Yes, it's that time again: Phil Spector's Christmas album is absolutely my favorite holiday disc, and if there's a record with a more unusual history, I don't know it. Released November 22, 1963, it understandably had a slow start -- all of eleven, I remember that Christmas as so desperately sad, the country still reeling from John Kennedy's death. But somewhere in my teenage years I found "A Christmas Gift for You" and fell for Darlene Love's powerhouse voice. Like Aretha Franklin, her vocal mastery is effortless: like the Queen of Soul, her life and times have been troubled. (And both of them were PKs -- preacher's kids -- and like Aretha, little Dolly was inspired by her father, who in another age would be called a "race man.") Like him, she is tough, tenacious and gifted.
Her 1998 biography, My Name is Love, begins somberly: at 40, she is cleaning houses in the Hollywood Hills, using her married name and parking her Mercedes far from her cleaning jobs so no one would "ask too many questions ... I clung to it as the last reminder that I once had been the singer Darlene Love." The music business had no room for her in 1982, and she'd sworn off backup singing, the regular gigs which had kept her going since the girl group heyday of the early Sixties. I was so impressed by her biography that I used this first chapter as a reading in my 2000 "Icons and Memoir" class, and was shocked when the students, many of them from backgrounds much like hers, criticized her for taking domestic work . They were less offended by the antics of the last, dazed years of Elvis and the then- flavor of the month, Britney Spears. I shrugged and mentioned they might want to tune into David Letterman's annual Christmas show and see what a real legend looks and sounds like.
As Bette Midler put it: "Darlene Love remains, even after all these years, one of the greatest voices in all of pop music. The thrill of listening to her has not diminished one iota, and when I get a chance to hear her work, I run. A great interpreter, flawless intonation, she is as musical as it gets. I love Love!"
The icing on the Christmas cake: Love is finally in the Hall of Fame:
"When I first heard it I was shocked and then I started screaming...is this really for real?....I started screaming and hollering and bouncing off the walls, I have not been able to sleep for the last two or three days."
"It's a dream come true. That's why I tell people don't give up on your dreams no matter how long it takes...This has been one of my biggest dreams - it means a validation from my peers. Because I know the people who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the people who vote...It just makes me happy to know that my peers appreciate my contribute to the industry."
So, while Phil Spector, her erstwhile musical Svengali/ nemesis, roosts in prison, his record plays on, and Darlene Love is here, and will never go away again.
I love that about Dave -- he has impeccable taste in singers: he puts Cissy Houston and Cyndi Lauper on because he likes them, and for him, it isn't Christmas without Darlene Love. The performance is always a bravura turn, and seems to get more elaborate with each passing year. It's tomorrow night, Thursday, December 23. I can't wait.