The Greatest “Baby”: Bob Dylan, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (1967) and Glee Cast, “River Deep, Mountain High” (2010)

“Ba – by!” [Kirsty MacColl, They Don’t Know” @ 1:52]

Overwhelming baby in The World According to Garp

Upon listening to the latest excellent theme mix by Allen Burrows, “Infantilism,” I’ve concluded there are two dissimilar but equally distinguished uses of a word impossible to use seriously, “baby.”

For straight infantilism the clear all-time winner of course is “Ooo Baby Baby” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.  But take that thing away, I really don’t want to be a baby, it’s awful to feel so regressive and abject.  Or rather, since nothing human is alien to me, I agree to being reminded of the extreme feeling, perhaps once every few years.

But Bob Dylan’s post-motorcycle-accident love song I can listen to at least annually.  It’s unpeggably wry, prematurely middle-aged, languidly nervous or nervously languid, which? —and its spiritual iffiness peaks on his almost-whooping of the word “baby” in the title line.

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”

Meanwhile, “River Deep, Mountain High” has just been done over by the Glee Cast, and Naya Rivera and Amber Riley bring something to this song, specifically to “baby,” that Tina Turner was denied in 1966 by the soggy Phil Spector sound (what you can find in the famous Wall of Sound, maybe, is majesty, but I can’t take that seriously).  They just blow it through the roof.  They put so much clear ecstatic energy into it that I have no way to hold back with misgivings; yanked straight, I can’t cringe.[1]  I’m bound for what’s higher than the high mountain.  Rather than regressing to the womb, I’m breaking through to the uppersphere.  (Hm—can I say now that this is what my birth was?  “Baby!” as epochal arrival?)

“River Deep, Mountain High”

That wasn’t enough—here’s some more, with great “baby” melismas:

“River Deep, Mountain High” 2

And here’s Allen’s genre- and era-spanning playlist:

1. “Be My Baby,” The Ronettes
2. “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” Hurricane Smith
3. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” Bachman-Turner Overdrive
4. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” Bob Dylan
5. “Angel Of The Morning,” Merrilee Rush and The Turnabouts
6. “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” Nat King Cole
7. “Having My Baby,” Paul Anka
8. “Baby Elephant Walk,” Henry Mancini
9. “They Don’t Know,” Kirsty MacColl
10. “Is You Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” Louis Jordan
11. “Believe Me Baby (I Lied),” Trisha Yearwood
12. “River Deep, Mountain High,” Glee Cast
13. “My Baby Thinks He’s A Train,” Roseanne Cash
14. “Back In Baby’s Arms,” Patsy Cline
15. “Baby  Love,” The Supremes
16. “Superstar,” The Carpenters
17. “The Letter,” The Box Tops
18. “Baby, Get Out Of Bed (Once Is Enough For Me),” Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers
19. “Some Kind Of Wonderful,” Grand Funk Railroad
20. “Star Baby,” The Guess Who
21. “Sweet Baby James,” James Taylor
22. “My Baby Don’t Dance To Nothin’ But Ernest Tubb,” Junior Brown
23. “Pride And Joy,” Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble
24. “Cotton Field,” The Highwaymen
25. “Ooo Baby Baby,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
26. “Winchester Cathedral,” The New Vaudeville Band
27. “Baby It’s You,” Elvis Costello

[1] For conspicuous energy and for reaching another kind of max, consider Harry Nilsson singing “yeah” eighteen times in a row in his version of the song (1967, redone in 1971).


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics, Words and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Greatest “Baby”: Bob Dylan, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (1967) and Glee Cast, “River Deep, Mountain High” (2010)

  1. Alex says:

    Have you heard River Deep Mountain High with Celine Dion?
    In my opinion it surpasses any version.

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