What A Happy Sound

churchbells

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. – Luke 2:10

The snow’s coming down
I’m watching it fall
Watching the people around
Baby please come home

There are no memories of Christmas quite like those of your childhood. And it’s not just the gifts you receive, but the warm love of friends and family which seems to magnify in intensity as the celebration of the birth of Christ approaches. Yes, it’s relationships, not gifts, that are the true “reason for the season”.

The churchbells in town
They’re ringing a song
What a happy sound
Baby please come home

And yet for many, it’s the lack of those relationships that can make Christmas a time of great sadness. The loss of a loved one, separation from family due to distance apart – or worst of all – a relationship gone bad at the worst possible time.

They’re singing deck the halls
But it’s not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
All the fun we had last year

The desire to keep relationships intact through the holidays is so strong, in fact, that January is regularly called “Divorce Month” in legal circles. The thought of being alone during the holidays is so depressing that even those who are desperate to sever ties will hold out -ever hopefully -until January.

Pretty lights on the tree
I’m watching ’em shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home

So, it’s easy to understand how the subject of being alone and separated from loved ones gets so much attention in secular Christmas songs. As a teenager of the 70’s, I grew up with the Eagles haunting “Bells will be ringing…the sad, sad news” singing in my ears every year. Their soulful rendition of the 1950 classic “Please Come Home For Christmas”, written by famed blues pianist Charles Brown, was a mournful reminder of the unique longing that comes with love lost at Christmastime.

If there was a way
I’d hold back these tears
But it’s Christmas day
Baby please come home

But there was another song, reaching a bit further back into my childhood Christmas memories, that first evoked this stirring emotion in my soul. The year was 1963 and I was just a youngster riding in my parent’s car when I first heard it. Darlene Love was a perennial background singer that finally saw her chance to shine…and shine she did. The legendary 60’s girl group producer, Phil Spector (Ronettes, The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx, The Beatles, Ramones) had originally intended the song for the Ronettes, but after having both audition the piece, he declared Darlene’s version the more emotive of the two.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” became the quintessential “missing you at Christmas” song for me and set the bar for all those I heard afterwards. No sad Christmas song I ever heard – before or after – made you feel like this; not Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”, Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas” or even Loretta’s “Christmas Without Daddy”. Right from the the opening, it just grabs you with that simple, lonesome plea, “Baby, please come home.”.

A few interesting tidbits about Darlene and the song:

  • In 2010, Rolling Stone ranked “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” as #1 on it’s Greatest Rock And Roll Christmas Songs list.
  • Darlene has performed the song live on David Letterman’s final show before Christmas every year since 1986. (She wasn’t able to perform in 2007, so Dave showed a rerun of her 2006 performance.)
  • During the original recording session, Phil Spector thought the song was so good that they should make a non-Christmas version for airplay at any time of year. He had Darlene record “Johnny (Baby Please Come Home)” which was finally released in 1977 as the B side to Darlene’s single “Lord, If You’re A Woman”.
  • Darlene didn’t really get credit she deserved for her biggest hit “He’s A Rebel” (it went to #1 on the charts); it was released as being performed by The Crystals. (Phil Spector’s manipulations again, I’d suppose.)

So, as you enjoy the Christmas and New Year’s holidays this year, please be mindful of the fact that, for some, this can truly be the coldest time of year. But as Darlene said at a recent show in San Francisco: “A barricade is nothing but something you have to get over. Once you get over it, the joy on the other side is very fulfilling.”

Check out U2’s great live cover here:

The Darlene Love original:

My sources for this post include:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_%28Baby_Please_Come_Home%29

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darlene_Love

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