These posts are about the songs that just barely failed to cross the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.
Little Richard was like no one else. He sometimes proved this by performing songs that just about everyone else took a shot at, rattling the conventions of lolling through a pop standard just like he upended every other norm and expectation. Even when Little Richard didn’t seem particularly engaged by a song, his indelible stamp was on it, making the hoariest song seem as if it had never been recorded before. Without particularly trying to do so, Little Richard couldn’t help but show off.
Written by Harry Akst and Benny Davis, “Baby Face” was a chart-topping hit for bandleader Jan Garber, in 1926, and then kept cropping up during the endless musical recycling of the Jazz Age. At the the dawn of the rock ‘n’ roll era, Fats Domino was finding great success with pepped-up version of older tunes, leading Specialty Records head Art Rupe to suggest Little Richard try the same approach. Little Richard’s version of “Baby Face” was released as single in the summer of 1958, following a string of his Top 40 hits that are now considered some of the most vital of the era. If “Baby Face” is a mismatch for Little Richard’s wild energy, he still cranks through it with entertaining vigor, his sandpaper vocals injected rock ‘n’ roll menace into a cutesy song.
In the U.S., “Baby Face” stalled on the chart just outside of the Top 40, but the song had a very different fate in the U.K. Across the ocean, Little Richard’s “Baby Face” made it all the way to #2 on the chart. Remarkably and improbably, it’s Little Richard’s highest-charting single there.
Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.