It was written by Rosie Hamlin, and first released as a 1960 single by Rosie & The Originals. At the time Hamlin was 15 years old, and the doo-wop recording was made on a two-track machine in an aircraft hanger.
The single was released by Highland Records, and peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1960. It spent a total of 12 weeks on the charts.
‘Angel Baby’ fared less well in the United Kingdom, failing to chart after being issued by London Records. It evidently made a strong impression on Lennon, however: he selected it for the Rock ‘N’ Roll sessions, complete with Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound production and a soaring brass arrangement.
Lennon turned Hamlin’s naive teen ballad into a love song for rock ‘n’ roll itself, singing lines such as “I love you, I do/No one can love you like I do” with unbridled passion for the music that had proved so enduring since his teenage years. His spoken introduction, too, made clear his adoration for the song.
This here is one of my all-time favourite songs. Send my love to Rosie, wherever she may be.
In October 1974, at the start of the Rock ‘N’ Roll sessions, Lennon appeared on KSAN-FM radio in San Francisco, in an interview with presenter Tom Donahue. Ostensibly a promotional opportunity for Walls And Bridges, Lennon selected several golden oldies to be played, including Rosie & The Originals’ ‘Angel Baby’.
The reason why ‘Angel Baby’ was left off Rock ‘N’ Roll is unknown, but it was pulled at a late stage. It did, however, appear on the unofficial album Roots: John Lennon Sings The Great Rock & Roll Hits, issued by Morris Levy in January 1975.
Lennon had agreed to record a selection of classic songs, including three from Levy’s publishing catalogue, in order to avoid a plagiarism lawsuit over the resemblence of The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ to Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can’t Catch Me’. An estimated 3,000 copies of Roots were pressed, but EMI and Capitol quickly blocked the release after it had been on sale for three days.
When Menlove Ave was issued in 1986 it featured an edited version of ‘Angel Baby’, which lengthened the song by more than half a minute. The section from 0’52” to 1’26” was repeated later in the song.
‘Angel Baby’ appeared on the four-CD box set Lennon in 1990, where it was faded out slightly earlier than on Menlove Ave.