Single Stories: The Drifters, “There Goes My Baby”

Monday, March 6, 2017
Single Stories: The Drifters, “There Goes My Baby”

58 years ago today, The Drifters recorded their hit single “There Goes My Baby,” which seems like as good an excuse to spotlight the song in Single Stories as any, wouldn’t you say?

“There Goes My Baby” is particularly notable in the history of The Drifters, as it was the first single recorded by the second incarnation of the group. If you don’t know the story about this situation, it’s a doozy, but the nutshell explanation is this: the “Drifters” name was owned by the group’s manager, George Treadwell, and in 1958 he fired all of the original members of the group, took an existing group called The 5 Crowns, and called them The Drifters. In other words, it was exit Clyde McPhatter, enter Ben E. King.

There’s another key difference between the original incarnation of the group and the new version, and that’s tied to the fact that they were produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who took a very different tactic with The Drifters’ sound this time around. Instead of the established rock ‘n’ roll sound that was all the rage, they opted to use strings to underscore the emotion of the lyrics, and for the rhythm, they used a Brazilian baion. (You can find out more about the latter by clicking right here, but you can also hear the baion rhythm on other key Drifters singles, including “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “Under the Boardwalk.”)

Oh, and “There Goes My Baby” did one other important thing for music: it kicked off a sound that utterly fascinated Phil Spector.

As Mick Brown wrote in his book Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector, “Leiber and Stoller’s combination of subtle rhythms and arrangements, the ‘cushion’ of sound they constructed in their recordings by using two or three guitarists and three or four percussionists, would serve as one of the most important precursors for what Spector later achieved with his Wall of Sound.”

In the short term, however, what mattered most about “There Goes My Baby” was the fact that it was a hit, climbing to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the R&B Singles chart. It didn’t probably didn’t do any wonders for the egos of the original Drifters members, who were instantly proven to be replaceable, but for Atlantic, it meant that they’d bet on the right horse, and it continued to pay off handsomely for the label over the years.