Allow Her To Reintroduce Herself: A Moment With Darlene Love



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Darlene Love's new album, Introducing Darlene Love, is out September 18th. (Courtesy of the artist)
Darlene Love's new album, Introducing Darlene Love, is out September 18th. (Courtesy of the artist)

As an album title, Introducing Darlene Love sounds like a throwback, in the spirit of Here's Little Richard or Meet the Beatles. In fact, it's something closer to a joke: The woman behind these songs has been making music for 50 years, and it only took a few decades for people to learn her name.

Darlene Love's story represents one of the more remarkable resurrections in pop history. Though she began recording as a teenager, it was generally as a background singer. When she did score a major hit singing lead with her group The Blossoms, producer Phil Spector gave the credit to someone else. Her solo career started late and faltered — until a fateful night in the 1980s.

"I was working at a club in Los Angeles, The Roxy," she tells NPR's Arun Rath. "Two of the people in the audience were Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt. And after the show was over, they came backstage. Steven said, 'Your voice is unbelievable. You need to move to New York and let me record you. If I get you a couple of jobs, would you come?'"

In New York, Love's talents would eventually come to the attention of a very famous late-night TV personality, leading to an annual event that would introduce her to an entirely new generation of listeners. Hear more of the story, and selections from the new album Introducing Darlene Love, at the audio link.

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It's been more than 50 years since this song topped the charts.


THE CRYSTALS: (Singing) He's a rebel, and he'll never, ever be any good. He's a rebel 'cause he never, ever does what he should.

RATH: "He's A Rebel" by The Crystals - on lead vocals, Darlene Love. Love spent the following decades trying to make a name for herself beyond the shadow of a titan, producer Phil Spector. Now at age 74, she's giving it another try.


DARLENE LOVE: (Singing) It's not too late for us. I remain among the believers.

RATH: The record is called "Introducing Darlene Love." Obviously, that's a bit of a joke.

LOVE: It is. It is sort of a joke because Steve Van Zandt wanted to introduce me to the last five decades of people that have not heard me or don't really know who Darlene Love is. He wants to say OK, here she is, folks. We're introducing her again - Miss Darlene Love (laughter).

RATH: You mentioned Steven Van Zandt. He produced the album. Of course, he's part of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, and a lot of people know him as Silvio from "The Sopranos."

LOVE: (Laughter) Yeah.

RATH: But how far back do you two go?

LOVE: Oh, we met in the '80s, and I was working at a club in Los Angeles, Calif. - The Roxy. Well, two of the people in the audience was Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt. And after the show was over, they came backstage. Steven said, your voice is unbelievable. You need to move to New York and let me record you. He said, well, if I get a couple of jobs, would you come? I said, sure, of course. Well, a lot of things got in the way. Steven was still very, very busy with Bruce Springsteen. And here I am trying to re-create myself in New York City (laughter), and it took a while. You know, I was doing shows at The Bottom Line. And David Letterman came to see the show, and he said the next night on his show - the television show - said, we need to get that girl on this show. That's the greatest Christmas song I've ever heard.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Christmas.

LOVE: (Singing) Snow's coming down on.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Christmas.

LOVE: (Singing) I'm watching it fall

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Christmas.

LOVE: (Singing) Lots of people around.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Christmas.

LOVE: (Singing) Baby, please come home.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Christmas.

RATH: And, of course, that led to your yearly Christmas gig on David Letterman.

LOVE: Exactly. And we had no idea that was going to happen. I mean, that - somebody knew it, but we didn't (laughter). And matter of fact, the last show that we did, I actually told David - I said, you probably don't know this, but you are the reason that my career started all over again because people really did get to find out who Darlene Love really was. She's a great singer - not just somebody that Phil Spector found and decided to do a couple of songs with her. And you are the reason people know that today, and it just got better and better and better. They started calling me the Christmas Queen.


RATH: Well, let's talk about this new music 'cause there's an amazing group of collaborators here.

LOVE: Well, Steven did all the work. I just did the singing (laughter).

RATH: Just the singing.

LOVE: Just the singing. He went out and called all these people because he said he told each one of them that he needed some great songs for me - songs that were powerful because I have a powerful voice. Well, he was serious. They would send him songs, and he'd say no, don't want that one. That's not for her. He really wanted a rock and roll CD. He didn't want it to be - it's not - this is not - just 'cause she's black, this is not a rhythm and blues album. This is a rock and roll album.


LOVE: (Singing) You're my painkiller. You're my painkiller. You're my painkiller. You're my painkiller. When I looked in your eyes, I was anesthetized. You're my painkiller. You know I was hurting so bad.

RATH: I'm talking with Darlene Love. Her new album is out right now. And you are still - I mean, your voice is so huge and beautiful, and it feels like you've lost nothing with that passion that's in there. How do you keep the fire burning like that?

LOVE: Well, you know, I always say that when I was recording with Phil Spector, he would not let me really sing, you know? And even to make me sound younger, he would speed the track up. He still wanted that real nice, little, quiet, sweet, little sound. Well, a lot of things have happened to me over the years, and I've had a lot of things that have gone good and a lot of things that gone bad. So all of that is in these songs when I sing them.


LOVE: (Singing) I've got one more thing to say to you this evening, and then I've got to go.

Steven - the last song that he wrote was a song called "Jesus Is The Rock That Keeps Me Rollin'." And everybody - well, how did he write that? Now, where did that one come from? I said, well, you know what? He's been around me a long time. He knows my history. He knows my father was a minister, and his wife was telling me that he was up all night writing this song. He wouldn't tell her even what he was doing. I'm writing this song. I got it. I got it.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Jesus is the rock...

LOVE: (Singing) ...That keeps me rolling. Jesus is the rock that keeps me rolling. And when all hope is lost, my inspiration is the cross.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Jesus is the rock.

LOVE: (Singing) Jesus is the rock.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Jesus is the rock.

LOVE: (Singing) Jesus is the rock that keeps me rolling.

RATH: Your roots are in gospel. What was it like going all the way back like that?

LOVE: Well, it was really great because, see, what most singers that came from a gospel world - all they did was brought what they did in the gospel world to the secular world. They just changed the lyrics. The only thing about gospel - you couldn't make no money.


LOVE: They wanted you to do it unto the Lord and let the Lord pay you.




LOVE: (Singing) I can't help you, baby, but I know someone who can.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Jesus is the rock.

LOVE: (Singing) He is the rock.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Jesus is the rock.

RATH: You had success when you were really young. Back in the early days of your career, what did you think you career was going to be like?

LOVE: You know, it's funny because The Blossoms - the background group I was singing with - we were the first black background singers to sing in recording business. People wanted to start taking us out of the recording studio and took us on the road to see the world (laughter). And then a friend of mine said, well, you have such a great voice. Is this what you want to do the rest of your life - background? I said, you know what? I think I really do want to be a solo artist. So I decided at the age of - ripe age of 40 - to decide my solo career. And I all I can say about it is it was not easy. Please start when you're about 20.


LOVE: Your body know hoe old you are, but if you keep on and you take care of yourself - you know, I go to kickboxing class every morning at 5 a.m. You know, try to do all the things to take care of the outside of your body, but you also should do - and have to do things that take care of the inside of your body.

RATH: Well, Darlene Love, thank you for taking care of yourself 'cause we have some great results on this record.

LOVE: Thank you.

RATH: That's Darlene love. Her new album is called "Introducing Darlene Love." It has been such a treat speaking with you. Thank you.

LOVE: Thank you so much.


LOVE: (Singing) Sweet freedom, hear me calling. I can feel your spirit rising in my soul. Sweet freedom, hear me calling. And I'm coming to your mama's. Wanna rock and roll. I've done my stretch living for my man. Had my mind in the palm of his hand. I've played it safe, and I've... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.