All Alone on Christmas - Darlene Love
I don't care what anyone says, the greatest Christmas rock song is the Phil Spector masterpiece "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love, recorded in 1963. This combined the perfect example of Spector's "wall of sound", with Love's stunning vocals and a re-iteration of the Irving Berlin idea that Christmas is about families getting together, echoing the original Christian family in the manger, and emphasising it by lamenting the absence of the loved one. I was a bit annoyed when, in 1983, Steve Dante used it in his hit film "Gremlins" as I cherished the fact that I, having a copy of the Spector Christmas album, jealously guarded the knowledge that I was one of the special few thousand or so people on the planet who "knew" about it. "Gremlins" was a hit, and two years later and then each year the next 29 years bar one, Love performed the song annually on the Christmas edition of the cult American chat show with David Letterman.
Over the years, the greatest worshippers at the Temple of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound have been Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Springsteen's "Born to Run" is probably its greatest homage and development at the same time.
in 1992 Steve Van Zandt of the E Street Band was commissioned to write another "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" with Darlene Love to perform it, for the soundtrack to the movie "Home Alone 2". I could hardly wait. I rushed out and bought it as soon as it came out.
I was so disappointed! It wasn't a patch on the original. The tune wasn't good enough, no matter how hard Darlene had tried, it was too repetitive, and the whole soundwall too in your face, too heavily dominated by Clarence Clemons' sax and Max Weinberg's drums, not subtle enough I thought. I didn't come back to it for a couple of years. And then I learnt a valuable lesson in life. When pursuing perfection you sometimes have to realise that it can't be repeated, and take pleasure from the try, whatever is on offer. And there's a lot on offer here. Where I once felt it was heavy handed, I now exalt in its exuberance, and celebrate that here we are treated to more of the same great musical ingredients that graced the original, that we have Darlene Love back on tip top form, we have the scorching Clarence sax solo, we have Max trying to out Hal Blaine Hal Blaine and that we have "A wall", maybe not "THE wall", but a different wall and it's good.
We can imagine it's the same couple, a few years down the line, but they're not together - they never stayed together - and she wants him back and this is the time of the year when she wants him back the most. We get a a catch in the throat when Darlene sings:
"Do you remember sleigh riding in the snow And dancing all night to "Baby, Please Come Home"? Today's celebration is bittersweet...."
I was like the little kid who didn't appreciate his fabulous Christmas present because he wanted it to be exactly the same as last year and who had to grow up a little to appreciate how good it actually was. And of course, it has the desired effect, makes you want to dance like a maniac, cry with happiness, and sends Chris Tingle himself tiptoeing up and down your spine. Merry Christmas and well done Steve, you pulled it off - I was just too young to see it.