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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Earworm Weekly: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" By Darlene Love

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 at 1:21 PM


The Christmas season brings with it earworms galore, from classic carols, like “Winter Wonderland” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” to mid-20th-century standards, like “Christmas in Hollis,” “Christmas Wrapping,” and “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” All of them are catchy enough that you either love the entire genre or wear earplugs when in public for the length of December.

I'm not ashamed to admit I'm in the former category. My family has a special connection with Christmas. One of my relatives modeled for artist Haddon Sundblom's paintings of the Coca-Cola Santa in the 1930s, so when I grew up, Christmas was a big deal in my house. I'll happily play Christmas music in the car, at work, while baking cookies, wrapping presents, and decorating the tree. Sometimes it's hard to choose, but one of the Christmas songs I love best is “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” originally recorded in 1963 but made truly memorable thanks to singer Darlene Love's annual performances of the song on the David Letterman show from 1986 to the show's final season in 2014.
Darlene Love's story is more widely known these days thanks to her appearance in the award-winning 2013 music documentary 20 Feet from Stardom about the lives and careers of rock-and-roll back-up singers. Love worked with Phil Spector as a member of the Blossoms, but she also sang lead on singles released under the name The Crystals, another Spector-backed girl group. “He's A Rebel” (another one of my persistent earworms), was the first and most famous, rushed out by Spector in 1962 while The Crystals were touring. In contrast, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” was credited to Love alone from the outset and became her signature song. Her no-holds-barred vocal delivery is framed by Spector's famous Wall of Sound production – layers of backing harmonies, masses of percussion, groups of guitars, horns, and strings, all topped off, in this case, by a clanging church bell.

It's easy to assume that “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is sung by a jilted woman to her wayward lover. But hold on — the song isn’t called “Baby Please Come Back,” but rather, “Baby Please Come Home.” This song could easily be sung by someone separated from their lover due to a multitude of reasons (traveling salesman, perhaps?). Because the singer is alone, none of the signs of the season — snow, carols, lights on the tree — move her because she doesn’t have her baby by her side. I imagine that this song is particularly poignant for military families, those whose partners have to work on the holidays, or any other situation in which people in love, romantically or otherwise, find themselves geographically separated in the final weeks of December.

For me, my birth family is in Michigan, and I can rarely afford to see them over the holiday season. This year, I am also working retail on Christmas Eve. Because of this, I can imagine both my parents and my children singing the backing harmonies of this song. The vision feels both happy and sad because I am not with them, but I know that I am loved. It's a hard sentiment to capture, that simultaneous feeling of love and loss, but Darlene Love has nailed it, year after year.

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Lori Selke


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