Christmas Songs: Marvin Gaye, “I Want to Come Home for Christmas,” 1972

Our men and women in Iraq are coming home as I write, thanks to the Iraqi people.  Sorry, President Obama, but even having a token force there looked like an occupation.  These people don’t need us; let them take care of their own country.  I am glad that our men and women in uniform are coming home, and I would infinitely happier if their compatriots in Afghanistan could come home, too.

We don’t need to be in any more wars; we need to focus our energies on our country and ourselves.

This song by Marvin Gaye was released during the Vietnam War era, about a year before American combat forces finally left South Vietnam, and the POWs were also released.   The idea for such a song came to lyricist Forest Hairston, who had seen yellow ribbons being tied to trees in honor of MIAs and POWs outside of their families’, relatives’ and friends’  homes.  Marvin, who had been looking for a holiday song, immediately took to Hairston’s efforts, adding his voice and melodies and revising Hairston’s track.  Later, Gaye took the tape recording to Hitsville West, Motown’s West Coast studios at the time and produced, arranged and completed the song in one take, it is said, with The Funk Brothers.

Putting it all together for Hairston and Marvin was easier than having the song released.  As usual, Berry Gordy balked when it appeared to him that he was going out into left field, eschewing the formula he adhered to.  Gordy was nervous about having it released as a song specifically for American troops in Vietnam.  He and other execs feared that its sensitive and potentially political nature would turn off fans and customers.  However, it did appear on the first of several compilation of holiday songs by other Motown singers and groups, like Christmas in The City.  Some reports claim that it was never released as a single; others believe that it was.  Happily for those who feared its impact, the song failed to chart in 1972.

By 1990, some six years after Marvin was killed, R&B radio stations were playing “I Want to Come Home for Christmas,”  in a reconsideration of his work, especially after Marvin’s complete song collection was made available.  Some critics have labeled it a holiday song “masterpiece.”

Here are the words:

I’d give anything to see
a little Christmas tree
And to hear, hear the laugher
of children playing in the snow
To kiss my baby, under the mistletoe.

But I can’t promise my eyes this sight
Unless they stop the fight
Cause I’m a prisoner of war
Lying here in my cell, hoping
my family is well
Wish they wouldn’t worry so much about me
Just try to get us home, in time for the
Christmas tree.

Listen, oh yeah, ooo, I want to see
snowflakes fall
I want to see Santa Claus
Ooo, I want to hear jingle bells ring,
want to hear jingle bells ringing
But I can’t promise my eyes this sight
unless they stop the fight.

Ooo, ooo, ooo . . . If I can’t make it home in time
I know you’ll be keeping my spirit bright
By wearing my name and trying to stop this fight
Ah, but I’d give anything to see you
the family. . .
and that little Christmas tree.

Ooo, I want to see snowflakes fall
I want to see Santa Claus
Oh, I want to hear jingle bells ringing
Yes, I want to hear jingle bells ringing
Ooo, I want to see snowflakes fall
I want to see Santa Claus . . .
(Vocal/Music Fade Out)

Of course, the song is from the point of view of a prisoner of war–a pilot or soldier taken captive by enemy forces.  But most soldiers are prisoners of war, whether they are actually imprisoned or not.   And particularly with the Iraq War II, soldiers were forced to do not one or two tours of duty but several.  Many were/are walking wounded and were ill-equipped.  And soldiers may not be wounded physically, but emotionally.  Sometimes the simplest thing: of seeing your parents, your siblings, your wives and husbands and children again may be the best holiday present medicine a human being can receive.  Life is precious.

So again, I am glad that our people are returning home.  Let’s make it possible for them to be healed from this awful experience, and to get the schooling and the jobs and the homes to be productive citizens.  And I hope that we think too of those who cannot return.

~ by blksista on December 21, 2011.

One Response to “Christmas Songs: Marvin Gaye, “I Want to Come Home for Christmas,” 1972”

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