Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), Darlene Love (1963)

It's a big night for music on TV - Richard Thompson, Levon Helm, Nick Lowe and Allen Toussaint on Spectacle: Elvis Costello With ... , and for the 23nd year, Darlene Love, age 68, belting Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) for a thrilled David Letterman audience.   

Written by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and the late Ellie Greenwich, Christmas was the only original number on an LP of 13 secular holiday songs Spector gave his trademark Wall of Sound treatment in 1963.  Performed by Love, the Ronettes and the Crystals, his regular stable of artists, their efforts received little notice at the time, justifiably eclipsed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the same day it was released.

As luck would have it, however, Christmas has metamorphosed into a holiday classic with a cult following. First seen on Letterman's show in 1986, when it was still on NBC, Love has performed the song with Paul Shaffer and the band, along with various luminaries as additional musicians and backup singers, every year since, except for 2007, when the writer's strike brought television to a screeching halt.  A lot of people were disappointed that the strike could not be resolved in time for this show to go on - such a tradition it has become - or at least that some special dispensation could not be made for it to go on despite the labor dispute. 

Of those I have seen, Love's 2005 performance is my favorite.  That's the year she was on Broadway in Hairspray and she just tore the song up with her gorgeous powerhouse voice. (Ellie Greenwich was one of the backup singers that year.)  Whether she is singing in front of others or behind them, she is a one-woman wall of sound, and arguably one of the hardest working women in the music industry, a fact acknowledged by her nomination this year to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (this is not her year to be inducted, however).    

If you've never seen the Letterman gig, don't miss another year.  It's worth every glorious second.


Wade said...

Weird, but I didn't know that was a recurring thing on Letterman, let alone 23 years in a row, until just last week. I used to watch Letterman very regularly, but I guess I never caught a Christmas show. She is stunning. Does the sax player always make an entrance?

wendy said...

That's Bruce Kapler of Paul Shaffer's band - no, his in-flight turn that year was a first.

Laura Pinto said...

Brilliant performance by Ms. Love last night. I watched it live (the first and only time I've ever done so), but the video has now been posted on YouTube for those who missed it or want to see it again. I'm a little surprised that no mention was made of Ellie Greenwich's passing, or of her and Jeff Barry's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for 2010, but they probably didn't want to mess with the tradition which is just to have David Letterman introduce Darlene and then go straight to the performance without any chit-chat. Brilliant job as always!

Juniper Sage said...

I also did not know of this tradition on Letterman. I am so pleased with all of the coverage this particular CD is getting this year - one of my faves!