One Last Christmas with Darlene Love and David Letterman

This week, powerhouse rock/gospel singer Darlene Love will belt her song “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” on the Late Show with David Letterman​. Love has performed the song for the Late Show nearly every year since 1986. But because of Letterman’s retirement next May, this will be her final performance. In fact, after this week, Love will retire the song from her television appearances altogether.

In 1963, producer Phil Specter co-wrote “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” for his wife Ronnie Specter (of The Ronettes). But a 22-year-old Darlene Love nabbed it instead, invoking her “guts and that bottom gospel thing” the song so desperately needed.

As relayed in the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom (2013), Darlene Love hit hard times in her music career: ghosting for all-girl groups like The Crystals, being bounced around to different producers, and cleaning houses in Beverly Hills. But her 1985 Broadway appearance in Leader of the Pack caught the ear of David Letterman. Shortly thereafter, the talk-show host invited her on the program to sing “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).”

From that moment, Love’s career was on the upswing. She co-starred in the Lethal Weapon series with Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, and in other Broadway productions like Hairspray and Grease. More recently, Love was featured in PBS’s documentary compilation Women Who Rock (2011–12). She has performed alongside Bruce Springsteen at Madison Square Garden. Her song “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” has been named the Greatest Rock and Roll Christmas Song of all time. She headlines concert tours worldwide. Finally, in 2011 Darlene Love was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But it’s Love’s performances on Letterman that almost all of her biographies highlight — and with good reason, as one can see in the video mashup below. Here’s what else viewers can expect from the Late Show’s final Christmas episode.

Paul, Cher, and “The Muff”

Paul Shaffer narrates a story about Cher and then impersonates her singing “O Holy Night” as she warms her hands “in a muff.” Wait for it. The word muff will be mentioned, and Letterman will make a deadpan face resembling Buster Keaton’s. This story has been missing the last couple of years, but hopefully with the end nigh, Shaffer and Letterman will bring it back.

The Decorating of the Christmas Tree

Mujibar and Sirajul, former neighbors of the show, walk onstage with a small statue of the Empire State Building, which they place atop the Late Show Christmas tree. Next in line to decorate is Joe G (of Joe G’s pizzeria), who gently lays a large pie atop the tree. Finally, Rupert Jee walks over from the Hello Deli and jabs a softball-sized meatball onto Mujibar and Sirajul’s Empire State Building. Sauce usually accompanies the meatball. NOTE: Sometimes this tree-trimming occurs earlier in the week.

Jay Thomas and the Lone Ranger

Now it’s time for the traditional “Christmas” story, told always by actor/comedian Jay Thomas. It’s an true-life anecdote involving Thomas, a Volvo, marijuana, and Clayton Moore aka., the Lone Ranger. Letterman consistently calls this “the greatest talk-show story ever.” Here’s Thomas telling it twelve times.

The Throwing of the Footballs

After the Lone Ranger story, Thomas and Letterman rise from their seats, take off their jackets, and throw footballs at the Christmas tree. Their goal: to be the first to knock off Rupert’s meatball.

Darlene Love and “Christmas”

Finally, it’s time for Letterman’s “favorite part of the Christmas season”: Darlene Love sings “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” In recent years, Love has been backed by an orchestra, a full gospel choir, and gobs of snow and confetti.

What a performance. And after 28 years, it never gets old. Along with other Letterman fans, I’ll be sad to see this annual tradition come to an end.