“Baby Face,” written by Harry Akst and Benny Davis, really is a song with history. Dating back decades before the pop era, it went on to have a big part to play in the career of Little Richard, among others. Then it became a US chart entry on September 29, 1962, for the one and only Bobby Darin.
The song was first a hit for Jan Garber, in 1926, with lead vocals by co-writer Davis himself. Rival versions were recorded that year by the Savoy Orpheans, Whispering Jack Smith and Lou Gold and his Orchestra. “Baby Face” was featured in an Our Gang comedy short in 1937 and a Tom & Jerry cartoon in 1943. The song then reached a new generation in the 1946 Al Jolson biopic The Jolson Story and, in 1948, via Art Mooney’s version. Having made its mark post-World War I, on audiences during World War II and again afterwards, it became part of the rock‘n’roll craze, when Little Richard rocked it up in 1958.
That version would only reach No.41 on the US pop chart, but you might be surprised to know that in the UK, it’s the highest-charting single Richard ever had — yes, higher than “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Tutti Frutti,” “The Girl Can’t Help It” or anything else. It reached No.2 there and was only held off the top in January and February 1959 by Elvis Presley’s double-sided “I Got Stung” and “One Night.”
Darin’s version was released when he was 26 years old, just as he was leaving the Atco label for a new deal with Capitol. It didn’t make the UK chart, but it debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No.84, as the Four Seasons had America’s favourite single with “Sherry.” Darin was coming off a big No.3 US hit with “Things,” but “Baby Face” didn’t become one of his biggest singles. It peaked at No. 42 at the end of October (by which time, Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett had US fans under his ghoulish spell with “Monster Mash”).
Bobby Vee recorded the much-travelled song, as did other artists of the day such as Brenda Lee and Brian Hyland. Then there were a couple surprising British covers in the 1970s: by the Kinks on their 1972 album Everybody’s In Showbiz (Everybody’s A Star) and Wings, in the One Hand Clapping documentary, as included in the 2014 deluxe reissue of Venus and Mars.
Then the song proved its incredible versatility yet again by becoming a disco crossover hit. A club-friendly 1976 version by the American studio dance act The Wing and a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps reached No.14 in the US and No.12 in the UK. Audiences just keep falling for that cutest little baby face.