Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Baby Talk

First recorded by The Laurels (1958).
Hit version by Jan & Dean (US #10/R&B #28 1959).

From the wiki: “‘Baby Talk’ was written by Melvin Schwartz, and was first recorded and released by Schwartz’s group, The Laurels, from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NYC, in 1958. Released on the tiny Spring Records label, promotion and distribution were limited and the recording had no chart impact … but it did not go unnoticed.

“Fast forward one year. A chance encounter backstage would provide ‘firsts’ for two different, but professionally related, pairs of people who would wind up working together to record a hit version of ‘Baby Talk’: Lou Adler and Herb Alpert (their first co-production); Jan Berry and Dean Torrance (their first Top-10 single).

“In 1958, Adler and Alpert were young A&R staffers at Keen Records, in Hollywood, responsible for finding recording material for the label’s artists to record (including Sam Cooke, with whom they would later co-write ‘Wonderful World’), and to accompany Keen artists on tour. It was while chaperoning a Cooke-headlined tour in San Francisco that Adler first crossed paths with Jan Berry, the sole non-Keen artist who was on the tour, too, with his partner, Arnie Ginsburg, as part of ‘Jan & Arnie’, filling out the lower half of the bill, promoting their Top-10 hit, ‘Jennie Lee’.

“A few months later, after Berry’s partner, Ginsburg ‘retired’ to attend school, Berry’s other former partner, Dean Torrence, was discharged from conscripted army duty and returned to civilian life. The two, who had formerly performed together (along with Ginsburg) at their high school as the Barons, now re-formed as ‘Jan and Dean’. Berry had saved Lou Adler’s business card from their earlier encounter, contacting him about becoming their manager and finding material to record. Adler, along with his partner, Herb Alpert agreed to not only manage the duo but to produce their recordings.

“It was Alpert who introduced Jan and Dean to ‘Baby Talk’, strongly suggesting they record it. Alpert recalls ‘[t]hat the first tape we heard of Jan & Dean’s was done on an old Ampex tape recorder, recorded in [Berry’s] garage. When we recorded ‘Baby Talk’ [together with them] we used the same garage and then took the tape into a studio and added musicians. This is just the opposite [of the normal process], preferring to lay down the musical tracks and then bring the artist in.’ [The Jan & Dean Record: A Chronology of Studio Sessions, Live Performances and Chart Positions, Mark A. Moore, 2016]

“Released in May 1959, original pressings of the single were mislabeled as by ‘Jan & Arnie’; this was later corrected. The single spent 12 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #10, while also crossing over to the Billboard Hot R&B Sides chart, peaking at #28.

“While not usually considered part of the ‘surf pop’ genre pioneered by Jan & Dean, ‘Baby Talk’ contains many elements of what would become the signature sound of southern California in the early ’60s such as close vocal harmonies combined with falsetto that would go on to influence the Beach Boys. It would also mark the beginning of a string of Top-40 hits for the duo that would last until 1966, including ‘Surf City’ (co-written with the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson), ‘The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)’ and ‘Dead Man’s Curve’.

“Arnie Ginsburg would go on to become a legendary radio disc-jockey (as Arnie ‘Woo Woo’ Ginsburg). Lou Adler would become a well-known producer and impresario (Carole King, The Mamas & the Papas, The Grass Roots, Cheech & Chong). Herb Alpert would go on to co-found the A&M record label and launch his own music career leading and producing ‘Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ (‘The Lonely Bull’, ‘Tijuana Taxi’), and becoming himself a hit song artist (‘This Guy’s in Love with You‘).”

Jan & Dean, “Baby Talk” (1959):

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