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Aretha Franklin salvages the most overused words in the pop songbook

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we’re picking our favorite songs with the word “baby” in the title.

Were it not for the word “baby,” whole swaths of the pop music canon might go wordless. (At the very least, Robert Plant would lose whole measures of vocal workouts from within the Led Zeppelin discography.) Yet in a list of pop’s most overused words, “baby” could only hope to come in second to the emotion that causes people to sing their “baby”s (and then inspires listeners to make babies): “love.” Throughout her unchallenged reign as the Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin has put both words to good use, expressing deep wells of yearning (“Baby, Baby, Baby”) and inner turmoil (“I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”). When “I Never Loved A Man” songwriter Ronnie Shannon combined “baby” and “love” on “Baby I Love You,” he set up Franklin to reinvigorate two words that were already threatening to lose all musical meaning by 1967. Working off of a twangy Muscle Shoals boogie, Franklin—backed by sisters Carolyn and Erma—simmers and shouts throughout the verses, but where “Baby I Love You” hits is its chorus. It’s such an effective statement of devotion made with so little vocabulary, the eponymous lyric embellished with little more than an “Ain’t no doubt about it” and a stray “’cause.” Nearly five decades on, few others have managed to make so much out of two words that plenty of other musicians have rendered into lyrical filler.


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