The Patti Austin-James Ingram (may he RIP, what a talent!) duet love ballad “Baby, Come To Me” (1982), originally released as a single 40 years ago this month, is probably one of the greatest duet love ballads of all-time. At the least, it is up there with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Stephanie Mills and Teddy Pendergrass, and Ashford & Simpson for me. Commercial music these days does not have duets or love ballads like these combos produced back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. But hey, to quote the great UK artist Howard Jones, “What is love anyway?/Does anybody love anybody anyway?” Apparently, not in most music mass produced since about 2007.
To think that a song the great Quincy Jones produced and the great Rod Temperton wrote, a song in which Michael McDonald sang backup, a song on Patti Austin’s 1981 album Every Home Should Have One, took nearly two years and two singles releases to rank #1 on Billboard’s US pop charts in February 1983. That couldn’t happen in 2022, not unless it came with an accompanying video and Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion twerking and doing ligament-popping splits to it.
But how it happened speaks to how weirdly accepting people can be of misogyny and narcissism in the midst of a love song. Austin’s album dropped at the end of September 1981. The single “Baby, Come To Me” didn’t drop until April 1982. That is an amazingly long time to wait to release what is the second-best song on any album (the title song was the first singles release). And there it rose to #73 on the Billboard charts.
Were it not for ABC’s long-running soap opera General Hospital, most of us not listening to WBLS 107.5 FM in New York might have never heard the song again. The summer and early fall of 1982 was the time of “Luke and Laura” Spencer, a newly married power couple on the soap opera. General Hospital used “Baby, Come To Me” as the intro and outro theme to many of their “Luke and Laura.”
If you think it’s a bit strange for white teenage girls and Boomer stay-at-home moms to fall in love with a clearly R&B duet love ballad meant primarily for a Black audience over the course of several months, then welcome to the 1980s. The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” used at times on NBC’s Days of Our Lives the following summer of 1983, had the same effect. Keep in mind, the song isn’t about love at all. It’s about stalking, controlling, and obsessing over a woman. Four summer’s later, U2’s “With Or Without You,” about hating the person you love, it had the same gravitational effect, between airplay and soap opera play. There’s also soap opera actors like Jack Wagner with “All I Need” actually writing and singing their own love ballads, or attempting to look the part. The 1980s ended with Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting For You,” during the “Danny and Cricket” summer of 1989 on The Young and The Restless.
With “Luke and Laura,” though, it gets stranger. Just two years earlier, Luke inadvertently raped Laura over some assassination attempt gone awry. Other than a note discovered by one of Luke’s nemeses, really, nothing. They marry in the summer of 1981, and are madly in love by 1982. I know marital rape wasn’t considered a crime in California until 1982, and Harlequin romance books abounded back then, but really? No long-term trauma or psychological scars and you married your rapist, too? Even for me (once I learned of “Baby, Come To Me’s” connection in 1985), this was a bridge made of wood and dripping with gasoline during a lightning storm. How demure can any woman be under these circumstances?
Yet the crossover impact was enough for Austin’s label Warner Bros. to re-release the single in October 1982. It was that popular! It went to #1 on the pop charts in the US that February. The song broke through internationally as well. Here’s the video: https://youtu.be/mHyxPIh3c5w.
As for me, I knew of “Baby, Come To Me” in 1982, but not the story behind it until 1985. By then, you could find the song on nearly any radio station that played 1980s pop music, not to mention R&B stations. I happened to be running to the store for my mom (again) on a cold and rainy afternoon in January 1985. I couldn’t find something she wanted. So I went to put a dime in the payphone next to a corner store to call her for more directions. Except I’d forgotten NYNEX payphones now cost 25¢ to use to make even local calls. “Spending every dime doesn’t work anymore,” I said to myself in the pouring rain. Then I said-sang, “out in any kind of weather, just because…of — my mom!,” and laughed. For me, as far as “Baby, Come To Me,” then I suppose…the music never ends?
Even now, so many years later, every time this song pops up on my iPod, smartphone, or Spotify, I still let “Baby, Come To Me” play, because it still makes me smile. It will never be associated with “Luke and Laura” for me. I almost never watched General Hospital growing up, anyway. Days of Our Lives, Y&R, the all-too-short-lived Santa Barbara, Another World, and The Bold and The Beautiful, but never an ABC soap. I would never sing or play “Baby, Come To Me” in any sexual assault context. That tortuous music needs to end.