Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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IITS’s Seven Days of Xmas: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 24, 2007

“They’re singing deck the halls / but it’s not like Christmas at alll…”

While we here at Intensities in Ten Suburbs are more inclined towards Hanukkah, what with the latkes, extended gift-giving, and at least a dozen years of Hebrew School training (not to mention the respectable reputation as the underdog of the holiday season), we also can be objective to acknowledge its relative unimportance to the pop culture sphere. Christmas, on the other hand, has been the inspiration for an undeniable amount of our greatest popular art–something to do with the combination of snow, sentimentality and shiny things, I think. So while religious affiliations do not necessarily stack up, we would nonetheless be fairly remiss to not give it its propers at this time of the year.

With that in mind, we present to you the seven days of Christmas (yeah, yeah, I’ll think of a more original name next year)–a week’s worth of write-ups on some of the best, worst, and most representative examples of Christmas-influenced pop culture. The music, the movies, the TV, maybe even a commercial or sports event or two. And hey, if I can think of something non-Adam Sandler-related in time, maybe I’ll even through a H-Kah entry in there–for the proper tokenist effect, if nothing else.

We kick off the week with what is probably my favorite Christmas song of all-time, Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” It almost seems like an unfair choice, really–a combination of songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich producer Phil Spector and singer Darlene Love (the voice, if not the name, behind The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”) was just about the most lethal pop wrecking crew possible in the early 60s, and given a subject as emotionally loaded as Christmas for a subject matter…frankly, it’d be shocking if this thing wasn’t a classic. Considering how great the Ronnettes’ Spector-produced cover of “Frosty the Snowman” was, working with an original, Greenwich/Barry composition and with pipes like Darlene Love’s is almost like stacking the deck.

Even considering the braintrust behind it, though, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is a stunner. It’s one of the first Christmas songs to really feel like the holidays, or at least as I happen to perceive them–not just a joyous, serene period of love, happiness and warmth, but a time as well for regrets, yearnings, and decidedly mixed emotions. “Christmas” is not an overly miserable song–at the very least, Darlene has someone to be missing, which is more than can be said for many at holiday time–but it’s also pretty fucking far from the domestic bliss described by a song like “Let it Snow,” a song of distraught and frustrated melancholy (with my favorite line being the one used in the teaser above–who couldn’t, come holiday time, relate to occasionally feeling like “it’s not like Christmas at all”?)

The bittersweetness of the lyrics would be meaningless if the music didn’t back it up so perfectly, though. Even in catalogue as singular as Spector’s, it emerges as a highlight–he really breaks out the big guns for this one, an assault of bells, chimes, xylophone, tambourine, piano, strings and baritone sax that combines to sound like the loneliest orchestra in the world. The one-word backing chant of “Christmas!” echoes throughout the song like Darlene Love’s subconscious, a constant and heartbreaking reminder of the fact that this is the time when everyone is supposed to be together and happy and wonderful. And Darlene sings the lead as if this song would turn out to constitute her entire legacy (which, uh, was probably a good move on her part), conveying an amount of desperation that would border on the pathetic were it not so horrifically relatable.

It should be no surprise, then, that the song would go on to inspire a series of similarly lonely and distance-focused Christmas songs in its wake. There’s the equally great “2000 Miles,” the Pretenders song bemoaning Chrissie’s lover being the titular distance away (which, as she somewhat hilariously states in the song, is “very far”). There’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” the Eagles song better known (by me) as the Bon Jovi video where Jon grinds with Cindy Crawford for two and a half minutes. And then there’s the spate of covers, most notably the U2 one from A Very Special Christmas, which deservedly became a alt-rock Christmas staple (and which, I’m semi-ashamed to admit, I knew for years before I ever heard the original).

In any event, it’s the perfect soundtrack to a non-Xmas-celebrator’s Christmas.

2 Responses to “IITS’s Seven Days of Xmas: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)””

  1. Victor said

    Don’t forget that other Darlene Love Christmas classic.

  2. Steph said

    “Christmas” is no doubt a staple, but I also like “All Alone on Christmas.” Darlene Love sings it, but it’s written by Steven Van Zandt– which makes it amazing to begin with!

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