In Random Tracks, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
Eagles- “Please Come Home For Christmas”
PEAK: #18 on January 6, 1979
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: Bee Gees’ “Too Much Heaven”
This review is at the request of reader I Survived Pop.
By Christmas 1978, the Eagles were one of the biggest bands in the world and were also in a lot of turmoil. That’s nothing new in the often volatile history of the band that by this point were dealing with the daunting task of following up their blockbuster 1976 album Hotel California, an album that still ranks as one of the best-selling albums of all time in America.
Things right off the bat weren’t going well when bassist Randy Meisner left the band after their worldwide Hotel California tour in September 1977 being replaced by Timothy B. Schmidt. The band began recording what would become their follow-up, The Long Run, in March 1978 initially planned as a double album but the band was so burned out that they didn’t have enough songs to suit it downgrading to a single album. The Long Run would take 18 months to record before eventually being released in September 1979.
In the midst of these tumultuous sessions, the band managed to come together and release a perfectly passable Christmas cover. Given their fame at the time naturally it was a hit.
The origins of “Please Come Home For Christmas” date back almost two decades to 1960 when Texas blues artist Charles Brown and fellow songwriter Gene Redd wrote the song together. In Brown’s original version, the song is about how his girl left him leaving him to feel lonely at Christmas. As the title implies, Brown is pleading with this girl to come home for the holidays and make him happy again. The original itself functions as a fine little piece of early ‘60s songcraft with simply written lyrics alongside a twinkly piano anchoring the song before Brown goes into a bluesy guitar solo at the end. The song wasn’t a big hit only peaking at #76 on the Hot 100 in December 1961 but it sure outdid any of Charles Brown’s other songs as it’s his only song to make the big chart.
The song caught the attention of Eagles drummer and lead singer Don Henley who as a kid growing up in Texas remembered hearing the song on the radio. During the sessions for The Long Run, Henley brought up the idea of covering the song to his bandmates as a way to briefly calm tensions and buy them time as the album was months behind schedule with their label Asylum wanting something from them to release. Unlike the rest of The Long Run sessions, the band was in an easy agreement to cover “Please Come Home For Christmas” recording in a few days in the heat of Miami, Florida at Bayshore Recording Studios.
The Eagles’ take stays largely faithful to the original right down to the bell-like piano notes that open and closes the song. Of course, there are differences in how they sound. While the original was a barebones minimal early ‘60s R&B track, this version sounds a lot like the mellow studio rock that the Eagles had come to adopt by the late ‘70s. The song has many of the classic Eagles elements with its heavily processed guitars, creamy backing harmonies, and Joe Walsh performing a very Joe Walsh sounding guitar solo. All the members do their thing but it never leaves a lasting impression after listen.
In his performance, Henley also stays largely faithful to Charles Brown’s original though changes “bells will be ringing the glad, glad news” to “bells will be ringing the sad, sad news.” I’m assuming it was done to further emphasize the sadness he feels at Christmas with every happy sound making him feel even sadder where the original probably used “glad, glad news” to showcase the irony of the happiness of the bells ringing to the sadness Brown is feeling. In any case, Henley delivers the song in a perfectly competent but forgettable style. I don’t feel any connection to this song as I do with other Christmas songs in this vein even as someone who usually digs me some Eagles. I’m not too big on the original but Charles Brown certainly pulls the melancholic despair better than Don Henley does.
Upon its release in November 1978, “Please Come Home For Christmas” did very well for a Christmas song on the charts at that time peaking in the Top 20. You can easily credit this unusual success to the Eagles’ imperial fame in the late ‘70s. Fans were hungry for anything new from the band two years after Hotel California and with no follow-up in sight, this Christmas song was gonna do and it did its job. It’s ultimately a slight song even for a Christmas song but during their imperial phase, anything they released was guaranteed to be a seller.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the jazzy version of “Please Come Home For Christmas” Pat Benatar released in 1991:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: In 1992, Jon Bon Jovi recorded a similarly faithful version of “Please Come Home For Christmas” for the charity album A Very Special Christmas 2. Here’s the video for his version:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the chintzy cover of “Please Come Home For Christmas” John Legend recorded for his 2018 album A Legendary Christmas:
(John Legend will eventually appear in The Ones of the ‘10s.)