Pop music icons Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love will be coming to the Twin Cities this month, both performing Christmas shows within days of each other. Spector and Love are widely known for their vocal work in the 1960s both as members of successful girl-groups and as back-up vocalists. Both have worked closely with producer Phil Spector, and both performed on his beloved A Christmas Gift for You album. While they may not necessarily be household names, the voices of Darlene Love and Ronnie Spector have been heard by nearly every American.
Ronnie Spector, the ex-wife of Phil Spector, is perhaps best-known for being the lead singer of the 1960s R&B vocal group the Ronettes. Signing with Philles Records early in their career, the group had a string of chart successes with tracks such as “The Best Part of Breaking Up,” “Baby, I Love You,” and “Walking in the Rain.” Their most well-known song is probably “Be My Baby,” which has been credited as being one of the best pop songs of the era and in 1999 was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The Ronettes performed multiple songs on the Christmas album produced by Phil Spector, but their version of “Sleigh Ride” has become a particular Christmas favorite. As a solo artist, Ronnie Spector has been a guest vocalist on several projects, the most memorable perhaps being Eddie Money’s 1986 hit “Take Me Home Tonight.” The song interpolates the chorus of “Be My Baby,” and Money convinced Spector to come out of retirement to reprise her vocal turn. In April of this year, Spector released her newest album in a decade, English Heart.
Darlene Love is also known for her powerful vocals. Upon her debut she quickly became a widely sought-after vocalist, working with musicians including Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, and more. Love also served as a backup vocalist on many of hits of the 1960s, such as Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” and even the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”
In 1962, Love had her own number one hit as a member of the Blossoms with the single “He’s a Rebel” — although Phil Spector credited the Crystals for the recording. Love also performed several songs on Spector’s Christmas album, but “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” has since become her signature song and probably the most critically-acclaimed holiday-themed rock single ever released. Starting in 1986, it became a tradition for Love to perform the song each December on The Late Show with David Letterman — a tradition that continued until Letterman’s retirement in 2015.
The connecting piece in the careers of these two prominent vocalists is the producer Phil Spector, a powerful commercial and creative force in the early 1960s. His trademark “Wall of Sound” involved large ensembles and heavy layering of symphonic arrangements, with multiple instruments sometimes playing the same part. That technique helped define the sound of the era’s popular music, but Spector’s personally and professionally abusive practices left many of his artists scarred with unhappy memories. He is currently imprisoned for a 2003 murder.
The exuberant joy of these artists’ music, however, cannot be overshadowed. Ronnie Spector will be performing at the Dakota Jazz Club on Nov. 27. The show is billed as Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Party Ever. Darlene Love performs her Christmas celebration on Nov. 30 at the Ordway Concert Hall.
Lillian Speakman is a senior at Hamline University and a DJ for HU Radio.