The version of “Louie Louie” recorded by Portland band the Kingsmen reached number 2 on the pop music charts in 1963. Parents were outraged by the song’s supposedly obscene lyrics. Teenagers reveled in what they thought was a dirty song being played on the radio. The Federal Bureau of Investigation even delved into it, analyzing whether “Louie Louie” was smutty. The band was close-lipped but enjoyed the controversy that drove record sales higher.
The Kingsmen had paid $50 to rent the studio. They recorded the song in one take, gathered around a single microphone. The singer Jack Ely stood on his toes shouting at the boom mic, place too high.
Darlene Love came on stage to sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on The David Letterman Show in 1986. She was dressed in jeans and backed by Paul Shaffer’s similarly-attired four-piece band.
A full orchestra with backup singers, all in formal dress, and a stage elaborately decorated for the season supported her final Letterman appearance in 2014. Decked out in a sparkling red gown, Ms. Love’s performance of the song had become an annual tradition on Letterman’s Christmas show.
“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” written by Brill Building songwriters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, appeared on the 1963 album A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records. (Later issued as “from Phil Spector”) Phil Spector brought his “Wall of Sound” to the Christmas season. Darlene Love’s voice is also heard on the record in songs performed by The Crystals and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. The album is considered a classic and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” has been recorded by dozens of artists.
Phil Spector produced hit records by the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, the Crystals and others. The so-called British Invasion in the mid-sixties put his success into eclipse. The Beatles and other English groups took over the pop charts. Spector faded into the background and became a recluse, working only sporadically.
Darlene Love had been working since the 1950s, mostly with her group the Blossoms, doing background vocals on numerous recordings. She came into her own with music produced by Phil Spector. By the late sixties, her star, too, was fading. While Spector was ensconced in his Los Angeles mansion, wealthy with royalty income, Darlene Love was cleaning houses in Beverly Hills. (No royalties for her.) She had been working on a comeback, singing in small clubs in the L.A. area, when she caught the attention of Letterman.
Darlene Love, meanwhile, was featured in the movie about back-up singers, “20 Feet From Stardom.” released a new album, ironically titled “Introducing Darlene Love,” produced by E-Street Band guitarist and Sopranos strip-club operator, Steven Van Zandt. Long-time fans Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Joan Jett, Linda Perry and Jimmy Webb contributed songs.
Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven, aka Miami Steve, is probably best known as the character Silvio Dante in The Sopranos; or as long-time guitarist in the E Street Band; or host of Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio show; or Artists United Against Apartheid’s “Sun City Project.”
Van Zandt is also the founder of the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and its “Rock and Roll High School.” The Foundations offers its curriculum to educators at no charge. If you want to get lost for a few minutes or hours or days, click here.