Arts, Culture & Media

For Darlene Love, a Christmas without David Letterman?

Maybe Darlene Love should sing her Christmas anthem on David Letterman's front lawn this year?

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The 60s singing legend jokingly mentioned that possibility at the end of her Christmas show on Sunday night. 

For 28 years, Love had performed her signature "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on David Letterman's late night show, which ended its run in May.

"I'm laughing because I just got a text message from one of the musicians on the show and they went, 'what are we going to do this year? We can't do the Christmas show.' So it really became, people would stop me on the street and they'd use David's line where he said, 'Christmas doesn't start until he hears Darlene Love sing that song,'" Love said in an inteview before that show Sunday at The Cabot Theater in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Love, 74, still performs her 1963 song at concerts around the country, including yearly gigs in New York. Diehard fans know it and some come to her shows, she said, singing out one regular who comes from Japan. 

"She doesn't even speak that great English, but she comes over every year ... to see me do my Christmas show." Love continues, "We have some people that come in every year from London just to see the show."

Love hopes to bring her Christmas show beyond US borders, "Believe me when I tell you it eventually will. Then I won't be able to come home anymore, I'll be doing it all overseas." 

She spent decades as one of the most in-demand and influential backup singers in rock and roll. 

"I've been overseas many times, but not as Darlene Love; as a backup singer with Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick and Cher. So you know, they're very savvy in Europe. They know me, they know my career, they know my singing." 

Some may not even be aware that she was hired to be backup singer when U2 covered her song back in 1986. "All parts on the U2 record are done by me. And so that became a great thing that people found out I was the background singer on the U2 record." 

So how did "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" become Darlene Love's holiday staple? It all begins with Phil Spector. Record producer extraordinaire and yes, control freak. 

In the fall of 1963, Phil Spector gathered singers from his Wall-of-Sound stable to record one of the first rock and roll Christmas records. It was released as A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. The Ronettes were on it. So too were The Crystals and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans. But it was solo artist Darlene Love who recorded four songs: "White Christmas," "Marshmellow World," "Winter Wonderland" and her soon-to-be Christmas classic. 

The song was written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry and Phil Spector. After the record's initial release in '63, Spector kept the LP in print and kept re-releasing it. In fact, The Beatles label, Apple Records, pressed vinyl copies of it in 1972. That really helped with international sales and today, the album as a whole is regarded as a classic. 

But it was really David Letterman who helped make "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" stand out, says Love.

Letterman's band leader, Paul Shaffer, had known her from work together on a Broadway revue. She then appeared on the Letterman show, and it became an annual thing.

For Love, Christmas got even sweeter in recent years, when she won a share of royalties from her 1960s hits and was featured on the Oscar-winning documentary "Twenty Feet From Stardom." Now, touring in stilettos, she's singing not only the Christmas classics but new songs written for her by Bruce Springteen, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Webb, Linda Perry and Steven Van Zandt, who produced her latest, "Introducing Darlene Love."

The turnaround comes after a tough period in which she was cleaning houses and singing mostly in church and in retirement homes. Even then, she said, she knew she wasn't a has-been or a never-was. She knew, she said, that somehow, some way, she'd be back.