One of my very favorite holiday traditions is the annual appearance of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Darlene Love on the Late Show with David Letterman singing what is perhaps my very favorite holiday song of all time, "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)." This song was first released 48 years ago (can you believe it?) on what Rolling Stone has called "[h]ands down, the best holiday album in the history of pop music," A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. Letterman first saw Love perform the song in 1986 in a show called Leader of the Pack, in which his band leader, Paul Shaffer, was also performing. Letterman told Shaffer he loved the song and asked him to arrange for Love to sing it on their show during the holidays that year. That performance must have been terrific, because Love's been invited back to perform "Christmas" on the final pre-holiday broadcast every year since. (There was no Late Show in 2007 due to a writers' strike, but even then CBS replayed an earlier Love appearance.) Well, folks, this year's final pre-Christmas Late Show is this Friday, December 23, so make plans to watch or set your DVR! Also appearing on Friday will be Jay Thomas, who, in another Late Show holiday tradition, will join Dave in a unique football-throwing contest and recount his famous Lone Ranger story. To help get you in the proper spirit, here's a mash-up of clips from Love's various performances over the past 24 years:
Many other artists have tried their hand at cover versions of "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home," but none have been able to approach the indescribable magnificence of a Darlene Love performance. No, not even Bruce Springsteen, who was joined by an all-star cast in a noble attempt at one of his Asbury Park benefit shows in 2001 (below).
As one particularly savvy YouTube commentator noted, "Nice try, but it comes off as souless. This belongs to Darlene Love and nobody else will ever get close." I expect Bruce himself would be the first to concede this point. Certainly, Bruce and E Street Band guitarist Steve Van Zandt were among Love's biggest supporters when she was under consideration for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. A number of years ago, Steve gave Love a holiday tune he authored, "All Alone on Christmas," which Love performed for the movie Home Alone 2 and knocks out of the park in this version with the E Street Band and its Mighty Horns:
More on Springsteen and company tomorrow, when we look at Tracks 40 and 41 of my 2011 holiday CD.