Tonight, Darlene Love will perform her Yuletide hit “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” for the final time on The Late Show with David Letterman—and, in actuality, for the last time on TV, as she has said she’s retiring the tradition with Letterman and won’t perform it on another show out of loyalty to Dave. (There’s no word yet on whether or not this means Christmas is canceled next year, but we have to assume yes.)
Love has performed the song on Letterman for 28 years (27, if you don’t count the year the writers’ strike forced a rerun). A supercut just doesn’t feel like enough to properly bid farewell to this late-night tradition, so we scoured the internet to track down as many of the performances as we could. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done—video from Letterman’s years on NBC, for example, has been pretty much wiped from the web—but Christmas isn’t about giving up. (It’s about self-righteously telling other people what Christmas isn’t about, and it’s about watching a legend like Love spread holiday cheer on TV.) So, without further ado, here’s every Darlene Love “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” Letterman performance we could find online, all in one place, to prep you for tonight’s grand finale. Merry Christmas!
No frills here. For the very first edition of what would become an annual event, it’s just Love and the band—no extra backup singers, no bari sax solo, no fake snow showering from the rafters. But those pristine vocals are all you really need. And THAT SIDE PONYTAIL.
Alright, we’re getting warmer here. We’ve got some festive outfits, that crucial baritone sax and a trio of backup singers, but we’re still a few years away from the all-out spectacle that this tradition would evolve into.
A string section! A French horn! A choir full of backup singers! Bruce Kapler gets to step up front for his sax solo this year, and when the snow starts to fall right as Love cries out “baby please come hoooooooome,” you can hear the crowd react with glee. And those wails around 3:15? Now we’re cookin’ with gas.
This year Love was backed by the Air Force’s Singing Sergeants, and the performance is intercut with footage of troops watching live overseas.
It feels worth noting here that Love was already 40 years removed from the 1963 release of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” this year (which appears to be mislabeled on this YouTube video), and yet she somehow still looks and sounds like she could pass for being in her 40s.
By this point, Kapler’s entrance for his solo had gotten pretty elaborate. This time, he’s wheeled in by two girls in Santa garb, emerging from a giant present looking like Kris Kringle himself.
I mean, if your Christmas performance doesn’t feature a saxophone-playing Santa flying in from the rafters, what are you even doing?
Santa enters on a sleigh, but that’s positively dull compared to Love’s stunning vocals this time around.
After a year off due to the Writers’ Strike, Darlene Love returns, and pyrotechnics get introduced into the mix, with Kapler entering to what appears to be a holiday smoke bomb.
Impossible not to feel all cozy inside watching this one. Even the string section’s looking comfy seated on those couches.
Kapler ditches the Santa beard for Love’s first post-Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selection appearance on the show, instead busting through a paper fireplace like the Kool-Aid man.
The 25th anniversary of this holiday tradition. Honestly, all I want for Christmas is to wear a red satin dress half as well as Darlene Love does at age 73.
Kapler left the show in 2012, so instead of Santa, we have a weird sax-playing elf inside a giant snowglobe. But Love is all you need, and that final note of hers is a real beauty.
This is a 75-year-old woman you’re looking at right here. An amazed David Letterman sums it up best at the end, saying “It just gets better and better,” and in truth, Darlene Love herself seems to have only improved with age somehow. She’s managed to exude vitality and joy year after year, and if that doesn’t make your heart grow three sizes, nothing will.