By Gillian G. Gaar
Though you’ve heard her voice on countless records, she might still be the most unknown known rock ’n’ roll singer in the world. She’s a veteran of sessions with Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, and Sam Cooke, as well as hits like “The Shoop Shoop Song,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” and “Monster Mash,” to mention a very few. It’s her lead vocal you hear ringing out on the chart-topping “He’s A Rebel.” Her name is Darlene Love.
No, she wasn’t a member of The Crystals, the group actually credited with recording “She’s A Rebel.” Love was a member of The Blossoms, a Los Angeles-based group working as backing vocalists recording with innumerable groups before coming into Phil Spector’s orbit. In addition to serving as a “Crystal,” Love also released records under her own name, including the classics “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Now, nearly 50 years after she first met Spector, Love was at last inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (she’d previously been nominated, but not made the final cut).
“Yeah, it’s been a lot of years!” she laughs. “But we do what we have to do and hope that one day it’ll happen.”
For Darlene Love, it finally has. In addition to her latest honor, 2011 has also seen the release of the new compilation “The Sound Of Love: The Very Best Of Darlene Love.” The recent DVD “The Concert Of Love” offers a rare solo concert performance from the singer. Love is also currently “fine tuning” a script based on her life story, a tale she first explored in her autobiography, 1998’s “My Name Is Love: The Darlene Love Story.”
Love is best known for her work during the girl group era, on songs that have remained timeless. “They’re songs you can sing,” says Love when asked about their longevity. “It had to do with the combination of the words, the singer, and the music.”
And maybe not so innocent as they seemed. Listen to the urgent pleas in “Not Too Young To Get Married” (which Love recorded as a member of Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans), which suggest a red hot passion burning beneath the surface. “Right! Exactly!” says Love. “We gotta hurry up and get married! All those songs, they were innocent, but they did have that underlying thing; they always had some kind of underlying ‘something’ going on.”
It’s a passion Love feels is missing from today’s recordings.
“They’ve got over 100 tracks to work with today,” she explains. “It makes it more mechanical. I did a Christmas CD for Shout! Factory a couple of years ago [2007’s “It’s Christmas Of Course”], and we did everything live in the studio. And it makes such a difference. You feel it differently when you’re doing it through earphones, listening to a track that’s already been done. If it’s already done when you get it, you don’t have the opportunity to really groove with it.”
But Love didn’t make royalties on her work then, and with her biggest records not released under her name, she had a tough time when she tried to launch a solo career in the ’80s. Work dried up, and Love ended up cleaning houses and working at a dry cleaners.
“You cannot get to the point where you’re begging,” she says. I think that just keeps you where you are. And when you’re down so far, you can’t go down no further, you’ve got to start climbing out,” Love continues. “And that’s what I did. I finally realized, I have a talent that God gave me and nobody can take it away. I’m supposed to sing. I’m gonna find a way to do it. And you just say that to yourself, and the more that you say it, the more you believe it.”
In Love’s comeback, she also diversified. She appeared in the New York stage revue “The Leader Of The Pack,” based around the songs Ellie Greenwich had co-written. She portrayed Danny Glover’s wife in all four of the “Lethal Weapon” films. She made it to Broadway, in a three-year run as Motormouth Mabel in the musical “Hairspray.” And David Letterman declares Christmas hasn’t begun until Love appears on “The Late Show” to sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”
The proposed film will be a testament to Love’s perseverance and determination.
“I am a survivor,” she says. “That’s what we want the movie to be about.” And though now in her 70s, there are no retirement plans yet. “I’ve been blessed,” says Love. “I did the movies. And I’ve done television, and I’ve done Broadway and I’ve recorded. So I’ve done it all. I just need to do a little more.”