Harley Allen and Michael White had never written together until two years ago, but on their first meeting they found one thing in common. Each was the “baby” — the youngest child — in his family.
And that led to the birth of “The Baby,” a chart-topping hit for Blake Shelton. “It was my first time to write with Harley,” begins Michael, “and it’s funny how I just started opening up to him. My mom had died a few months earlier, I was going through a separation in my marriage. The whole year had been one thing after another.”
Harley picks up the story. “I told Michael, ‘Man, I’ve got something you should hear,’ and it was the first verse to a song about being the baby of the family. He was pretty knocked out by it.”
“That first line,” raves Michael, “is one of the best I’ve ever heard in any song. And the verse just killed me because my brother was always telling my mom that I was the favorite.”
From there, Harley and Michael recalled images from their pasts. “The second verse about the pictures on the wall, that’s all true,” says Michael. Explains Harley, “My real brothers are named Ronnie and Greg, like in the song. It was pretty much my life and my family until we got to the last verse.”
And talk about an emotional wrap-up — “That’s where the mother passes away,” says Michael, his voice halting slightly. “It was a little surprising that I could write that so soon after her death — she died in February of 2001, and we wrote the song in June. The only thing different is that I did get to see her at the hospital, though I never got to talk to her.”
Michael also missed what would surely have been a poignant moment. “She didn’t get to see me have a No. 1 record,” he says wistfully. “Wouldn’t that have been nice? The ironic thing, though, is that if she were still here, I probably would not have written the song. I guess, in a way, it’s like a gift from her.”
For Harley, the song was a form of therapy. “I am thankful that my mother is still alive,” he says. “But writing this was still very emotional. Anytime you’re thinking about your mom,” he adds, “it can tear you up a little.”
Blake Shelton has this to say about the song…”The Baby” is based on the true story of Michael White and the relationship he had with his mother. He wrote the song [with Harley Allen]. As far as my life is concerned, it is true up until the part where the mother passes away. I am the baby of the family, and I moved away when I was 17, and I was away from home when I turned 21, and up until now it has paralleled my life. But the one thing that it teaches me, and hopefully everyone who hears the song, is not to take your family for granted, and try to at least stay in touch with them.
I do not know if you can get through it without tearing up, but I feel a responsibility when I sing that song, or any song, to deliver it in a way that’s believable and emotional to people. You kind of have to step out of the song a little bit and sing it, I guess. I don’t know how to explain it. It is just something that I do and you have to hold your emotions in, to the point where you don’t cry.”
“The Baby” reached number one on the Billboard Hot Country Singles charts where it stayed for three consecutive weeks, beginning the week of February 22nd through March 14.2003.
LYRICS: Written by Harley Allen and Michael White
My brother said that I
was rotten to the core.
I was the youngest child,
so I got by with more.
I guess she was tired by
the time I came along.
She’d laugh until she cried,
I could do no wrong.
She would always save me,
because I was her baby.
I worked a factory in Ohio,
a shrimp boat in the Bayou,
I drove a truck in Birmingham.
Turned 21 in Cincinnati,
I called home to mom and daddy,
I said “Your boy is now a man.”
She said “I don’t care if you’re 80,
you’ll always be my baby.”
She loved that photograph,
of our whole family.
She’d always point us out,
for all her friends to see.
That’s Greg he’s doing great,
he really loves his job.
And Ronnie with his 2 kids,
how ’bout that wife he’s got.
And that one’s kinda crazy,
but that one is my baby.
I got a call in Alabama,
said come on home to Louisianna
and come as fast as you can fly.
Cause your momma really needs you,
and says she’s got to see you,
she might not make it through the night.
The whole way I drove 80
so she could see her baby.
She looked like she was sleepin’
and my family had been weepin’
by the time that I got to her side.
And I knew that she’d been taken,
and my heart it was breakin’,
I never got to say goodbye.
I softly kissed that lady
and cried just like a baby.