The Spector Spat

This morning I happened upon the Facebook page of La La Brooks, the Crystals’ youngest belter who takes the lead on the group’s biggest hits, “Then He Kissed Me” and “Da Doo Ron Ron.” She prefaced a recent post with a warning to “fasten your seatbelts” and proceeded to detail her displeasure with Darlene Love in the documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom (my favorite film of 2013, btw). She singles out a scene where Darlene Love reunites with her trio the Blossoms, and launches into an a cappella version of “Da Doo Ron Ron,” The Crystals’ #3 hit from 1963, featuring La La on lead vocal. This scene alone wouldn’t warrant ruffled feathers. But as the film delves deeper into Darlene Love’s story, you begin to understand La La Brooks’ cause for concern. 

In one scene, Darlene Love sits at the mixing board in Sony studios, listening to her vocal on “He’s A Rebel,” which, she explains, an ill-intentioned Phil Spector credited to the Crystals. Darlene is visibly upset as she tells the story of her name being wiped from the record, and hints that the Crystals’ incident is partly to blame for damaging her career. The studio scene is inter-cut with vintage footage of the Crystals miming “He’s A Rebel” during a live performance, adding further fuel to the finger-pointing and unfairly undermining La La Brooks and the Crystals, none of whom bear any responsibility for the “He’s A Rebel”  name-switch. One comment on La La’s Facebook page likened the scene to watching Milli Vanilli. 

La La argues that she too was horrified that Phil Spector used another vocalist on “He’s A Rebel” (as well as on “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”). “We did not require a Darlene Love–or anyone else to make us famous,” she writes. “We already were famous.” So perhaps, Phil Spector, with his insatiable appetite for success, figured that using the already-famous Crystals name with the almighty voice of Darlene Love would have far greater hit potential than giving the song to a completely unknown artist. Not an unlikely scenario in the hit-hungry music business. 

The film, however, takes the Darlene Love-as-victim view, although her resume tells another story. She was the most in-demand session singer in the sixties, her group the Blossoms had a two-year run on the super-popular Shindig TV series, she cut records well into the ’70s (most girl groups didn’t sustain nearly this long), and has a permanent spot on David Letterman every Christmas singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” I’m not saying she didn’t endure plenty of hardships–the story of her record contract being sold back to Phil Spector is devastating. But artists are often plagued with misfortunes, especially those who happened to have been female working in the ’50s and ’60s. I adore Darlene Love’s voice and her records, and can’t wait to see her perform at the Cutting Room in NYC in September, but I find the bitterness that pervades her story to be a bit of a bummer, especially when it ends up discrediting women like La La Brooks and Ronnie Spector (in her autobiography, Darlene reminds us a little too often of Ronnie’s limited vocal ability).

We’ll never know if Darlene Love would have scored a #1 with “He’s A Rebel” had her name been featured on the record, but the argument that the Crystals prevented her from enjoying a successful career is a wobbly one. What we do know for sure is that both Darlene Love and the Crystals got screwed, and that the blame lies solely with Phil Spector.

You can read La La Brooks’ entire Facebook post here. She is currently working on a new LP for the wonderful Norton Records

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