349. ‘Sugar Baby Love’, by The Rubettes

I described the previous chart-topper – ABBA’s glorious ‘Waterloo’ – as a ‘sugar rush’ of a song. It is replaced now at the top of the charts by what I’ll call a ‘sugar overdose’ of a song.

Sugar Baby Love, by The Rubettes (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 12th May – 9th June 1974

Why does ‘Waterloo’ work, while this doesn’t? Both songs are constructed from the same ingredients: power chords, sturdy drums, backing vocals and a big glance back to the pop of the early sixties. But ‘Waterloo’ leaves you soaring, and ‘Sugar Baby Love’ leaves you feeling icky. I am not a songwriter; but if I was I bet I’d be forever chasing and missing that fine, fine line between ‘catchy’ and ‘cheesy’.

This record starts promisingly enough, with ‘Twist and Shout’ Aaaahs that overlap and ascend. But then, fifteen seconds in, a falsetto so high and piercing that it knocks you sideways arrives. Sugar baby love, Sugar baby lo-ove, I didn’t mean to make you blue… The singer is trying to suck up to his sweetheart, trying to apologise for an unspecified misdemeanour. If was them, I’d have stuck to a letter or a phone-call. You can imagine someone performing this outside a girl’s bedroom window at night – and hopefully getting the police called on them.

Yes, All lovers make, The same mistakes, As me and you… It is another sad milepost on glam rock’s descent into the hands of rock ‘n’ roll tribute acts. In 1974, Slade went harder, Bolan went experimental (and started missing the Top 10), while Bowie was starting to look towards soul sounds on ‘Young Americans’. The Rubettes know what side they’re on, though: the backing singers keep up a persistent shoo-waddywaddy, shoo-waddywaddy throughout (though Showaddywaddy themselves turned this track down when it was offered to them!)

And yet, I do have a very high-tolerance for cheesy pop. I can’t hate this song, no matter what it represents. My feet are tapping along quite happily. However, I have an extremely low tolerance for spoken word sections in pop songs and, of course, ‘Sugar Baby Love’ has to go there. People, Take my advice, If you love someone, Don’t think twice… **shudder**

The Rubettes were a group basically put together to promote this record, which had been recorded by session musicians (shades of Alvin Stardust). It had been written for the soundtrack of a rock ‘n’ roll, jukebox musical that never saw the light of day. Which means that singer Paul Da Vinci (not his actual name), whose falsetto makes such a statement in the intro, was never actually a member of the band. They had a few other hits, with titles like ‘Juke Box Jive’, which sound like filler from the ‘Grease’ soundtrack, and still tour to this day in various iterations, thanks to a big court case twenty or so years ago where all the members tried to get The Rubettes name for themselves… If I were them I’d have been fighting to become disassociated from it…

12 thoughts on “349. ‘Sugar Baby Love’, by The Rubettes

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    It sounds like they tried to capture the 50s spirit but didn’t get any of the rawness. It’s slick…way too slick for me. It is catchy though…I will give you that.

  2. Awww I really liked The Rubettes whimsical brand of 50’s doo-wop 🙂 Paul Da Vinci had a solo identikit follow up, Your Baby Aint Your baby Anymore which is as ear-splittingly pitched as you can imagine, but I admire the range (and like the song)! The band meanwhile lost the falsetto and went straight for the Glam Rock for the rest of 1974 and 1975, with songwriters Bickerton & Waddington providing the hits.

    The interesting Rubettes came after the conveyor belt stopped, and like The Monkees before them, took over their own affairs musically (they were all session musicians or singers) in 1976 with the first pro-gay song, ballad Under One Roof (not played much by radio, naturally, but it sold enough to chart), the terrific You’re The Reason Why which caused the band to re-instate harmony vocals against the songwriter wish (the one with the specs) and led to ill-feeling, and then their last hit Baby I Know was basically a fab country song. All of them were better records than the Bickerton Waddington run of singles, though I still stand by Sugar Baby Love, if only to annoy dogs in the area 🙂

    1. Haha, I think it’s fair enough that you give singles like this, from your formative years, a bit more leeway than you otherwise might. I’ll no doubt do the same with the pop of the late nineties…

  3. I didn’t care for this at all when it was out, but I thought the later Rubettes’ singles were fair to middling – sometimes cheesy, but likeable enough. Carl Wayne was also offered this as a single but apparently turned it down because he thought it was dreadful. Poor Carl, after leaving The Move he had several singles out on several labels in the 70s, and they all bombed. But he had a good career singing on TV jingles and on major roles in West End musical stage shows, as well as joining The Hollies for a while.

  4. Yep. Missed this one. The Paul guy had an amazing voice. This wasn’t too bad. It’s totally new to me but, the opening chords, key changes & singing sounded like they were headed into Twist & Shout.

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