Instead of watching the endless glittered-up current pop stars and baby-boomer gods Starr and McCartney compete for attention on the Grammys, you could have watched 20 Steps from Stardom, a documentary that portrays a real competition – between backup singers and the forces that keep them in the background despite exquisite voices and determination to make it as a headliner.
I took a pass on the Grammys and streamed the film, one of my better decisions of the day.
You’ll get to know Darlene Love, originally one of The Blossoms, later the unacknowledged voice of The Crystals big hit “He’s a Rebel”. Every year, when Darlene visits David Letterman on his last show before the holidays, she belts out her classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. It is the beginning of Christmas for me. Her CD It’s Christmas of Course is in my Christmas rotation. A Christmas Gift from Phil Spector is being removed, as he is the one who substituted Darlene’s voice without credit. (Though I may reconsider as I see that Darlene is on the album, and featured on the cover above all the rest.) As you may have read, Phil had issues.
Darlene tottered on the brink of solo status for years, but never quite made the leap until late in her career. (She still is out there working at age 70, yet seems far younger). She was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, introduced by Bette Midler who said it was about time. Where she succeeded however, most did not.
You’ll meet Lisa Fischer, whose sublime jazzy voice could stop you in your tracks, who had her moments in the sun onstage back in the day with Mick Jagger, and still sings backup on each of the Rolling Stones recordings.
Do you know Merry Clayton or Claudia Lennear? Yes, you do. There is even a brief glimpse of my all-time favorite Sharon Robinson, who collaborates with and sings with Leonard Cohen these days. Watch for these women in the film, along with a host of others and their stories. With new interviews, old footage, and commentary by Springsteen, Sting, Stevie Wonder and others, 20 Steps provides a quick history of the real music industry over fifty-plus years. See it. You’ll thank me.
Finally, just in case it works like this, I’d like to submit my request for my next reincarnation: I’d like a voice like these. I promise to do something wonderful with it, and appreciate it every day. Please.