in Obsessong

Look, I know.  My love of this song has been documented before on our T3 Christmas podcast as well as an old C.A.T. of Phil Spector’s Christmas Gift For You that’s probably so poorly written that I’m not going to include a link to it.  But you know, ’tis the season.

Song: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love
Album: A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector
Year: 1963
Written By: Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector

My Relationship With This Song

Like a lot of Christmas songs, it’s hard to remember the first time you hear a lot of them, since the musical staples of the season have always been there since your earliest childhood memories.  “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is one such case, since I’m not sure exactly when or what version introduced me to the magic of this song.  However, the first distinct memory I have of it is Mariah Carey’s rendition from her Merry Christmas album, which for some reason got a lot of play in my household despite no one in my family being a particularly huge Mariah Carey fan.  But listening back to it again, I have to say Mariah Carey’s version isn’t bad, and she can certainly belt it Darlene Love-style, and without overdoing it with the kinds of vocal histrionics that often bug me about pop singers of her ilk.  Also, Carey must’ve been taking notes, since her surprisingly great “All I Want For Christmas Is You” comes off like the ‘90s heir-apparent to “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.

But as for that timeless Phil Spector-produced, Darlene Love-belted version of “Christmas”, I don’t remember really getting into it until my senior year of high school.  This was when I jumped head first in to Phil Spector-land (which is much less terrifying than you’d think), as I bought the Phil Spector box set Back To Mono, which of course came with his classic holiday album A Christmas Gift To You.  Despite the fact that for the most part, this album is filled with well-known Christmas heavy-hitters that were interpreted by Spector’s Wall Of Sound production style, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” — the album’s one original song — still manages to stand out.  It’s a song that’s just a perfect meeting of sensibilities, as Phil Spector’s orchestral pop seems so well-suited for a Christmas song about long-distance lovers.  And then there’s Darlene Love’s voice, which brings it home with a fullness and depth of emotion that has the power to stop you in the department store every time you hear it amidst your holiday shopping.

Also, it’s a song I equate with a lot of movies, including holiday classic GoodFellas as well as Gremlins, which uses it in it’s surprisingly merry opening credits.  But the film appearance that I’ll probably always think about now when it comes to “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” comes from the 2013 back-up singer documentary, Twenty Feet From Stardom.  There’s a sequence towards the end of the film where Darlene Love (who’s one of several singers featured in the film) talks about when she’d fallen on hard times in the ‘80s, and to make ends meat she started cleaning houses for a living.  One day when she was vacuuming some person’s living room around Christmas season, the song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” came on the radio, to which Love turned to the person’s house she was cleaning and said, “I sang that song”, much to the homeowner’s disbelief.  This moment then compelled Love to get her career back on track, move to New York and start singing again, and in turn began her annual performance of the song on Letterman, which I can only assume will be brought to an emotional conclusion tomorrow night on Dave’s final (ever) show before the holidays.

Reasons Why I Love This Song

That Intro, And How It Fills My Empty Heart: The opening of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is just a great example of the economy of those classic Phil Spector singles.  From the moment this song starts, the fullness and swelling of those strings knocks me out every time, and I can almost feel my heart melt a little bit whenever I hear it.  Which is nice for a guy like me who’s pretty much OK with the fact that I’ll probably die alone and no woman will ever understand me (huh, that escalated quickly).  And yet, somehow, I feel like I’m instantly falling in love every time I hear this song’s holiday romanticism burst through my eardrums.

It’s More Than Just A Great Christmas Song, Maybe: One does have to wonder whether this song would be held in the same regard as Spector’s other Hall Of Fame singles like “Be My Baby” and “Da Doo Ron Ron” if it wasn’t about Christmas, since there is a kitsch-value that usually gets thrown on to anything remotely Christmas-y.  Hell, Phil Spector and Darlene Love even went to the trouble of recording a non-yuletide version of the song called “Johnny (Please Come Home)”, which doesn’t really work for me at all — there’s just something unsettling about hearing those back-up singers shout some dude’s name rather than the most joyous holiday of the year.  So maybe there’s actually so much warmth that radiates from this song that it couldn’t be about anything other than Christmas.

Baritone Sax Attack!: One hallmark I’ve always found a bit odd about those early ‘60s Phil Spector recordings is their prominent use of baritone sax.  Not that I have anything against the instrument (other than that it sounds more like a wet fart than I’d prefer), but it’s not typically something you hear on a lot of pop songs, especially as a solo instrument.  I’ll say it’s a very playful-sounding instrument when used in this context, and I like the way it adds a lighthearted interlude to this song which for the most part leans pretty heavy on the melodrama.

It Reminds Me Of Joy, Not Murder: Honestly, it’s hard to grapple with the fact that some of the best holiday music and just some of the best pop music ever was created by a convicted murderer who clearly treated women pretty terribly.  But for me, the thing about Phil Spector is that I can still easily enjoy his music mainly because he was a guy who was behind the scenes.  If he, say, sang all of the doe-eyed pop songs about teenage infatuation that he wrote and produced, it’d probably be hard to get over the creep factor of listening to this weirdo.  This would explain why I have a hard time listening to that version of “Silent Night” he narrates on A Christmas Gift For You without getting the heebie-jeebies.  But regardless of Phil Spector’s responsibility for the greatness of this song and however that might affect your enjoyment of it, I think it’s Darlene Love who’s truly the heart and soul of this recording.  And due to her aforementioned appearances on Letterman each year, I like to think that she’s clearly taken the song and made it her own, and I don’t think anything (including the ending of The Late Show) can take that away from her.

Why I Will Continue To Love This Song

Because Christmas is gonna come once a year, whether you like it or not.  And there are plenty of things revolving around Christmas that only deserve to be taken seriously for one month out of the year, if even that.  But as far as I’m concerned, every December I spend embracing this song is a way of making up for the other 11 months that it’s been away, and letting it finally come home.