One of the classic "girl group" songs of the real rock'n'roll era is "He's a Rebel" by The Crystals.
Or was it really recorded by Darlene Love and The Blossoms?
It seems the latter was true - a not uncommon occurrence in the early days of rock and roll groups. When touring schedules or illness conflicted with recording dates the players were changed to suit the schedule, never mind the names attached.
After a long career beginning in high school but followed by a down period, Darlene Love is performing and recording again. Her CD "Age of Miracles" is available through http://www.darlenelove.com. While it contains standards from rock'n'roll, religion and Christmas, all are new performances - recorded live in New York just after Christmas 1997. She's backed by her own musicians, accomplished performers for a club atmosphere.
Its pretty good stuff for someone who must be, well, uh, "my age". Performances on the CD range from slow songs such as the title one, through lilting melodies, to rocking renditions of He's Sure the Boy I Love and Christmas Baby Please Come Home. Darlene articulates well, with a noticeable trace of "buttery black" in her voice. She's the voice the New York Times referred to as a "thunderbolt" - clear and strong. (Darlene's singing today is more aggressive and more capable of handling variations in the song than it was 30 years ago, but perhaps huskier - and she no longer says "strownng" in describing the boy she loves. (That's a styling I've heard from artists with roots in the south - from Memphis to Texas.)
Unfortunately the vocal tracks on the CD aren't sharp (they seem oddly muffled compared to the music, and too low in volume especially against the piano), and the liner notes have typos. He's a Rebel seems bland compared to the original. (Perhaps typical of performancs by someone who has simply sung the song too many times - but lets recognize that its very difficult to improve on a good classic, especially as everyone knows how it "should" sound. And I do believe the claim that she sung the original.)
Darlene is active - having starred in Grease the musical, recorded several albums, developed a feature film (The Boy I Love) and more. She's been an actress on stage and screen as well as a background and a foreground singer, of course. In addition to the Blossoms, she toured as a member of Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans - another Phillies Records group. Her material ranged from love songs to Phil Spector's Da Doo Ron Ron, a "doo-wop" line if I've ever heard one. Poignant items include her love affair with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, during which he was surprised at the discrimination they encountered as a mixed-color couple. (The new CD includes a Righteous Brothers classic "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration, a song requiring vocal strength.) For more I suggest reading My Name Is Love, published by William Morrow and Company, visiting her web site at http://www.darlenelove.com, or looking for the old book your library may have: He's A Rebel, by Mark Ribowsky. Her old pop work is available on the CD "The Best of Darlene Love - the Original Phil Spector Hits".
Those really into RnR performances but not familiar with the hits of Darlene and the Crystals might try to figure out which claimed Crystals' performances are really Darlene and the Blossoms.
Hint: Most real Crystals performances were led by Barbara Alston (whose voice was clear but not as broad and strong as Darlene's) or LaLa Brooks (who used more slurring of words for styling than Barbara and Darlene, with a voice not as clear as theirs). It's a tough assignment - I guess that's why having three lead singers in more than one actual group worked to make the records and pass them off as one group.
© Keith Sketchley
Page version 2009.05.20
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