In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
Bobby Vee – “Take Good Care Of My Baby”
HIT #1: September 18, 1961
STAYED AT #1: 3 weeks
One night in February of 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper were all in a plane, on the way to play a show in Moorhead, Minnesota. The plane crashed, killing all three of them. Incredibly, that show in Moorhead still happened. Instead of seeing Buddy Holly, the kids at that show got to see Bobby Velline, a local 15-year-old kid who’d been looking forward to seeing the show, singing Holly’s songs. Imagine that. Imagine the balls on this child, willing to fill in for his suddenly-dead idol at a moment’s notice. Imagine the charisma that it must’ve taken to pull it off, to have the show remembered as anything but a heart-wrecking failure. Imagine the confidence to build an actual career on the back of that terrible night.
Bobby Vee must’ve been a special person. That’s the only way I can explain it. Bob Dylan certainly thought Vee was special. Dee, who briefly played in Vee’s backing band and who reportedly gave Vee his stage name, spoke glowingly of Vee for decades afterward. Vee must’ve had a rare and palpable personal magnetism, even as a teenager. Unfortunately, that magnetism didn’t really come through on “Take Good Care Of My Baby,” the only #1 hit that Vee ever landed.
“Take Good Care Of My Baby” is a good song. The married songwriting team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who’d scored their first #1 earlier in 1961 with the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” wrote “Take Good Care Of My Baby,” and the song fits a whole lot of competing emotions into a compact and economical pop-song format. Vee’s narrator sings to an ex’s new boyfriend, and he radiates regret and heartbreak and fondness. He wants the best for his ex, but he can’t pretend that he doesn’t want her back. And he knows he fucked it up: “If I’d been true / I know she’d never be with you.”
Unfortunately, Vee doesn’t really sell that heartbreak. He doesn’t sing sad lyrics with the oily grin that a peer like Pat Boone brought to “Moody River,” but he doesn’t sound lost or broken, either. He’s a bell-clear delivery machine, and he sounds utterly disconnected from what he’s singing. The song has a big, strong melody, and he delivers it capably, but it never quite lands.
BONUS BEATS: In January of 1962, the Beatles made a demo tape as an audition for Decca Records. Decca rejected them, instead signing a band called Brian Poole And The Tremeloes, the musical equivalent of the Portland Trail Blazers’ decision to draft Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. The Beatles recorded a version of “Take Good Care Of My Baby,” with George Harrison on lead vocals, as part of that audition tape, and here’s that version: