean of devotion for me (one I liked to imagine was expressed via female vocal in the No. 192 song of all-time, at least until I realized Melissa Etheridge probably had somebody named Sheila in mind). The love I take from “Baby Baby” is spring. Spring at its best kicks ass. Spring annihilates winter. Spring promises summer. Spring is a baseball season before the standings go awry. Spring is 1991 before the 1991 Mets fall apart. Spring, at the height of its unclammy powers, can be so warm and so sunny that I don’t mind being dragged out of bed in the middle of it to provide the love of my life a ride to the station.
Spring is also the ride back home with the radio on.
Next Friday: Gettin’ one’s Topps on.