Thanks to our Forgotten Hits Buddy Alan O'Day ... who also just happens to be the composer of the #1 Hit "Angie Baby" ... today we get the OFFICIAL Story Behind The Song ... here's what Alan had in mind when he wrote the Helen Reddy Hit "Angie Baby", #1 in 1974. Three years later Alan would top the charts with his OWN Hit ... "Undercover Angel" ... a track we covered earlier in Forgotten Hits!
THE STORY OF “ANGIE BABY”
by Alan O'Day, © 2006
Back in 1974, I was trying to write a song loosely based on the character in the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna”. My “heroine” was initially a typical modern woman, dealing with the complexities of juggling family & work. Now when a writer is at the beginning stages of a project, gut-level feelings are sometimes all you have to go on. And my “gut” told me that the character I was creating had a major problem: she was boring!
This frustrating observation led me to explore some “what if?” scenarios. What if the woman in my song was abnormal in some way? My thoughts went back several years to a young next door neighbor girl who seemed “socially retarded”. Very quiet, kept to herself. Although I hardly knew her, I liked to imagine what she thought about. And I also remembered my own childhood: I was sick often as a kid, and being an only child, many of my days were spent in bed with a radio to keep me company.
These thoughts germinated into an imaginary retarded teenage girl named “Angie Baby” (probably named from the Rolling Stones’ song “Angie”), and I began a lyric story describing her situation:
YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE IN THE SONGS YOU HEAR
ON THE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO
AND WHEN A YOUNG GIRL DOESN’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS
THAT’S A REALLY NICE PLACE TO GO
FOLKS HOPIN’ YOU’D TURN OUT COOL
BUT THEY HAD TO TAKE YOU OUT OF SCHOOL
YOU’RE A LITTLE SLOW YOU KNOW,
During this time I was seeing a therapist, & I decided to take my early lyric draft to her for an opinion. She “stumbled” on the word SLOW, explaining that Angie’s reactions later in the song were not those of a retarded person. After recovering from this injury to my inner rhyme (SLOW YOU KNOW), I changed SLOW to TOUCHED. And that’s when Angie started to get crazy & fascinating!
Mentally, she lived in a dream world of lovers inspired by the songs on her radio. Thus she appeared to be completely vulnerable to the prurient interests of her male neighbor. But the chorus leaves her true capabilities up to the imagination of the listener, when it says:
"LIVIN’ IN A WORLD OF MAKE BELIEVE ... WELL, MAYBE”
As the lyric progresses, we assume that the evil-minded neighbor will have his way with her. But that’s where the twist comes in: as he enters her world, i.e. her bedroom, it becomes a reality for him as well, with weird & unexpected consequences.
Without quoting the lyric further here, let me say that in my mind, as the writer, I knew exactly what happened to this horny little pervert! Angie, it turns out, had more power than he or the listener expected; she literally shrank him down into her radio, where he remained as her slave whenever she desired him to come out.
But interestingly, those details did not seem to translate clearly to some listeners. And the lack of clarity led to wild & creative speculation on the part of the public. The song was compared to Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe” (something was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge, but we don’t know what). And when “Angie Baby” was a hit in Australia, I got an unexpected 3 a.m. phone call from a disc jockey there, saying he had figured out the riddle of what Angie Baby did with the boy. Sleepy but wanting to be polite, I asked, “OK, what?” Triumphantly he answered, “She turned him into a disc jockey!” Actually, I wish I’d thought of that!
I would also like to claim that I intended to create “the ultimate Women’s Lib song”, as it was called. But I was only being influenced by the times (including, of course “I Am Woman”), and savoring the triumph of David over Goliath, the insane over the sane, & taking my audience on a dramatic ride. I was not consciously making a political statement, although I’m pleased in retrospect that my heroine was seen as “empowered”.
Certainly the song’s success was helped immensely by Helen Reddy’s public persona, and by her singing style, which gave the performance the feel of a subtle “in joke” being shared with a few elite friends.
One of my happiest stories about the song came in the form of a grateful letter from a mental hospital counselor in Hawaii. Seems she had a traumatized patient named Angie, who had been unable to talk for some period of time. She decided to play the 45 rpm single of Angie Baby, daily, for this unfortunate girl, to see if it might somehow help. The counselor wrote that this girl began making dramatic progress, and if memory serves me, was ultimately released.
As a songwriter, if one percent of your product is successful, you are considered a success. I am so thankful that I followed my bliss & have been able to survive & prosper. Helen Reddy’s single was Billboard #1 for two weeks, & eventually sold approximately two million copies.
And whatever you might say about Angie Baby, she’s not boring!
For more on the music of Alan O'Day, be sure to visit his website: alanoday.com
(And be sure to check out his LATEST release, too ... we've featured several tracks now from "I Hear Voices", ALWAYS to great response. Check it out for yourself at Alan's website.)
ONE MORE THING: When Frannie first read Alan's explanation of the story behind "Angie Baby", she felt TOTALLY vindicated. "Be sure to tell Alan that I was one of the ones who got it," she told me, regarding the imagery of Angie capturing her lover and keeping him inside her radio, only to draw him out again for some "cuddling company" as the mood struck her. "All the kids told me I was crazy when I told them what I thought the song was about," Frannie says ... "Please let Alan know that he conveyed the imagery perfectly to this young teenager's mind. Plus there is GREAT satisfaction in knowing that I was right after all these years!!!" Amen! (kk)