What, you thought a measly little vacation was going to stop me from providing you with the mellowest music on the face of the planet? Au contraire!
Player – Baby Come Back (download)
When I told my wife I was covering "Baby Come Back" today, her first question (after "why are you telling me this?") was, "didn’t you cover this one before?" That’s exactly what I thought – and exactly what you’re probably thinking as well. But no. I know it’s unbelievable, but the truth is that we have not covered "Baby Come Back." Why we haven’t covered "Baby Come Back," I have no idea. It’s one of the quintessential Mellow Gold classics – probably in the Top 10 of the most popular Mellow Gold songs, ever.
Wise Mellow scholars that you all are, you probably have known for a long, long time that "Baby Come Back" was the work of the band Player. However, I’ll argue that most people haven’t heard of Player, and instead, when they hear this song, think, "Hey! Hall & Oates!" Do a Google search combining H&O and the song’s name, and you’ll find tons of people who insist that Player’s version is a cover of H&O’s version, that Player did the original but H&O wrote it, or even that it was performed by Little River Band, the Bee Gees or Ohio Players (??). I did a search on one of the not-so-legal file sharing services and found only one – one! – version listed under Player. The rest were the above groups, or Vanessa Hudgens from High School Musical, who incorporated it into a new song called "Baby Come Back To Me." (I hear this every morning at the gym. It sucks.)
Let’s clear this up right now: Daryl Hall and John Oates have nothing to do with "Baby Come Back," except for one thing: the song is a 100% bonafide Hall & Oates ripoff. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves: wouldn’t you like to know a bit more about the boys in Player? You wouldn’t? Well, sucks to be you, then.
Player at the 1977 San Bernardino Wigmakers Convention
Player began when Peter Beckett and J.C. Crowley met at a party in L.A. around 1976. Beckett and Crowley were the only ones that weren’t wearing white pants, and somehow this was enough to strike up a meaningful conversation. (They’re easy to spot in the above picture: they’re the two people wearing white pants. Beckett is the one far left, and Crowley is the one far right who kind of looks like the freaky love-child of Jann Wenner and Rufus Wainwright.) The duo, both singer-songwriters, met up shortly after the party, and realized they had enough in common to form a band together. They added hunky Ronn Moss (above, trying to hide a hickey) on bass and Moss’s friend John Friesen (the one who looks like a SNL parody of a ’70s rocker) on drums. Original Steppenwolf member Wayne Cook was later added on keyboards. Managing the band was Paul Palmer, who was more than suitable for the job, also being the manager for Little River Band.
"Baby Come Back" was the brainchild of Beckett and Crowley. Both had recently broken up with their girlfriends (as the story goes; I’m not so convinced they weren’t dumped for men with better hair) and one night, over hazelnut-infused hot cocoa and backrubs (not true), churned out their genius tune. (Note: Wikipedia attributes this tune to Blaine Craven, but a check over at BMI confirms it’s Beckett and Crowley. Yes, I searched BMI. No, I don’t know why, either.)
The band had their killer song; now all they needed was a record deal. Palmer set up auditions with various producers, insisting that the band play live, instead of submitting a demo tape that could merely be shelved and forgotten. Producers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter (who had written songs for the likes of The Righteous Brothers and Dusty Springfield) picked up the band, and in turn, convinced Robert Stigwood to sign them to RSO Records.
"Baby Come Back" entered Hot 100 in October of 1977, and in January of 1978 spent three weeks at #1. In total, the song spent four months in the Top 40 and a massive eight months in the Hot 100. Two million copies later, Player were being personally asked to open for Eric Clapton – quite a step up from opening for Gino Vannelli – and were named by Billboard as Best New Singles Artist of 1978. Player had other hits (one of them, "This Time I’m In It For Love," will be snarked around here at some point, I’m sure), but of course, internal feuding tore the band apart. In fact, Beckett left the band during their stint opening for Kenny Loggins on "The Footloose Tour." It’s true. He had to cut loose. (groan)
In between various reunion incarnations, the members of Player have kept busy. Beckett wrote "Twist Of Fate" for Olivia Newton-John, included in the movie of the same name that actually made Xanadu look like a masterpiece, and even joined the ol’ Little River Band for a spell in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Crowley left the band and became a semi-successful songwriter, writing for The Oak Ridge Boys, Johnny Cash and Smokey Robinson. And Ronn Moss…well, Moss gained the most notoriety when he decided to use his rugged, manly looks to further his career as an actor. Since 1987, Moss has played "Ridge Forrester" on CBS’ The Bold And The Beautiful.
In 2007, Beckett and Moss reunited once again as Player. Look at these two handsome devils!
Moss and Beckett, flexing for your pleasure.
Okay. So now, you know all there is to know about Player: how they started, how they rose, how they fell, how they refuse to go away. Let’s talk about the genius of "Baby Come Back," shall we? For starters, listen to that bass: I’m willing to bet that Moss couldn’t even play the damn thing when he joined the band, but Beckett and Crowley knew the bass part required someone dashingly handsome. The bass handles most of the verses really, accompanied by light drums and keyboard, and even lighter guitar. These guys knew exactly how to build to a chorus.
And speaking of the chorus: has there ever been another Mellow chorus that felt this good to sing? What a hook! It doesn’t matter that every single word of the chorus is completely emasculating, as the guys from Player get down on their knees and shamelessly beg forgiveness for ever wronging the girl. Those layered harmonies, musical but essentially put forth as a shouting plea, are some of the most satisfying I’ve ever heard…until we hit the bridge. Oh, I love the bridge of "Baby Come Back" – more harmonies building up to Beckett hitting that high "is there nothing left for mee-heee?" falsetto, a few seconds of silence, and then back into the chorus. It’s genius, I tell you!
Lyrically – well, we’ve already talked about the chorus. The rest of the song follows suit – it’s a simple MG song about losing the girl, missing the girl, wanting the girl back. They could be singing anything here, it wouldn’t matter – it’s all about the music.
When "Baby Comes Back," was released, the band was often criticized for ripping off the Hall & Oates sound. Rolling Stone even published an article at the height of the band’s success entitled "Player, Feeling Its Oates." I’ve thought long and hard about this criticism, and I think I know why they’re accused of sound like Hall & Oates: it’s because they totally ripped off Hall & Oates. Think about it: the only difference between "Baby Come Back" and "She’s Gone" is that "Baby Come Back" doesn’t change keys at the end. Same gentle verses leading up to a full, strong, harmony-laden chorus, same general feeling of loss over a woman…they totally deserved the criticism. For me, though, it doesn’t diminish at all from the song; it’s still one of the best Mellow Gold tunes ever recorded.
Here’s a great vintage clip from the ’70s. The pitch is a little high on the clip, but you get the idea of how smooth these guys were.
"Baby Come Back" certainly has its spot in popular culture: most recently, Bumblebee plays the song during a scene in Transformers. And who can forget "Homer Alone," the episode of The Simpsons when Homer and Marge lose custody of the kids?
(You’ll note, however, that the version played over the phone isn’t the original. Beckett, Crowley and Crenshaw do receive credits for "Baby Come Back" vocals at the end of the show.)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much Mike loves this song. A couple of weeks ago, we were at our friend’s annual barbecue, an event where we all bring guitars and sing for hours. From the moment we started playing, Mike requested we play "Baby Come Back." I can say, almost definitively, that the only people that enjoy Mike and I doing "Baby Come Back" are the two of us. Nobody else can stand it. But I love performing it with Mike. He knows every single tricky chord, really nails the harmonies, and completely makes the song his own: when I sing that line "All day long, wearing a mask of false bravado," Mike gently echoes "false bravado." He’s the
Oates to my Hall Starsky to my Hutch Crowley to my Beckett.
And since you may be wondering, yes, Player has re-recorded this song to bring it into this century; however, they’ve smooth jazzed it up, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow any smooth jazz on this site. Maybe Jeff should play it for Lance Mueller? You can hear one version on iTunes, and another on their MySpace page.
Have a great week! See you next time for another Adventure Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!