Darlene Love on Christmas, music, and joy

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Darlene Love
Darlene Love (courtesy the artist)

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love has long been recognized as one of the greatest singers of all time, with hits including "He's a Rebel," "Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry," and her signature song, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."

Her career has spanned more than 50 years, from the glory days of the 60s girl group artists to singing backup for artists like Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin — the list goes on and on. Darlene Love is also featured prominently in the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, and tonight she'll be performing a holiday show at the Ordway in St. Paul.

The Current's Jill Riley and Brian Oake talked with Love about her remarkable career.

Jill Riley: Darlene, people know your voice, they know the songs, but they might not be as familiar with your name — and that's because you've spent so much of your career working behind the scenes.

Darlene Love: Right, that's very true, and you know, that's how I started in this business: with a group called the Blossoms. We were the first background voices that you ever heard on records back in the 60s. We didn't realize it at the time, and we didn't find out until many years later, but it was so much fun doing background back in those days because [the rock music business] was in the infancy and everyone was excited about making records. So from there [to] where I am today, is amazing.

JR: I mean, you guys were the go-to background singers for a lot of songs, including songs like "The Monster Mash."

DL: Yes! I just did a show with Bette Midler — her Halloween show — and one of her requests was "Monster Mash."

Brian Oake: When you look at the history of American music, "Da Doo Ron Ron," the Righteous Brothers, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," when you're doing this and obviously working with Phil Spector and all these different artists, I just feel like it was almost like a factory-type setup where you're just cranking out all of these amazing songs. They just happened to be hit after hit after hit.

DL: You know what? We don't talk about the non-hits. (laughs) We don't even remember those because there were a lot of those in between! There was a place in New York called the Hit Factory, but we in Los Angeles were at RCA Victor, at Columbia, at Gold Star cranking out all hits. But we didn't realize it at the time, because it was a job. Nobody goes to work at 10:00 in the morning singing and gets home at 1:00 or 2:00 at night...we were younger, thank God. We couldn't hardly do that today, but that's what we were doing back then and it was so much fun doing that.

JR: I really enjoyed the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom and there's a lot that I learned about you from watching that documentary. It won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2013, and you were on the stage to accept that award. What was that like for you?

DL: That was amazing because the night before I had been to a pre-Oscar party and they asked me to go on stage and represent all the background voices — but that just petrified me because I wasn't prepared. Then when they said, "Why don't you just sing a little song?" I said it's not enough time, I'm not prepared. You know, when you do the Oscars they prepare weeks and weeks with bands and everything for a song — and I just said, as I normally would do in that type of situation, "Okay Lord, just give me a song." I sing because I'm happy, and that's as true today as it has ever been. I do sing because I am happy. That was all unusual, that whole evening, but you know what? We're still talking about it.

JR: So we're really headed into the holiday season, and tonight at the Ordway it's a Darlene Love christmas — "Love for the Holidays" — right here in St. Paul. We love Christmas albums. I think Brian and I can agree on that.

BO: We both have ridiculous collections of holiday music and I don't know what it is. I don't know if it's nostalgia or just that feeling of the special time of year, but some people get very irritated by Christmas music — and frankly, once we're past Thanksgiving, I can't hear enough of it. When we talk about "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," the gorgeous Wall of Sound, the vocals and just what an iconic song it is from the Christmas catalog...it's one of my all-time favorites.

DL: We recorded that song in 1964, but it's just coming into its own and then the years I worked the David Letterman show and that was his favorite Christmas song, just made Christmas even more valuable with the experience of [singing on that show] and the joy of the song. So I am very pleased — and actually Christmas is my favorite time of the year because that's the time that everybody celebrates Christmas all over the world. It's the only holiday that's like that. So it's a great foundation and I think that's why you said you don't get enough of it because comes once a year in November and December and then you don't hear it again the following year.

JR: That was a long tradition that you had with The Late Show with David Letterman performing that song, and I understand that you'll be keeping that tradition alive performing that song on another show this year. So people can hear you sing that song on The View on Dec. 16, and I just have to say one of my favorite Christmas albums is A Christmas Gift for You by Phil Spector, and your version of "Winter Wonderland" will always be a favorite of mine.

DL: Well thank you so much. You know they did a video of that song and I was walking on a beach on Los Angeles. Where else is that gonna happen except for California in the wintertime? (laughs)

Transcribed by Simone Cazares

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