Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Rerun: Sacraments from the Church of Rock 'n' Roll

This post originally appeared exactly one year ago today in a slightly different form.

It's hard to imagine now, but at one time Phil Spector was more than a wild-haired convicted murderer serving 19 years to life in prison (heck, at one point, he wasn't even a less-wild-haired guy allegedly pointing guns at John Lennon or the Ramones).

Back in the early days of Rock 'n' Roll, Phil Spector was hailed as a genius who built a dense "wall of sound" by multitracking dozens of instruments and backing vocalists (and mixing it all down to mono).

In 1963, he released A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector, which included the Ronettes, the Crystals, and the amazing Darlene Love.

If there was a Church of Rock 'n' Roll, one of its sacraments would have to be Darlene Love singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." U2, Bruce Springsteen, Joey Ramone, and Death Cab for Cutie (among others) have recorded great versions of this song, but no one comes close to Darlene Love. Her voice (which combines strength, hope, and pure joy in a way that angels would envy) soars above sleigh bells, dozens of stringed instruments, and a choir that sounds like it could number in the hundreds.

Since 1986, David Letterman has had Darlene Love sing this song every year on his last broadcast before Christmas. Although Love is now in her 60s, her voice is still strong and powerful and still can soar above dozens of string and horn players (and the choir). Letterman has said that it just doesn't feel like Christmas until Darlene Love sings this song. Sadly, Darlene Love couldn't appear last year (the show was not in production due to the writers strike).

Maybe it's sacrilegious to talk about a Church of Rock 'n' Roll, but if you don't get the chills hearing this song, you may be beyond hope.

And if Darlene Love doesn't sing this song, then it's not really Christmas.

Darlene Love on David Letterman:



And, as a special bonus, here's video from a 1981 New Year's Eve concert where Darlene Love sang this song live for the first time since 1963!

This year, Darlene Love will sing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on the Late Show with David Letterman on Wednesday, December 23.


Holly A Hughes said...

Dang, I love this Phil Spector Christmas album. I think there was a re-release of it in the mid-1970s -- at any rate, that's when I was reviewing LPs for my college newspaper and got a promo copy. It's right up there with Nat King Cole's Christmas LP as my go-to holiday playlist. I'm particularly partial to Darlene's rendition of "Marshmallow World." All that tinselly percussion sounds like icicles to me, and that blizzard of guitar, strings, and keyboards -- never again would the Wall of Sound work so well.

BTW Dave Letterman went to my high school -- it must be that we Hoosiers have impeccable taste in music.

Alex said...

Holly, me too. I got it on CD sometime in the 90s before it went out of print (and before Sony rereleased it this year)... but would have loved to have it on vinyl (in mono, I assume).