Song 338: Darlene Love, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (1963)

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Phil Spector was basically put on this earth to make a Christmas album. The guy specialized in big, comforting bells and whistles (sometimes literally), and that’s what Christmas is. Even the heartbreak of songs like the Ronettes’ “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” have tranquility in them. It’s as if Spector’s mission was to smooth out the wrinkles and soften the edges of everyday life.

Given these talents and the producer’s star power in the early sixties, you’d think A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records (later retitlted A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector), featuring superstars like the Ronettes, the Crystals, and Darlene Love, would have been a commercial slam dunk. Unfortunately, the record came out on November 22, 1963, a day on which potential record buyers were not, understandably, in a Christmas mood. Its reputation grew in the years since, and it’s become a holiday classic. It’s one of my favorite records, and I get excited every year when I get to dig out my vinyl copy and annoy the rest of my family with its inarguable (hear that, family? INARGUABLE) charms.

The album’s highlight is “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which I’d feel comfortable placing in my top 10 favorite songs—not out of Christmas songs, but of all songs. I just think it’s perfect. It was originally intended for Ronnie Spector, but Spector couldn’t quite get a vocal handle on it; Darlene Love took over and absolutely nailed it. I love Ronnie Spector, but I can’t imagine her coy, batted-eyelashes delivery working on a song driven by pleading and despair. She did just fine with the darker Ronettes songs, but “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is something else entirely.

The song, from its beautiful melody to the simple, sad words, is great. But the arrangement and performances make it stellar. As usual, Spector puts plenty of instrumentation on the bottom and top—big fat saxes below, sleigh bells above—making the recording sound simultaneously solid and light, heartbroken and joyous. The Wrecking Crew plays its heart out, and Love brings a novel-worthy emotional arc to a 3-minute pop song. The end of the last chorus, as Love begs “Please! Please! Please!” as Leon Russell’s piano notes go higher and higher, as if they’ll never stop…it gets me every single time.

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