It’s challenging to write about Canadian sisters Kate & Anna McGarrigle without discussing their family connections.
The nature of this B-side makes it impossible. Kate McGarrigle was married to singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright III, known for songs like ‘Dead Skunk’. The couple divorced in the 1970s, but not before they produced two talented children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright.
The fractured family often dialogued via song. Loudon wrote ‘Rufus is a Tit Man’ about his infant son. Martha wrote ‘Bloody Mother F***ing Asshole’ about her father. Kate McGarrigle’s ‘Go Leave’ tells of Loudon running off to Europe with the performance artist Penny Arcade. According to Martha Wainwright, “The heavily pregnant McGarrigle came over from Canada in search of him, found him, and lost the baby, after which he announced he was leaving her.”
The McGarrigle sisters’ first album was released in 1976, but the pair largely existed outside of mainstream pop and rock music. Their first exposure to music was taking piano lessons from the village nuns – they grew up in Saint-Sauveur-des-Monts, north of Montreal.
Their debut, which features ‘Go Leave’, is the record that received the most attention, but the sisters kept on making worthwhile music. ‘Babies, If I Didn’t Have You’ is the b-side to the title track of the pair’s 1982 album ‘Love Over and Over’. Since the single’s A-side isn’t particularly famous, it makes sense to feature it here too – Mark Knopfler guesting on guitar, on the album’s title track.
‘Love Over and Over’ is unusually close to the mainstream for the McGarrigles, but its non-album b-side is small-scale and intimate. ‘Babies, If I Didn’t Have You’ is clearly about Kate’s maternal love for her children, a subject that’s not often covered in popular music. It seems easily strong enough to be an album track, maybe pushed to a B-side because its author was embarrassed of sharing so openly.
You’re my reason for going on
And I don’t know what I’d do
Babies if I didn’t have you