(To commemorate the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame's 40th Anniversary in 2013, GRAMMY.com has launched GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations. The ongoing series will feature conversations with GRAMMY winners and esteemed individuals who will identify GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have influenced them and helped shape their careers.)
If there is a polar opposite to an overnight sensation, Darlene Love is it. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee began singing as a child in her church choir in Hawthorne, Calif. As a teenager, she joined a girl group, the Blossoms. In the early '60s Love was a member of Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, a studio group formed by producer Phil Spector. She subsequently recorded singles as a solo artist for Spector's Phillies label, including the hit "Wait Til' My Bobby Gets Home."
Her vocals appeared on recordings by artists such as the Beach Boys, Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, and Dionne Warwick, and she was lead vocalist on the classic "He's A Rebel," credited to the Crystals. But fame eluded her until she recorded her signature tune, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," featured on Spector's 1963 classic holiday album, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector.
The song was intended to be performed by Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes, but Love, as legend has it, had a go at it in the studio and nailed it. She's been singing the plaintive but upbeat carol ever since, performing it at holiday shows in New York and New Jersey.
But Love's not just an eminence during the holiday season. She is also an actress, with several major Broadway shows to her credit, including the 2002 production of "Hairspray," and she's released her own projects, including 1998's Unconditional Love and the more recent The Sound Of Love: The Very Best Of Darlene Love (2011). Love is featured in 20 Feet From Stardom, a new documentary opening June 14 that explores the career of backup singers.
"I feel like I've finally made it," says Love.
These five GRAMMY Hall of Fame selections have helped her get to this point, providing inspiration throughout her storied career.
"Will You Love Me Tomorrow"
"The first time I heard this song I loved it. It's a timeless song and you can sing it anytime, anywhere and it's going to mean something to everybody who hears it. There's nobody who's not touched by this song. I remember the first time I sang it. I did it slow, like a slow ballad. I was sitting on a stool and I felt every word of it."
What's Going On
"I started singing this song in my show two years ago. Here's the thing about it: This song fits so well with everything that's going on in the world today. [Marvin Gaye] hits it right on the head. He took a nail and his hammer and he hit it hard. It made a lot of sense then, and it makes even more sense now. Marvin was ahead of his time and he was one of my favorite singers in the whole world."
"You've Got A Friend"
"This is one of my favorite songs by the great Carole King. It tells about a relationship you have with a friend. And let me tell you what I think: If you can find the kind of friend the song is written about, no matter what happens to you, you have a friend for life. I've sung this song in shows so many times I had to replace it, just to keep the show fresh and bring new songs in. But I could keep singing it forever."
"Every song on this album is an A-plus song. It's not, 'Oh, I like this one, but not that one.' It's every single one that's a standout. And it's the first album I ever bought, because people usually give me music. This was the first time I ever went out and bought a record, because even though Whitney Houston was my [goddaughter], I had to have that album right now. I ran right over to Tower Records and pulled that baby out of the bin. The day after it came out Cissy [Houston, Whitney's mother] called me and said, 'Have you heard Nippy's album?' Nippy was Whitney's nickname. I said, 'Girl, I bought that yesterday. And I'm already wearing it out.'"
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Simon & Garfunkel
"This is a song that for me is related to religion. You've got to always have some kind of bridge to get you out of trouble when life becomes like, 'Uh oh, I need a bridge or a path out of this.' How many times has that happened to me? Plenty. I've been in this business 50 years, and I've needed not just a bridge but a lot of bridges to get me through. I love this song not just when it's two voices but when it's done in a gospel style, with 50 voices singing it. Do you know what this song does? It makes you want to go to church, honey."
(A founding member of the R&B girl group the Blossoms, Darlene Love has collaborated with legendary artists such as the Beach Boys, Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley, among others. In 1963 she was featured on A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, which was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1999. Love was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.)
(Tammy La Gorce is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in The New York Times.)