For the second year in a row, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame failed to honor deserving nominee Laura Nyro, but happily Hall voters elected the great Darlene Love–the only woman admitted this year into the heavily boys’ club.
You might not have been familiar with Love’s name in the 1960s, when she was the anonymous lead singer for such groups as The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans and The Blossoms, but you certainly heard her voice. Part of the Phil Spector stable of R&B artists, she’s the voice of such pop classics as “He’s a Rebel,” “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” and, under her own name, “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry.” As a Blossom, you could watch her singing backup on the popular TV music show Shindig! every week, or on Elvis Presley’s famed 1968 comeback special.
And then Love disappeared to raise three sons. You can read all about her ups and downs–her difficulties in launching a solo career, her financial disputes with Spector, her then-controversial interracial relationship with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers–in her 1998 memoir My Name is Love: The Darlene Love Story (written with The New York Times‘ Rob Hoerburger).
When she returned in the 1980s, she was no longer under Phil Spector‘s thumb. Instead, she became an actor in the Lethal Weapon series, playing Danny Glover’s wife, and was featured in a number of Broadway musicals, including Grease, Hairspray and the jukebox musical in which she played herself, Leader of the Pack. She was finally in the foreground, not the background.
Anyone who has watched David Letterman over the years knows what Darlene Love is really famous for: Right before each Christmas since 1986, Love, now 72, sings a rousing version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on Dave’s show, accompanied by Paul Schaefer’s band and usually additional strings and chorus. Her magnificent pipes–strong as ever, just deeper with age–wring every drop of emotion from the heartwrenching Spector/Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich composition.
Pretty lights on the tree
I’m watching them shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home …
If there was a way
I’d hold back this tear
But it’s Christmas day
Baby please come home
Christmas time is the perfect season to enjoy Love’s music–whether on Letterman, where she’ll appear yet again December 23rd; on Phil Spector’s renowned holiday album from 1963, A Christmas Gift For You from Philles Records; or in the hilarious spot-on parody of the Spector sound, “Christmas for the Jews,” which Love recorded for an animated Saturday Night Live bit in 2005.
Congratulations on the overdue honor, Ms. Love, and Merry Christmas!
At top: cover of Darlene Love’s 2007 Christmas song collection.