Darlene Love is a national treasure. Born in 1941 in Hawthorne, California, Love began singing in church before joining a girl group called the Blossoms, who had the good fortune to team up with producer Phil Spector in 1962. In August of that year, Love and the Blossoms recorded the #1 classic, "He's a Rebel," under the name of the Crystals. Later, when the real Crystals returned, she sang back-up on the even bigger hit, "Da Doo Ron Ron," one of the defining moments of the "girl group" craze of the early 60s. Today, however, she is best known for another song she wasn't even intended to sing.
When, in 1963, Spector decided to produce a Christmas album, he enlisted Veronica Bennett of the Ronettes (later to become Ronnie Spector), to sing its centerpiece, a new Christmas song written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Bennett had just scored big with the greatest record of the girl group era, "Be My Baby," in August of that year. But when she couldn't summon the requisite emotions needed for the song (as hard as that is to believe), Love was summoned to replace her, and the rest is history.
Ever since 1986, David Letterman has had Love sing her immortal "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" at the close of his final Late Night show before Christmas, and as the years have gone on, the performances have gotten ever more elaborate. Just an hour ago I sat and watched this year's performance, with background singers and strings accompanying Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra (with a nice baritone sax solo by Bones Malone). Shaffer marvelously recreated Spector's famous "Wall of Sound," but the unquestioned highlight was Love herself, who sings with the same power and authority today as she did 50 years ago. This is without question my favorite "secular" Christmas song, and listening to Ms. Love sing it never fails to bring tears of aesthetic pleasure to my eyes. It is nothing short of amazing that a woman of her age can sing the way she does. May God give her many more.
I leave you with a clip of last night's performance. If this doesn't put you in a good mood, I don't know what can.