Phil Spector may be in jail, but that hasn’t stopped his two most famous stars–Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love–from carrying on their Christmas traditions of performing at B.B. King’s. The only difference now is that Ronnie and Darlene–who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this March–are now paid for their work. Here’s Jim Bessman’s report from last weekend. Put on or download Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You,” the 1963 classic, and enjoy!
Friday night brought “Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever” and found The Ronettes’ lead singer in better voice than ever. Backed by a six-piece band (two keyboards, sax, bass, guitar and drums) and top female backup vocalists in Elaine Caswell and Jenni Muldaur, Spector approximated her ex-husband’s Wall of Sound productions on The Ronettes’ hit catalog, which as she showed at B.B.’s, is much bigger than the two best-known 1963 entries “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You.”
“(The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up,” “Do I Love You?,” “Walking In The Rain,” “I Can Hear Music” and “Paradise”–all Ronettes’ hits–were perfectly rendered, same with “Is This What I Get For Loving You?,” which was memorably covered by David Johansen. Spector’s appeal to the punk rock generation was also manifest in her cover of Johansen‘s fellow New York Doll Johnny Thunders‘ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” and Joey Ramone‘s “She Talks To Rainbows”–both recorded on her 1999 EP “She Talks To Rainbows,” which Ramone and her guitarist Daniel Rey co-produced.
Other covers saluted her acknowledged inspiration Frankie Lymon and Ronettes-influenced Amy Winehouse, and her friend John Lennon, whose “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” fit perfectly with the night’s Christmas theme. To that end, Spector also sang all her “Christmas Album” classics–“Sleigh Ride,” “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Frosty The Snowman”–a lit-up Frosty the Snowman prop smiling away throughout the show. She also let loose on “My Christmas Wish” from her new Christmas EP “Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever.” The new song featured her trademark “whoa-whoa”‘s, and she gave her low-cut top a little Christmas jiggle in perpetuating the teen male fantasies of the well-past-their-teens males in the SRO crowd.
While Ronnie Spector was embraced by the punks, Darlene Love has enjoyed more mainstream support from the likes of Phil Spector-influenced Bruce Springsteen, whose guitarist Little Steven van ZAndt introduced “Darlene Love’s Christmas Show” on Sunday night.
Rattling off her Spector-produced hits “Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home,” “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” “A Fine, Fine Boy” and “He’s A Rebel,” he alluded to her songs on Spector’s “Christmas Album” in declaring “It’s official–Christmas is here,” then hailed Love’s forthcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after proclaiming her the greatest rock ‘n’ roll singer ever, male or female.
Love lived up to the intro. Like Ronnie Spector, she was backed by a Wall of Sound-worthy band of two keyboards, sax, drums, percussion, two guitars, bass, and three top New York backup singers in Ula Hedwig, who’s sung with Love since Love moved to New York in 1981; jazz recording artist Catherine Russell, and Clayton Bryant, a regular at Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar open mic nights, who also backs them in concert. Still on a high from last week’s induction announcement, Love began by returning to her roots with the gospel classic “Please Be Patient With Me,” then delivered the first of her Spector “Christmas Album” songs in “Marshmallow World”; she would also reprise her performances of the album’s “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland” and of course, its only original song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”
She sang all the Little Steven-mentioned hits, too, as well as his “All Alone on Christmas,” which she performed on the “Home Alone 2: Lost In New York” soundtrack. But she also thrilled with another wailing gospel-tinged tune in “I Know Where I’ve Been,” the inspirational showstopper she performed on Broadway in “Hairspray,” and Sam Cooke‘s anthemic “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which she did after noting the similarities in her and Cooke’s background. The full house was on its feet when she closed with “River Deep, Mountain High” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which, incidentally, she taped for her annual spot on David Letterman‘s Christmas Eve show.
The only thing missing was The Crystals’ La La Brooks, the third female vocal star of Spector’s “Christmas Album,” who could have played Saturday night had she not already played B.B.’s in October–when Phil’s daughter Nicole came out to sing backup on The Crystals’ “Da Do Ron Ron.”