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.
In 1962, the same year that a square-jawed young Texan named Bruce Channel came out of nowhere with a massive global hit, Channel toured Europe. At one show, he may or may not have been backed up by a young and undiscovered Beatles. At this show, Channel may or may not have given John Lennon some tips on how to play harmonica. That’s the story, anyway, even though Lennon had already apparently been playing harmonica for a few years at this point, and even though Channel didn’t play harmonica on his own song. Not too long after, Lennon would play harmonica on the Beatles’ own #1 “Love Me Do.” This is how rock folklore gets started. People connect a few aesthetic dots and hear a few stories, and the story that people want to believe is the story that circulates. And this, I think, is how it should be. It’s more fun this way.
The whole harmonica story, in any case, is the only real piece of myth that you can attach to “Hey! Baby,” a song that’s mostly endured just because it’s fun to bellow along to while drunk. Channel’s original, which he co-wrote with Margaret Cobb, has been covered and remixed to death, but it’s really not much of a song on its own. Channel’s roots were in country music, and “Hey! Baby” sounds a lot like a country singer attempting to capitalize on a teeny-bop boom without altogether knowing how to do it, lucking into a witless-but-huge hook.
“Hey! Baby” isn’t quite two and a half minutes long, but it still manages to amble aimlessly. That harmonica comes from Delbert McClinton, and it doesn’t really do anything; it just plays the same hook as Channel sings, while he’s singing it. The rhythm behind Channel is more of a shuffle than a boom, and there’s some jazzy piano-pounding in there. It’s sloppy, and not in an interesting way. But there’s something endearingly lighthearted about it anyway.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s an arena full of London wrestling fans singing “Hey! Baby” — or, more accurately, DJ Otzi’s Channel-covering 2000 UK chart-topper “Hey Baby (Uhh, Ahh)” — to the wrestler Bayley: