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Loving Darlene Love

Chris Hine | Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The New York Times once said, “Darlene Love’s thunderbolt voice is as embedded in the history of Rock-and-Roll as Eric Clapton’s guitar or Bob Dylan’s lyrics.” Everyone knows Dylan and Clapton, but who is Darlene Love? Only the singer of the greatest Christmas song ever: “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).”

Love is a victim of circumstance, someone who had the talent to become a household name, but the people who handled her career, combined with the changing times and bad luck, prevented her from becoming a big star.

Legendary producer Phil Spector discovered Love and her booming voice back in the early 1960s. She sang lead on a few of the producer’s biggest hits – but as a guest lead singer on some of Spector’s girl groups, not as a solo act. Eventually, Spector released some songs with Love listed as a solo artist, but they did not fare as well as Love’s previous releases.

As the years passed in the ’60s, Spector started to give his attention to the Righteous Brothers and the thinner-voiced Veronica Bennett, lead singer of the Ronettes (also Spector’s love interest at the time). While Love was stuck playing second fiddle under Spector’s control, other singers with less talent than Love found success under different producers. Had Love been in a different place during this time, her career could have taken a different direction.

Spector worked with some of the top songwriters of the day, but he did not give Love their better material. Instead, Spector would give Mann/Weil’s “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” to the Righteous Brothers while giving Love songs with less hit potential. Then, as the British Invasion hit, Love was stuck singing her heart out for Spector. By the late 1960s, Spector’s records were out of vogue, and Love found herself singing backup for more popular acts of the time.

Nevertheless, Love did manage to make one record under Spector that ensures that countless generations will get to hear her voice.

She recorded “Christmas” for Spector’s now-legendary Christmas album. As was the case with previous songs, Spector gave the Ronettes the first crack at the song, but Bennett’s voice could not summon the strength the song requires. For once, Love was in the right place at the right time. The song, featuring Love’s booming vocal, has become a modern classic.

After researching Love’s story, the song has a different meaning. It serves as a reassurance that even if the hands of fate and time combine to drag you down, if you struggle and fight them hard enough, you will get them to loosen their grip even if for just one moment. Darlene Love took advantage of that moment.