Thursday, January 10, 2008

Darlene Love - It's Christmas, Of Course

During the first days of this new year, I've been trying to get my reorganization skills reorganized in an effort to catch up with the 200+ Christmas albums I need to catalog and/or burn & catalog.

This CD was on top of the stack labeled "Christmas Gifts" and was given to me by my charming wife on Christmas morning. It's been getting plenty of airplay on my computer since then.

Why? It's Darlene Love, of course!

Love was born in Los Angeles and sang in her church and school choirs. While in high school, she joined a budding girl group called The Blossoms.

The group caught the eye of record producer Phil Spector who was reinventing the music scene with his "wall of sound". He immediately noticed Love's talents and began working with the group in 1963.

During that fateful year, Spector brought together his stable of stars (The Crystals, The Ronettes, Bob E. Soxx & The Blue Jeans) and began recording a different Christmas album. Darlene got the two plum prizes of the package ("Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and "A Marshmallow World") and her vocal talents rose to the occasion.

The end result was "A Christmas Gift To You From Phil Spector", an album that hasn't lost one ounce of freshness or vitality since its release on November 22, 1963. Events in Dallas that same day put a damper on Christmas, 1963 and it wasn't as popular right off the bat.

Love continued working with Spector and as a much-sought-after backup singer. Throughout the 1960s, she backed up such luminaries as Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, and Dionne Warwick.

As the 1970s began, Love started a family and stayed away from the music scene, popping up on the occasional single now and then. Such was the case in 1973 when Lou Adler called in some real heavyweights to help on a song. Darlene joined Billy Preston, Michelle Phillips, Ronnie Spector, piano session master Nicky Hopkins, and a bloke from Liverpool named George Harrison on guitar.

The song? Cheech & Chong's "Basketball Jones"!

Love resumed her career in the 1980s and began finding audiences she thought she had lost. She appeared in a hugely successful Broadway revue called "Leader Of The Pack" in which she played herself. Hollywood came calling and she made her first of four appearances as Danny Glover's wife in the "Lethal Weapons" movies.

Darlene tried her hand on Broadway one final time in 1988 when she appeared in "Carrie: The Musical", an adaptation of the Stephen King' book. Was it bad?

Love refocused her career on music with another off-Broadway revue based on her life called "Portrait Of A Singer" and starting a Christmas tradition. Since 1986, Love has performed "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on David Letterman's show and every performance is an event (YouTube has dozens of clips).

Darlene's Christmas CD is chock full of 1970s & 1980s Christmas tunes (i.e. Tom Petty's "Christmas All Over Again", John & Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", The Pretenders' "2000 Miles") which in the wrong hands could have been dreadful.

Love's voice is older but still cuts like a knife. Whether singing The Staples Singers song "Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas?", NRBQ's "Christmas Wish", Love's vocals still have plenty of power (and then some) to tackle James Brown's "Santa Go Straight To The Ghetto" and Billy Squier's "Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You"!

My favorite tracks on the CD are "Please Come Home For Christmas" (Charles Brown's song never goes out of style) and "2000 Miles", a Pretenders song I never really liked much. Thanks to Darlene's simple yet emotion packed voice and the slow-tempo arrangement, this made you stop and really take notice.

This album didn't sell as many as Josh Groban's Christmas album but it deserves to be on the same level. This is one of the best Christmas releases of 2007 and if you don't own a copy, do what you can to find one. In five years time, endless copies of Groban's album will flood used CD stores. You won't find many of Darlene Love's CD in those same bins.

Back in 2005, Robert Smigel, creator of "SNL Funhouse", came up a concept that parodied the classic "girl group" sound. It so happens that Darlene Love was the musical guest on "Saturday Night Live" that week and Smigel asked her if she was game to sing it.

Thankfully she agreed. I'll watch "Christmas Time For The Jews" any time over Andy Samberg's "D--- In A Box":

Thanks Darlene for your sense of humor and amazing Christmas CD!



stubbysfears said...

Glad to see you posting, Cap! And TWO (so far) in one day, no less!

Don't forget Darlene also recorded "All Alone On Christmas" (from the Home Alone movies)--kind of a cross between Spector & Springsteen.

CaptainOT said...

Stubby - I tend to ignore anything connected with the "Home Alone" movies (I hate John Hughes movies, period).

Darlene's song was the lone bright spot!


stubbysfears said...

Ah, but that wasn't a "bright spot;" that was a super nova spot!