Hot Featurette: Oscar Nominated Documentary '20 Feet From Stardom'

There’s talk of a Broadway show. A TV movie is being developed for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network on the life of one of its subjects, Darlene Love. It became the number one grossing documentary of the year . And now it made the cut as one of the five nominees for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars where many think it will go all the way and pick up the gold man. Director Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet From Stardom, a look at the lives of several of the music industry’s greatest back-up singers,  has had quite a ride since opening in the summer. And it continues. Take a look at this featurette profiling the film’s true stars.

  1. Credit must go to all the incredibly talented singers in this documentary, but some of Darlene Love’s narrative account is factually incorrect. I am referring to her take on the Phil Spector era of the early 1960’s and about her failing to get any recognition for the song “He’s a Rebel” which Spector released for his own ends under the name of The Crystals.

    In other interviews Darlene Love has been happy to admit that recording this song was just paid session work for her and that she never expected any recognition for it. Now it is almost being suggested that she was the voice behind the Crystals’ hits which is simply untrue. A case in point, the vocals on the hit record “Da Doo Ron Ron” were sung by 15 year old La La Brooks with a variety of different people singing background. Darlene Love did not sing anywhere on that record, not even in the background. Yet she appears in the documentary together with her old group the Blossoms apparently reprising Da Do Ron Ron as if they had made the original recording. Agreed, Darlene Love was on CBS This Morning only a few days ago on 17 February when she admitted (for the first time ever)that it is not her voice on Da Doo Ron Ron, but the documentary sets out to give a different impression and the damage is done as far as La La Brooks and the Crystals are concerned. Now they have the Oscar ceremonies to look forward to.

    The Crystals are still performing and La La Brooks is now a solo artist. Back in the day they sang all their own vocals and harmonies both live and in the studio. They were taken aback when “He’s A Rebel” came out under the Crystals’ name but they still had to promote it for Phil Spector. This documentary does much to confuse the very limited session recordings done by Darlene Love for Phil Spector with the broader personal success and reputations of the Crystal’s and of La La Brooks as recording artists. Perhaps Darlene Love covets the Crystals’ success and glory in return for them having a hit record on the back of her session work. But that’s not how things work and this is against the flow of the broader sentiments behind the documentary.

  2. I’m sorry Kathryn but I can’t agree with you. I’ve seen the documentary several times and not once does Darlene nor the documentarians say that she was the voice on “DA do Ron Ron”. It is simply the song that her reunited group sang for the cameras to show that they still had chops. Likewise Darlene HAS publicly said she was not the voice on that song. Also not once did she say she was the voice behind the crystals success. She did say that she was the voice behind “He’s a Rebel” because she was. You would be taken aback if you heard your voice coming out of a radio and then your name not being attached to it. Thats underhanded and dirty on specter’s part. The crystals had nothing to do with it and of course went to enjoy other successes. But the movie refers to this incident to shine a light on what it was like for Darlene to work with Phil.

  3. Thanks, Brian. I agree that these points aren’t made as statements in the documentary, but in another way they are conveyed through visual impressions in the editing and through whatever has actually been said. Claudia Lennear obviously got the idea from watching the documentary that Darlene Love had been the voice behind the Crystals and she said so right after the screening. I do personally think that the documentary which contains no other first hand account of the Crystals outside of Darlene Love’s contribution implies that she sang their records. On the Subject of “He’s A Rebel” Darlene Love has said quite a few times that it was just paid session work for which she apparently charged three times the going rate because it was out of the ordinary for her. She didn’t expect any credit and therefore I’m not sure whether she had what might now be called ‘artists authorship rights’ in the recording that she wouldn’t have waived. And of course she wasn’t under contract to Phil Spector at that point in time. So it is hard to say whether Spector was required to give her credit for the vocals. After all, in other areas of music there were session musicians Jimmy Page and the now late Big Jim Sullivan creating new guitar sounds to make hit records for others without being personally credited. And of course Hal Blaine on these recordings. It seems more a case that she felt entitled to personal recognition once the song had charted in such a big way. That is only natural, but we mustn’t forget that the image and identity which helped sell the record was that of the Crystals. Whatever, it was Darlene Love’s voice for sure and she should always be able to look back and say that. However it doesn’t make any connection at all between Darlene Love and “Da Doo Ron Ron” which was a hit record for La La Brooks with the Crystals. There have been very few occasions where Darlene Love has conceded that she did not sing on “Da Doo Ron Ron” while she has given herself quite a bit of self-publicity to the contrary. This is the first clear public statement from Darlene Love on a subject which she usually skips over in interviews. Otherwise she acts a bit like a cheerleader for Spector’s hits with the Crystals and puts herself in situations (like this documentary) where people will infer that she sang on the record. Given all that has gone before, it is very difficult to accept that the performance of “Da Doo Ron Ron” in the documentary was a natural choice for the Blossoms to show their paces. This documentary is all about raising the profile of unseen background vocalists to the status of performance artists in their own right. It seeks to make the point that it is often the background vocalists who can make the record a hit. In their time the Blossoms would have made many such contributions to hit records, but they did not sing on “Da Doo Ron Ron”. The director, Morgan Neville, has said that Darlene Love was given a free choice over what number the Blossoms sang in the documentary. By rights “Da Doo Ron Ron” should not have been performed by the Blossoms because in this context it is bound to give the false impression that Darlene Love sang on the original recording.

    Well, they now have an Oscar but it hasn’t changed my feelings about the unjust treatment handed out to The Crystals and to La La Brooks in the documentary.

Comments are closed.