“Angel Baby,” which was released in 1960 on Highland Records, debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 40 on Dec. 13, 1960 and began what became a 13-week run. It rose to No. 23, No. 13, No. 9, No. 7 and No. 6 in succeeding weeks before peaking at No. 5 on the Hot 100 chart for the week ending Jan. 29, 1961, bumping out Lawrence Welk's “Calcutta,” which had risen to No. 3. It remained there only one week before beginning its decline. A 1961 follow-up to “Angel Baby,” “Lonely Blue Nights,” was not successful, rising only to No. 66 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Hamlin was born on July 21, 1945 in Klamath Falls, Ore., according to an autobiography on her website. When she was 13, she pretended to be 16 and auditioned over the phone to sing in a country western band. She got the job and she said was paid in tips. It wasn't much money, she wrote, but “I didn't care. I was just happy to sing.”
“Angel Baby” had its beginnings when she was 14. “I wrote a poem about a teenage love entitled 'Angel Baby.' We decided to record the song. One hot summer day in 1961 we piled into a car and headed out to San Marcos, CA. In those days San Marcos was out in the middle of nowhere,” she recalled. “We finally arrived at this place that looked to us like an old barn. It was actually an old airplane hanger.” Over 30 takes of the song were recorded on a two-track machine. A completely ad-libbed second song, “Give Me Love,” was sung by a friend Blueford Wade for the B-side.
The group brought the master to Kresge's Department Store in San Diego and asked the manager to play it. The interest in the song caught the attention of a distributor for Highland Records who happened to be in the store. They arranged a meeting for that night and the group gave the two men, who Hamlin said looked “grungy and scary,” the master without any contract. Three weeks later, she heard disc jockey Alan Freed playing the song several times a day and raving about it. A record deal was worked out, which her mother had to sign because Hamlin was too young. Hamlin said group member David Ponci, and not herself, was originally credited with writing the song, which prevented her from collecting royalties for “Angel Baby” until she was able to prove she had written it.
Hamlin moved to Brunswick Records from the Highland label at the invitation of singer Jackie Wilson. She said she opened for Wilson at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater doing six shows a day. Rosie and the Originals were also was one of the opening acts for the Rolling Stones at a 1964 concert at San Diego's Balboa Park Bowl. The show's promoter told the San Diego Reader he paid Rosie and the Originals $500, but only $400 for the Stones.
One of the biggest fans of “Angel Baby” was John Lennon. He recorded the song during sessions for his Rock N' Roll album, though his version wasn't released until his Menlove Ave. disc. During the introduction for the song, Lennon says, “This here is one of my all-time favorite songs. Send my love to Rosie, wherever she may be.” In an interview on classicbands.com, Hamlin said she and Lennon never met. “I always wanted to, but never got the chance,” she said.
May Pang, John Lennon's former girlfriend, told Billboard, “One of the things that John and I had in common was our love for old rock 'n' roll. His heroes were mine -- and he was really impressed that I knew as many songs and artists as he did. When he started to assemble a possible track list for his Rock N Roll album, we started throwing out names. He was naming all the guys like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy, Elvis and I chimed in, 'What, no ladies?'"
“With that, one of the first out of my mouth was Rosie and 'Angel Baby.' 'I love that song!' he said and decided to do it. The other lady represented on the album was Ronnie Spector's 'Be My Baby.' Though both of the 'ladies' track[s] were left off the original release of Rock 'N' Roll, they appeared on later versions."
Disc jockey Art Laboe, credited with coining the term “oldies but goodies,” also paid tribute to Hamlin on Facebook. “Your signature song, 'Angel Baby,' we must have played a million times since it first came out. Your artistry and music has touched so many Rosie and you will be missed. Rest In Peace Rosie.”