“Angel Baby” by Rosie & the Originals should be the official song of National City, California, the way states have flowers or universities have mascots. The song reached #5 on the Billboard charts in late 1960, and most people don’t even know who sang it, even if they are familiar with the tune. But for generations of kids who grew up in neighborhoods like mine, “Angel Baby” will always be the anthem of our childhood and an indelible part of the soundtrack of our lives. Other songs like “Always and Forever” by Heatwave and “Together” by Tierra round out the top spots on this chart, but “Angel Baby” is, without a doubt, number one.
The woman who wrote and sang the song at the tender age of 15, Rosie Hamlin, lived in National City during her elementary, junior high and high school years. I always knew this, and it was a point of pride for anyone who came out of our much-maligned little suburb of San Diego. We have Tom Waits, and we have Rosie. But I didn’t know until recently how far her influence reached, and that the likes of Robert Plant and even John Lennon were fans! In the Houses of the Holy liner notes, right after the lyrics to “D’yer Mak’er”, Led Zeppelin wrote “What ever happened to Rosie & the Originals?” And Lennon went so far as to call “Angel Baby” one of his “all-time favorite songs”, when he recorded a cover version in 1973.
All I can say is, they’ve got good taste. I will never forget listening to Art Laboe’s oldies show on 92.5 where all the girls would dedicate “Angel Baby” to their boyfriends in jail, or hearing the song pump out of the speakers of the lowriders that cruised down Highland Avenue on a Saturday night. I listened as I cried my pre-teen heart out about my beloved Albert, who liked Martha better than me, and I listened as I scribbled furiously in my Hello Kitty diary about the injustice of it all. There seemed to be no song in the world that could adequately capture the excruciating poignance of adolescent love the way that Rosie Hamlin did in those simple lyrics: “When you are near me, my heart skips a beat / I can hardly stand on my own two feet…” And if one of the world’s greatest songwriters called it one of his all-time favorites… well, that’s really saying something for a little girl from National City.