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Delores “La La” Brooks was just 13 when she joined the girl group “The Crystals.” But she ended up singing the lead on signature hits such as “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me.”
“I was so young, 13 years old,” Brooks says. “You really don’t think of anything, but if you could sing, just being on stage. You’re not thinking of ‘oh I wanna do the lead vocals,’ or ‘I wanna do background.’”
After leaving the Crystals, Brooks took that love of the stage further and performed on Broadway in the musicals “Hair” and “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”
She says one of her goals for the solo album was to find that little girl’s voice from the Crystals.
“Doing this album now, after so many years without the Crystals, and still have that sort of sound that people recognize – that’s what I was hoping for in my vocal chords,” Brooks said.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
They used to call them girl groups, and there was a reason: They were often girls. Delores La La Brooks was just 13 years old when she was asked to replace a departing member of The Crystals and ended up singing lead vocals on the single "Da Doo Ron Ron Ron." Feel free to join in.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DA DOO RON RON")
THE CRYSTALS: (Singing) I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still. Da doo ron-ron-ron, da doo ron-ron. Somebody told me that his name was Bill. Da doo ron-ron-ron, da doo ron-ron. Yeah, my heart...
YOUNG: Then there was La La's lead on "Then He Kissed Me."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEN HE KISSED ME")
CRYSTALS: (Singing) When he danced, he held me tight. And when he walked me home that night, all the stars were shining bright and then he kissed me.
YOUNG: Eventually, La La Brooks left The Crystals and appeared on Broadway in "Hair" and the "Two Gentlemen of Verona." But after a move to Europe and a marriage, she disappeared from the American music scene for a couple of decades. Now, she's back.
La La Brooks is releasing her debut solo album "All or Nothing." Here's the first track, "When My Baby Comes."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN MY BABY COMES")
DELORES BROOKS: (Singing) He's what I've been dreaming of, when my baby comes. He's going to fill me up with love, when my baby comes. When my baby comes, when my baby comes, when my baby comes tonight.
YOUNG: Again, La La Brooks' new album is "All or Nothing." She joins us from the NPR studios in New York to talk about it. La La Brooks, welcome.
BROOKS: Thank you. Great to be here.
YOUNG: Do you still hear your music? Do you turn the radio on? Do you turn a corner and there it is?
BROOKS: Yes, yes. Definitely. Especially in holidays when you hear the Christmas album that Phil did because I sang "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Wooden Soldiers" and "Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER")
BROOKS: (Singing) Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows. All of the other reindeer...
YOUNG: What would Christmas be now without Phil Spector's albums and The Crystals singing those songs? What is that like? You were so young. We now know stories about Phil Spector - genius but could be cruel, eventually was tried for shooting a woman. I mean, what was it like to be in that orbit?
BROOKS: We had known Phil in New York. Phil started out with us, and we started with Phil. He was calm and cool. And then when he moved out to California, he changed.
YOUNG: What about joining this group that had already been together - a bunch of schoolgirls formed the group. In fact, it's said that they've still had their prom dresses on when they first - when The Crystals made their first recording. What was that like to go in and out of a girl group to - maybe somebody else was singing lead and you would replace them?
BROOKS: Well, you know, when I - I was so young. Thirteen years old, you really don't think of anything, but just being, you know, if you could sing, just being on stage. You're not thinking of, oh, I want to do the lead vocals. Oh, I want to do background.
YOUNG: Well, maybe as a result, you often didn't get credit for songs you sang lead on. And you didn't get one of the biggest leads. That went to Darlene Love. We'll hear that in a second. But here's a song you did sing lead on 1964's "I Wonder."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WONDER")
BROOKS: (Singing) Mama said before I'm grown, I'll find somebody I can call my own. So when the stars are shining bright, I dream about the boy who's going to hold me tight. And I wonder who he'll be.
YOUNG: Let's just touch on the Darlene Love thing for a moment here because Darlene Love sang with The Blossoms. But the legend has it that Phil Spector wanted The Crystals to record "He's A Rebel" but that you couldn't get from New York to L.A. in time to beat a recording from Vikki Carr. So he had Darlene Love and The Blossoms do it. Is that what happened?
BROOKS: When Phil went to California, there was a record that was due on The Crystals. We had a manager named Joe Scandore that was calling him, trying to tell him that The Crystals have to have a record out and we have a contract. And Joe Scandore, who was very heavy handed when it came to, you know, making sure that he got things done - I remember when I was 14, I went into Joe's office. And Joe was sitting at the desk and he was joking around with this guy named Jim. And this guy was real, real big, like a big bouncer. And Joe said to me, you want to hear what Jim said - did with Phil? And I was like yeah. And he said, oh, you know, I just flew Jim out to California, and, Jim, tell La La what happened. And Jim said, oh, you know, La La, he said, I ran Phil around (bleep) desk.
YOUNG: Oh. You were 14.
BROOKS: And I'm listening to this, and then he says - and he says, yeah, and I told Phil if he doesn't have a record out, I'm going to kill his mother and break his arms. And I was like, what? And - but it didn't - I didn't know what the heck was going on. But so then I think, out of fear, Phil had to do something. And I did hear Vikki Carr was going to do the song. Now, maybe that story is sort of right that he was trying to get us out there to do "He's A Rebel." But I know one thing, what I heard Joe Scandore tell Jim to tell me as a child. Now mind you, when we were traveling on the road doing a gig, all of us original girls together, The Crystals, in New York, and we were going to some town, I think, in the South, we hear (singing) he's a rebel and he'll never ever be any good, we didn't think anything. And all of a sudden, they said, The Crystals new release. And we were like, what?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE'S A REBEL")
DARLENE LOVE: (Singing) He's a rebel and he'll never ever be any good. He's a rebel because he never ever does what he should. But just because he doesn't do what everybody else does, that's no reason why I can't give him all my love.
YOUNG: Darlene Love singing "He's A Rebel," which, as we just heard, was released as a Crystals song even though they didn't sing on it because of a little persuasion from a guy named Jim.
Well, La La Brooks, let's move on because after you left The Crystals, you were in the Broadway production of the musical "Hair." Can you just back off the mic and give us a couple of lines from "Aquarius"?
BROOKS: (Singing) When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars...
YOUNG: Yeah. Yeah. Now, you have a new CD. What made you want to do this?
BROOKS: Doing this album now after so many years, you know, without The Crystals and still have that sort of sound that people recognize, that's what I was hoping for in my vocal chords.
YOUNG: Well, they're there. They are there. You've said that the cut "What's Mine is Yours" on the new CD brought you back to working with Phil Spector. In what way?
BROOKS: Well, you know what I had to find? I had to find that little girl's voice again, you know? And I found it. I found it on so many sides. And that's what made me think of Phil. I found it on (singing) dear boy, I won't send it so you'll never see the letter I write. I found it on that. I found it on (singing) forget how you look tonight. Never mind your style. Leather boots and jeans so tight take away your smile. I had to find that voice.
And I had an interview, and this man interviewed me over the phone. He said to me, were you guys using any kind of tape to make the voice sound like that? I said, no, what do you mean? He said, so bring it up, that baby sound. And I said, no, what song are you talking about? And he was talking about that song...
YOUNG: "Dear Boy, Love Girl."
BROOKS: Yeah, "Dear Boy, Love Girl." And he couldn't believe that I could dig deep. And then on the one that I wrote, I had to go back in and think of the emotions when I had to sing "You Gave Me Love."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU GAVE ME LOVE")
BROOKS: (Singing) In my life, there was so much sorrow. In my life, there was so much pain. But you came along. All fear was gone because you showed me love.
YOUNG: La La, thank you so much for your work, present and past.
BROOKS: Oh, you're very welcome.
YOUNG: La La Brooks' new CD is "All or Nothing." But we know this is what you want to hear. So, everyone, join in.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DA DO RON RON")
CRYSTALS: (Singing) I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still. Da do ron-ron-ron, da do ron-ron. Somebody told me that his name was Bill. Da do ron-ron-ron, da do ron-ron. Yes, my heart stood still. Yes, his name was Bill. And when he walked me home, da do ron-ron-ron, da do ron-ron.
YOUNG: And let the record show that Jeremy is doing that little hitchhiker thumb thing.
YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.