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.
A vivid memory: At a 2005 show at New York’s BB King Blues Club, Ghostface Killah brings his son, whose rap name is Sun God, to the stage. Sun God spits a verse, and when he finishes, Ghost points to him and says, “He came out of my dick.” Paul Anka’s “(You’re) Having My Baby” is basically that sentiment in maudlin love-song form.
The whole idea behind “(You’re) Having My Baby” is this: Anka’s wife is pregnant with their child, and Anka thinks this is just awesome — mostly because he views the act of human conception as being somehow about him: “Having my baby / What a lovely way of saying how much you love me / Having my baby / What a lovely way of saying what you’re thinking of me.” So the entire life of this impending child is simply a reflection of just how much this one particular woman fawns over Paul Anka.
Before “(You’re) Having My Baby” hit, the record-buying public might’ve thought that they were safe from Paul Anka. Anka had surfed to fame on the wave of shiny, happy post-Elvis idols — profoundly safe teenage-dream types who took this wild, lascivious new rock ‘n’ roll thing and turned it into something approachable and predictable. When Anka was 17, he landed at #1 with the endlessly forgettable “Lonely Boy.” Then he faded away, as teen idols do. He couldn’t hope to compete with the Beatles.
Anka turned out to be a smart businessman. He bought the masters of his own singles back from his label. He wrote the piece of music that became Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show theme, and he got royalties for it whenever it aired. He had a small role as an Army Ranger in the World War II epic The Longest Day, the highest-grossing movie of 1962. And he thrived as a songwriter, penning the English-language lyrics for Frank Sinatra’s 1969 standard “My Way” and composing “She’s A Lady,” which would become the biggest hit of Tom Jones’ career. (“She’s A Lady” peaked at #2 in 1971. It’s a 6.) Anka recorded his own version of “She’s A Lady,” too, but it didn’t go anywhere.
Anka wrote “(You’re) Having My Baby” for his first wife Anne de Zogheb, with whom he had five daughters. (One of those daughters is now married to Jason Bateman.) United Artists exec Bob Skaff, who may have realized how weirdly egocentric Anka’s lyrics were, suggested that Anka turn it into a duet. So Anka recruited Odia Coates. Coates had been born in Mississippi, but she’d grown up in Watts, singing in her father’s church and eventually joining gospel star Edwin Hawkin’s choir. Anka produced an album for Hawkins, and she happened to be there when Skaff made his suggestion. This may not have been a good thing for Coates, who got to appear on a #1 single but who had to sing some truly ooky lines on it: “I’m a woman in love, and I love what’s going through me.” (Coates sang on a few more Anka hits before her career faded. She died of breast cancer in 1991, when she was 49.)
“(You’re) Having My Baby” happens to be the first #1 single that acknowledges abortion, which had become legal in the US a year and a half earlier with the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe V. Wade. Here’s how Anka obliquely refers to the new reality: “You could’ve swept it from your life, but you wouldn’t do it.” Maybe the anti-abortion advocates of America need to rethink their strategy. Maybe they could end abortion if only they could convince every American woman to fall in love with Paul Anka.
The single may have sold a whole ton of copies, but it was not lost on the people of 1974 that “(You’re) Having My Baby” was a messed-up song. NOW gave the song a sardonic “Keep Her In Her Place” award, and Anka spent years clumsily defending it: “I wasn’t putting women in a subservient position, for God’s sake. Motherhood is a fact of life.” In later years, when singing it live, Anka would change the lyric to “having our baby,” which he called “a concession to women’s lib.”
But the pronoun itself wasn’t the issue. The issue was the creepily paternal vibe of the song, the idea that this kid only exists as an expression of this woman’s love. And the song itself is utterly off-putting, too. It’s straight-up easy-listening dreck. Its guitars flutter, its strings sigh, its electric piano noodle, and that maddening little flute or whatever keeps blooping through. Anka sings it in a scenery-chewing Neil Diamond bleat, sounding entirely too pleased with himself. Coates’ vocals are better, but that only serves to make me feel embarrassed for her. She deserved better than whatever this was.
Look: I’ve got kids. The time before your first child is born is a moment of true awe and wonder and fascination. It’s full of endless possibility. This tiny human is getting ready to enter the world, and you have no idea what kind of person she’s going to be. It’s enough to leave your head spinning for months on end. It’s a truly wonderful feeling. “(You’re) Having My Baby” takes that feeling and transforms it into smarmy, conceited ooze. I hate it so much.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Circle Jerks’ snotty 1983 cover medley “Golden Shower Of Hits,” which includes a bit of “(You’re) Having My Baby”: