If you’ve paid any attention to pop music over the last five decades, you probably know the 1962 No. 1 hit “He’s A Rebel.” What you may not know is that Darlene Love was the lead singer on that track -- because when it was released, producer Phil Spector credited it to The Crystals, a group Love had never even met.
“It’s so funny, because people don’t realize a lot of that was going on during those times,” says Love. “It was just that Phil Spector became such a great producer in the business he got singled out, because he was so nasty the way he did it.”
Love has seen pretty much all the nastiness the music business could throw at her during her 50-plus years in the industry. But not only is she still standing, at 74 years old she’s thriving: Her new album, “Introducing Darlene Love,” is receiving spectacular reviews, and crowds are scooping up tickets for her Christmas tour, which kicked off Nov. 20 in Virginia.
Love, who also scored a Top 20 hit with the Crystals-credited "He's Sure the Boy I Love,” may be best known today for her appearances on David Letterman: Her annual rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from 1963’s “A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector” was a holiday highlight every year, from her first appearance in 1986 right up through 2014, her final stop there before Letterman’s retirement.
That track was actually credited to Love on the album, along with renditions of classics like “White Christmas” and “Marshmallow World.” But during those days working for Spector as both a lead vocalist and a prolific background singer — often with her group The Blossoms — song credits were, at best, fluid.
With “He’s A Rebel,” Spector didn’t tell Love he was releasing it as a Crystals song rather than crediting it to its actual singer — in fact, “He didn’t even tell The Crystals!” says Love. "The Crystals didn’t know that record was coming out, I didn’t know that record was coming out — it was a slap in the face on both sides, mine and theirs.
“They had to try to explain their new record that they knew nothing about,” she says, recalling stories about The Crystals having to learn it on the road so they could sing it for audiences that had heard it on the radio. “It was their No. 1 hit record that they had nothing to do with.”
Some of the challenges Love faced in a ruthless industry were documented in the Oscar-winning 2013 documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” which traced the careers of some of music’s most accomplished background singers and their struggles to make it into the spotlight.
That film — and Love’s spontaneous rendition of the gospel hymn "His Eye Is On The Sparrow” on the Oscars stage when it won — helped bring her back into the public eye and jump started what became “Introducing Darlene Love.”

‘A great record’
Love gives much of the credit for the new album to producer and longtime friend Steven Van Zandt, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and founder of Wicked Cool Records.
“Steven had always said that he wanted to record me [but] the time was never right,” recalls Love. “So two years ago, we were working at BB King’s in New York City and Stevie came to the show and he said, ‘Well, what are you guys doing tomorrow?’ We said, ‘Oh nothing, we have a day off.’ He said, ‘No you don’t, we’re going into the studio.’”
Van Zandt — who described Love to the New York Times last year as “the greatest singer in the world” — brought more than his expertise to the sessions: He procured original songs from world-class songwriters like Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Jimmy Webb, gathered a bevy of talented musicians, and also opened his wallet.
“That was a great thing for me because, you know, record companies are kind of stingy,” says Love. “They don’t want to put out that money to do a record, so Stevie just said, ‘Look, I’m gonna bankroll it.’”
Listening to “Introducing Darlene Love” — a cheeky title meant to finally reclaim the credit that Love didn’t get back in the ’60s — it’s clear it was money well spent. She sounds like she’s having the time of her life, and her soulful, booming vocals are, amazingly, just as rich as they were in 1962.
“Stevie found some great musicians,” Love says. “And the idea is to do a record that you want to do that they love also — even the musicians. They have to want to do it and love it, really deep down, and I think that came out on the album — Stevie’s love for the music, the band’s love for the music, and my desire to do another brand new, fresh album that the public and new fans would like.
“I’m just hoping that everyone will play it and listen — give it a chance!” says Love. “It’s a great record.”

Back on stage
Love also credits Van Zandt for helping revamp the stage show that she’ll be bringing to her holiday tour, which is scheduled for 21 stops around the U.S. and Canada.
“What’s been great is that Steven Van Zandt has really helped me put my new show together ... He freshened up all the Christmas songs,” says Love. “They still sound the same, but they’re fresher — the attitude of the music is fresher.
“So we did a revamp on everything, along with the new songs,” she says. “It’s just a joy to sing these songs once a year that everybody knows, and sings along with me!”
Those songs from “A Christmas Gift For You” are literally a gift that keeps on giving — they’re more popular than ever more than 50 years after their initial release. “The Christmas album is clean, it’s a classic,” says Love. “And I never knew it when we were doing those songs, but when you listen to them on the radio today, they sound just as fresh as anything else that’s out there.”
“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” — the only only original song on that album, written by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, along with Spector — in particular has become an unabashed classic, named in 2010 by Rolling Stone as the greatest rock ’n’ roll Christmas song of all time.
Love acknowledges that her decision not to perform the song on any other late-night shows following Letterman’s retirement might be tough on fans. “I know just from the hundreds of people that asked me on email and on my Facebook page, ‘When are you going to do the Christmas song on David Letterman?’ So it’s going to be a little lull in a lot of people’s lives,” she says. “But now they just have to come out and hear me sing it in person!”
Love’s concert will also include 1960s classics and songs from her new album, including some of the buoyant gospel numbers that are a highlight of the collection — and that reflect Love’s own feelings about her faith.
“I think after over 50 years in the music business, if I didn’t have faith in God, and in the word of God, I would not be in this business, because I think it’s too hard,” she says. “We love the music, but all the other things that go along with being in this business … It’s an uphill journey at all times.
“So I have to put my faith in something other than man. Because listen, the world is going to pot!,” she says, laughing. “Literally!”
For more information, visit darleneloveworld.com. 
Peter Chianca is the author of "Glory Days: Springsteen's Greatest Albums." Follow him on Twitter at @pchianca or email pchianca@wickedlocal.com.