Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (1963)
How Christmas came to be the sparks-throwing, seething, peaceful, argumentative, mystical, retail, food-devouring dynamo of all holidays in the Western World is beyond the reach of any but a book-length analysis. That this cultural phenomenon should emanate from America is very peculiar since, in its infancy, the holiday was well nigh forbidden in the colonies and the early Republic.
Since then, America and Americans have made up for that youthful silliness in spades. By one measure – Christmas song composition and recording – no other place challenges the states in number or quality. Among those countless American Christmas numbers, no other song comes close to “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” sung by Darlene Love and produced by Phil Spector.
The big holiday, distilled
Although it has to jockey for absolute top place among all Christmas styles with “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song,” Love’s spectacular exhibition of emotional singing stands proud, tall and loud amid the older, highly sweetened songs.
Without a doubt, it is the greatest Rock-N-Roll Christmas song ever produced.
The set up of “Christmas” is simple. The relentless word “Christmas” is repeated and repeated. The subtext would add, “you better have a great time at Christmas unless you want to be considered a freak.” As mythology has it, snow is falling, a northern Christmas, the idea of which is iconic everywhere the world round regardless of climate. The singer observes it. Crowds mill about. Then comes her first plea:
The snow’s coming down
I’m watching it fall
Lots of people around
Baby please come home
We’re not sure from the first verse whether the object of her affection is away in the army, has run off or is detained otherwise. As the second verse begins, we are subtly made aware of the truth.
The church bells in town
Are ringing a song
What a happy sound
baby please come home
Sure they’re Christmas sounds – like “silver bells, silver bells, it’s Christmastime in the city” – but there is a delicious hint that they are the wedding bells that might have rung had not everything gone wrong. By the first tempo change we’re engulfed in a full-on Christmas spectacular. The words are those of a grownup’s Christmas list, tinseled with yearning.
Phil Spector’s Wall-of-Sound production; Hal Blaine’s growling, grinding drums, and Ray Pohlman’s bass thrums are strewn with percussive bells. The driving rhythm is forged via a veritable Rock-N-Roll orchestra. There are five guitars; Leon Russell on piano; two saxophones, a brass section and three percussionists. The supercharged vocal chorus is provided by a 14-person ensemble. It consists of the finest backup singers of the last two generations. It is likely the collection of voices will never be matched again in beauty, passion, soulfulness and sheer lung-power.
The first vocal transition is heartbreaking:
They’re singing “Deck The Halls”
But it’s not like Christmas at all
‘Cause I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year
As the group transitions back into the verse, the song breaks loose. Completely unrestrained, a bubbling cauldron of steaming holiday pudding, Darlene Love sends jolts of electricity into the mix like a 10,000-watt Christmas tree gone berserk. She draws a picture, she begs, she accuses, she challenges. It is one of Rock-N-Roll’s greatest vocal performances, bar none.
Pretty lights on the tree
I’m watching them shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home
After a short musical break, Ms. Love returns, her vocals even stronger and more emotional. The song is constructed in classic Rock-N-Roll format, so we are treated to a second iteration of the chorus, “They’re singing Deck The Halls…” etc. The band and singer then swing hard into the final verse:
If there was a way
I’d hold back this tear
But it’s Christmas Day
Please, please, please, please…
Baby please come home
The ending of “Christmas” transcends Rock-N-Roll; it transcends music and words and embodies the towering holiday juggernaut of Western Civilization.
The vocal jam with a band gone wild and Spector as the mad recording scientist knitting it all together is so explosive that the only thing the producers can do is slowly turn down the volume and let the bells, the sorrow, and the little twinkles of hope fly away across the rooftops.
If you want to make a wish for the holiday, wish to be transported back to that glimmering recording session. A half century after, this song still takes your breath away.
- Every year, a few days before Christmas, Darlene Love, backed by Paul Schaeffer’s band, sings “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on the David Letterman Show. Don’t miss it. Love is immortal but she won’t live on this Earth forever.
- Both Sonny and Cher sing on the recording.