Saturday, December 20, 2014

Darlene Love Gets Her Groove Back! (Just in Time For Christmas)

Ever heard of singer Darlene Love? Unless you were a rabid fan of early-60s girl groups, that name is familiar because of something I got tricked into doing.

Every Christmas we hear that wonderful tune by Darlene Love 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),' her dynamic voice encased in a volcanic Wall of Sound by that crazy murderous musical genius Phil Spector. The song was included on his brilliant 1963 holiday album 'A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.' When it was first released, on the day President Kennedy was murdered, it didn't do so well, nor did that single. Only somber Christmas carols were played on the radio that season. Retitled 'Phil Spector's Christmas Album' it was reissued by Apple Records in 1972 and charted as the 13th most popular Christmas album that year. 

A former co-worker Jay Lamey was a fanatic when it came to Spector, an evangelist if you will. He turned me on to a compilation album of The Crystals' 45s from the early sixties with (mostly) lead singer Darlene Love that blew me away - the crushing instrumentality, tenderly vibrant vocals, the audaciously inappropriate 'He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss). In late 1980, Jay and a musician friend tracked down Ms. Love, not an easy thing to do, to see if she would perform a nightclub gig, one night, to be professionally videotaped. They had a backup band who could pull it together quickly and the room ready to go... if she would agree. 


Jay asked if I could help them out. He had been negotiating with Ms. Love, who was working as a maid in Beverly Hills, but she was hesitant to commit. She'd been burned so many times, disappointed in so many so-called comebacks that she had become sick of show business. She'd also had it with touring as a backup singer for Dionne Warwick, apparently so much so she'd rather clean toilets.

Jay wasn't making the sale. He knew I was a smooth talker, professional in my manner as opposed to himself and his slovenly musician friends, and I was fluent in the language of show business. I don't know what possessed him to do so but he told Ms. Love I was a big music producer and asked that she call me so I could assuage her fears. 

Except I wasn't any kind of music producer at all, I had been writing a punk rock column for an LA gay bi-weekly (huh?) entertainment magazine. Close enough for show biz, right?

Not to mention Jay Lamey and I had a checkered history, especially after he pulled a switchblade on me one day at work and threatened to cut my throat. But I also knew the team he had assembled could do the job and it was a solid idea with little downside.

At the time I was working in a four person graphics shop, once or twice a week the secretary would take our orders and pick up lunch from the Marie Callender's. The half-hour she was out I answered the phone (because of my aforementioned gift of gab). I knew Darlene was likely to ring me any time, I just hoped she wouldn't while the receptionist was out. Of course she did so I had to explain why this successful music producer, as Jay built me up to be, was I answering the phones.

We had a nice conversation but she remained leery throughout, it was obvious the way Phil Spector had squashed her career and subsequent letdowns weighed heavy on her. Still, she expressed a strong desire for something that would lead to a renewed career, one she could finally be in control of. If anything, a strong dislike for the way she was treated by Ms. Warwick on the road was a prime motivator, that was the impression she gave me. Utterly charming, she ended the call in a non-commital fashion.

I must have said something right, a few days later Jay told me with great excitement that she had agreed to do the showcase.

The show was simply staged, singer and a five (?) piece band, in a club somewhere around Santa Monica with an audience of fans and low level music insiders sitting at round tables near the stage. She was phenomenal. We were cheering when she broke into 'He's a Rebel.' A standing ovation ushered her off the stage. This may have been her first performance since the 1960s and it was all captured on tape. This led to a gig at the Roxy on Sunset, bringing her more visibility. The music industry took notice.

Phil Spector's Christmas Album was once again re-released to great reception in 1981 on an obscure label, that's when I first heard it, the LP was very hot with the New Wave hipsters because of the ear-ringing, trippy arrangements. 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)' became a KROQ top request that December, back when 'The ROQ of the Eighties' was the shit. That the album was so well received was a surprise to all, Spector's overwrought style was considered hopelessly passe by then. Slowly, over the next decade as the unwashed masses discovered it, that LP became a Christmas staple.
Before long Steven Van Zant lured her to New York, this led to starring on Broadway, the Lethal Weapon movies, being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. David Letterman was so taken with her he had her perform  Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) every year on his late night program.

I never did know what happened to the video of that night but I did see it once, and myself in it. You're welcome Darlene Love for the career save...

This video clip is from a few years later, 1984 I guess because Darlene was wearing the same jacket I wore to a party yesterday, procured from Black Salad on Melrose that year or the next...


This is an update of a previous posting, recently found notes reminded me of the events and that I had the timeline off.

TVparty! Classic TV!