Love – the best album
By Jim Stewart
As the 60th anniversary of entering a recording studio for the first time approaches, Phillies legend Darlene Love releases her best album of her long career. ‘Introducing Darlene Love’ returns Darlene to the capable hands of Steven Van Zandt, who created the perfect mix of Spector and Springsteen with ‘Alone At Christmas’, and he has worked his magic again.
When the opportunity arose to talk to Darlene about it, I jumped at the chance, not only because of the album, but also to renew our acquaintance that began when she toured with the British Rock Symphony back in 1999, which is where our conversation began.
‘I wouldn’t expect you to remember, but we spent a couple of hours together back in 1999, when I came to your hotel during the British Rock Symphony tour. My friend and I had a great time chatting about everything with you and your sister.
‘Wow! Was it that long ago, I remember it because it was such a real fun tour to do, a lot of work, but we had a great bunch of musicians and it was one of my favourite tours: I can’t believe it was that long ago.’
Once again I’ve got so much to talk to you about, and only 30 minutes. We covered your time with Phil Spector in depth last time, so I’d like to concentrate on the new album, your work since we last spoke, and hopefully, a bit about Phil at the end.
‘Sounds good to me, let’s get started.’
I love the new album, it’s got all the elements I like, and I’m also a huge fan of Little Steven.
‘Thank you, I’m so pleased to hear that. Steven is an amazing producer, he has so many hidden talents that nobody knows about yet.’
How did working with Steven come about?
‘I’ve known Steven for over 30 years, and when we first met, we made this deal that one day we’d make an album together, but neither of us had the time or the money to be able to make it. I was trying to get my life back together at the time, and Steven suggested that I move from Los Angeles to New York for a fresh start, which is what I did, and I found a whole new world opened for me.’
You worked with Steven on ‘Alone At Christmas’.
‘We did just that song for the ‘Home Alone’ movie. It’s a Christmas song so it has its own time, and we agreed to do it again when we could. Steven always comes to my shows when he’s in New York, and one time he came to see me at B B King’s, and after the show he came back and said ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ I said it’s our day off. ‘Not any more,’ he replied. ‘We’re going to start that album, and we’ll complete it even if we have to do one song a month. It’s never going to be the right time so we’ve got to make it happen.’
‘So that’s what we did. We started out with the gospel song that I do onstage with my band and we were on our way. From then on, we just took our time, neither of us were in a hurry, we knew we’d get it done, and we did!’
I think he really got everything right this time.
‘I don’t think anyone appreciates just how good he is. He’ll work through the night to get what he wants, but Steven knows me, he knows my voice and what I can do. He said he wanted to make me sound younger, and wanted me to give him the full power of my voice.’
There is a lot of new songs on there.
‘They are all new songs apart from the two old ones, and a cover of one of Bruce’s, and another of Steven’s. All the rest were written especially for me for this album.’
Does that include the Jimmy Webb song?
‘Yes, he wrote it for me. Steven said to him: ‘write me a song’. Jimmy replied: ‘What do you want?’ Steven said: ‘Another ‘MacArthur Park’, and that’s what he did, it’s amazing, a real masterpiece.
The single ‘Forbidden Nights’ is an Elvis Costello song.
‘Yes, and he also plays on the song. When Steven spoke about picking a single, we couldn’t decide, so I left it to him and he chose ‘Forbidden Nights’, and I know he made the right decision, and it’s getting rave responses.’
You’ve been in the business for almost 60 years, this is your 5th solo album, and yet it’s called ‘Introducing’.
‘We chose the title as a bit of a pun, and also I think that’s because it has everything that I have in me. Steven wanted people to hear what I sound like today, and that’s what he did’
Your version of ‘River Deep Mountain High’ doesn’t re-run the 1965 recording, you’ve re-worked it totally.
‘When I first heard that song, Phil Spector told me to go and learn the song, and teach it to the girls. So, quite naturally, I thought it was going to be my record right up until the day I walked into the recording studio and Tina was there to sing it, and thought ‘Oh well, this is not mine, I’ve been wrong all along.’
Did you ever record it?
‘No, never, but I’ve always had it in my show because it’s a great song. I sang it on Broadway in ‘Leader Of The Pack’, but this is the first time I’ve recorded it.’
Are you coming to the UK to promote the album?
‘I’d love to but that’s up to Sony, but I’d like to come to London again – the last time was the Rock Orchestra tour, but I’ve sung in the UK on many occasions, but never as ‘Darlene Love’ singing my own songs, and I’d love to.’
You were featured in the movie ’20 Feet From Stardom’, such an important story.
‘A friend of mine Lou Adler, and producer, Richard Donner, called me and said a guy is going to call you; he’s making a film about background singers, and we said ‘If that’s so, you need to call Darlene Love’, and that’s how the whole thing started.’
Finally, I think we need to talk about your work with Phil Spector.
‘The Phil Spector era is totally over, but when I worked with Phil, that was a wonderful time for both him and me because he wasn’t the Phil Spector that people see today. He was just starting out when we met, and so was I. I was his voice of choice, we had a good time working together, and even though he didn’t pay me, I think ‘so what’. It’s because of those records I made then that I have the career I have today. I hold nothing against him. I’m happy about my life today, and how it’s going. I’m happy for me, but not so happy for him today, because that’s what people will remember him for, not the music. He was a genius, but that will be forgotten.’
We’ve run out of time now but promise me you’ll come back to the UK very soon.
‘I want to, my fans on Facebook keep asking, and it’s been such a long time, and I sincerely hope I can.’
One of music’s true legends, let’s hope Darlene can fulfil that ambition. Jim Stewart 2015