HELEN REDDY – 1971-1981

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Angie Baby (A O’Day)– Helen Reddy 1974

The composer of Angie Baby was Alan O’Day (below), a pop singer/songwriter, who had solo hits with slick but rather vacuous, radio-friendly pop songs like Skinny Girls and Undercover Angel in the US and Australia in the 1970’s, and he also penned Rock and Roll Heaven for the Righteous Brothers in 1974. He claimed that the inspiration for Angie Baby was variously the Beatles song Lady Madonna, the Rolling Stones hit Angie Baby, and the strange behaviour of a mentally disturbed young girl who used to live next door to him in Los Angeles.

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O’Day also thought of his own childhood, an only child who was often ill, when he spent many days in bed with only a radio to keep him company. O’Day showed the unfinished song to his therapist who pointed out that the girl’s reactions were not those of a retarded person, so O’Day switched Angie from being mentally retarded to mentally disturbed, apparently this also left more scope for artistic licence, and when the song was lifted from Reddy’s sixth album, Free And Easy, it became her third US #1 hit.

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The lyrics portray Angie as a social misfit, unable to attend school and confined to her bedroom, where she fantasizes about love and life via the songs on the radio. A neighborhood boy is smitten with Angie and despite her mysterious ways, is intent on having his evil way with her, he manages to enter her inner sanctum that is her bedroom, where he discovers that he is not in control, and mysteriously disappears into Angie’s radio “never to be found.’

Live Performance of Angie Baby by Helen Reddy 1974

Reddy felt that the song was extremely radio-friendly, as she noted in her 2005 memoir The Woman I Am – “Firstly it’s a song about a girl and her relationship with her radio. What DJ or program director isn’t going to go for that concept? Secondly the story line is intriguing and deliberately obtuse so listeners are free to draw their own conclusions – a great lyrical gimmick. Thirdly the song had that all-important hook, a repetitious melodic phrase that catches the memory … I should also add that my producer Joe Wissert (below) knew exactly what to do to make a brilliant recording.”

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Angie was the third of Reddy’s “crazy lady songs” and easily the creepiest, did Angie kill the peeping Tom neighbor or is he just a figment of her imagination? The songs and the disappearing boy are all metaphors for the fantasy life that Angie leads, there is no real boy, nor does he disappear “into the radio”, although O’Day and Reddy were complicit in spinning a story around the song that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality. Capitol Records actually encouraged listeners to draw their own conclusions about the song as Reddy has said, and many did, conjuring up bizarre and surreal images which helped to promote the record. The final verse contained yet another surreal postscript, which suggests that crazy Angie may have been more in control than we imagined “It’s nice to be insane/ no one asks you to explain.” 

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There was even an early version of an animated video clip about the song, created by John Wilson who worked on the Sonny and Cher Show and the movie Grease, which narrates Angie’s story as an unfolding cartoon, and manages to incorporate the images of such singers as John Denver, Jim Croce, Seals and Crofts and Barry Gibb into a dream sequence, while Elton John appears throughout as Angie’s secret lover, which was an interesting choice. The cartoon was screened during  Helen’s appearance on the Carol Burnet Show (above), and opinion was divided as to whether it made the song more relatable or more creepy!

Cartoon Version of Angie Baby

The song was a huge #1 USA hit for Helen Reddy, #13 in Aust, and her only UK hit record at #9 – Helen’s sixth album Free And Easy, from which Angie Baby was lifted, was also a hit when it reached #8 in the US and #33 in Aust. Angie Baby was initially offered to Cher, who passed on it, as she may have already felt that she had used up her quota of songs about marginalized females anyway with her trio of hits in the same period – Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, Half-Breed, and Dark Lady. Either way, they proved to be astute choices by Reddy, who turned them all into million-sellers in the US, and confirmed her status as the Queen of Housewife Rock, a title that had been pejoratively bestowed on her by male artists, but one that she wore with pride, because she had become the most dominant female vocalist in the USA at this time.

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