Her latest album features songs written by Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Linda Perry, Jimmy Webb, Desmond Child and others
By Harvey Kubernik
Vocalist Darlene Love has released her first new album in decades, Introducing Darlene Love. Produced and arranged by artist/producer and member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, (Little) Steven Van Zandt, the album is comprised of all new recordings and features never-before-heard and classic songs from Van Zandt’s hand-picked cast of songwriters eager to showcase one of the most seminal voices in our music history. The first single issued from the collection is the Elvis Costello-penned “Forbidden Nights.”
Van Zandt wrote three tunes for Love, Costello and Bruce Springsteen contributed two tracks each to the 14-song album (released on Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool label in partnership with Columbia Records, The captivating Love brings her unique vocal delivery to each song, including “Night Closing In” (Bruce Springsteen,) “Still To Soon To Know” (Elvis Costello),“Love Kept Us Foolin’ Around” (Linda Perry), “Who Under Heaven” (Jimmy Webb), “River Deep, Mountain High” (Phil Spector/Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich), and “Sweet Freedom” (Barry Man/Cynthia Weil), among others.
Inducted in to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2011, The New York Times has called the singer “a thunderbolt voice embedded in the history of rock n’ roll…”
Love’s five-decade career spans some of the greatest signature moments in music, with the Los Angeles native and Fremont High School graduate, nurturing her talent early as a member of the Blossoms, a local trio who began their career providing backup vocals for artists such as Sam Cooke, Barney Kessel, and Bobbie Day. The Blossoms also were featured as part of the house band for the popular 1964-1966 music television show Shindig!, backing up many of the performers who appeared on the series.
Love would go on to become one of the most sought-after singers in music history, recording with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Jan & Dean, Dick Dale & the Del-Tones, Johnny Rivers, the Beach Boys, James Darren, Dionne Warwick, the Righteous Brothers, Tom Jones, and dozens of other vocal and musical giants throughout her career.
Her early work with pioneering producer Phil Spector (he suggested she change her birth name Darlene Wright to Darlene Love), on songs such as the trailblazing “He’s A Rebel,” “He’s Sure The Boy I Love,” “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” “A Fine, Fine Boy,” and “Why Do Lover’s Break Each Other’s Hearts,” would garner her landmark status.
“I arranged A Christmas Gift For You (originally on Philles Records in 1963),” the multi-instrumentalist/arranger Jack Nitzsche remarked to me in a 1988 interview published in Goldmine. “We had a lot of fun. Darlene Love singing ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ blew my mind. I got chills. Powerful. She could always sing.”
Music journalist Kirk Silsbee in an August 1993 interview with Love published in The Los Angeles Reader, Brown-Eyed Woman: Darlene Love Blossomed Through the Wall of Sound, examined her audio relationship with Phil Spector.
“Although she was one of the most important elements of Spector’s success, Love never received much in the way of encouragement from the enigmatic, tight-lipped Spector. “I overheard him tell Jack Nitzsche, ‘She’s one of the greatest singers I ever heard in my life,’ when I was in the control room and he didn’t know I was there,” she said. “I was really shocked. Then Jack once told me, ‘He thinks you’re the greatest singer in the world.’”
“Phil taught me all my songs; I never heard demos,” she continued. “We’d either go to the piano in his office, or up to Jack’s house. I think that had a lot to do with control: ‘I taught her everything she knows.’ But I have to say, he was the first record producer I ever worked with who knew exactly what he wanted. Other producers would mostly leave it up to the Blossoms—‘You guys know what to do.’”
Darlene’s annual holiday performance of her seasonal-standard classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on Late Night With David Letterman became a holiday viewing staple.
Love is also featured in the 2013 Academy Award and Grammy winning Morgan Neville-directed documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, chronicling the behind-the-scenes lives of background singers.
This past September 2015, Van Zandt produced and played on showcases with Love on east coast and west coast venues.
Nearly 35 years ago, I went to the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, one evening with Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt, on an invite from club owner Lou Adler, to witness a performance by Darlene Love and band.
During that seismic event, Steven proudly proclaimed that he would produce an album one day with Darlene Love.
It has happened.
Cave Hollywood’s own David Kessel first met Darlene Love in the sixties as a child attending numerous recording sessions Spector did with Love and the Blossoms, which often included his father, guitarist Barney Kessel, and his step-mother, B.J. Baker, who was one of the top vocal contractors and backup singers in Hollywood.
David Kessel Interview
Your first impressions on watching Darlene record with Phil and the musicians in the mid-sixties.
I attended many sessions, including lots with Phil Spector, in which Darlene Love was an integral part of the vocals. She sang both lead and back up, and oftentimes on the same record. She had a striking impact on those records.
“I have always been struck by Darlene’s deep vocal power and intensity.
My Stepmother was on many Spector dates, and vocal contracted and sang on many records with Darlene on lots of sessions including Frank Sinatra’s ‘That’s Life,’ Elvis Presley’s ‘If I Can Dream,’ The Elvis 1968 Comeback Special, and many recordings with Sam Cooke and the Beach Boys, to name just a few. It was great to be there and watch the Pros at work whenever I had the opportunity.
I was around when you later worked and recorded with Darlene in the mid and very-late seventies.
As I got older, I began working regularly with Phil Spector as a musician on all his records, in addition to handling other duties for Phil Spector Productions. I vividly remember being at Phil’s mansion with my brother after Phil had asked us bring some instruments and come over to the house, to work on some song arrangements and key selections.
“Well, it ended up being for Darlene, who was also there. It was just the four of us, and the main song chosen to record was ‘Lord If You’re A Woman,’ written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. We ended up recording that at A & M Studios in Hollywood.
“My brother Dan and I played guitar with the Wrecking Crew. It was one thing to hear Darlene rehearse it, but actually hearing her through the headphones and watching her belt out the song with such power and authority (and I had already heard her in the studio many times growing up) was pretty awe inspiring.
“I remember looking at Phil during a playback and saying ‘Wow what incredible pipes.’ Darlene is an important vocal contributor on decades of classic recordings and live performances.
Your reflections on this new Love/Van Zandt collaboration?
In regards to Darlene’s new album Introducing Darlene Love, arranged and produced by Steven Van Zandt, it’s a big WOW!!!
“It sounds great, a nice collection of songs and full of power. Darlene’s singing is fantastic (as usual), and after all these years proves that she’s still got it and is going strong. Also, for extra fun, I love the video for “Forbidden Nights.”
You’ve spun Darlene Love recordings during your radio career.
I’ve been playing lots of the old Darlene Love records and cuts from this new album on my Rockin Surfer radio show, and getting great feedback.