By Ken Tucker
Updated December 24, 2011 at 12:48 PM EST

The Late Show

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This is always a wonderful time of the year for The Late Show with David Letterman. It’s when Letterman invites old friends onto the show, a period when friendship and honest sentiment occasionally nudge aside the movie stars plugging their holiday releases.

Last week, for instance, Letterman had Bob Sarlatte on. Sarlatte, aside from having one of the most remarkably healthy hairlines in show business, and aside from being an announcer for the San Francisco 49ers (what I don’t know about football would fill a stadium), is better known to me as a stand-up comic who used to pop up on variety shows (you remember variety shows — they were the things they had on TV to showcase talent before America had to go searching for talent on crap like America’s Got Talent).

Anyway, I assume Dave has known Sarlatte since his own stand-up days, and, like other old Dave pals such as Jeff Altman and Jimmy Walker, Sarlatte makes an appearance on the Late Show and is invariably funny in a hard-charging, this-is-my-national-TV-shot-for-the-year, admirably aggressive way:

But that’s just warm-up for the main event: Every year since Conan O’Brien was a newt, Dave has devoted the final moments of his final show before Christmas to having Darlene Love render her immortal version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” the 1963 Phil Spector mini-masterpiece.

Paul Shaffer does a remarkable job of reproducing the Wall of Sound live in the Ed Sullivan Theater, and Love once again this year applied her unique combination of subtlety and power to imploring her baby to please come home. (I always worry a bit that Love might inhale one of the “snow flakes” that descend from the rafters and damage her throat.) If anything, I think Love’s wittily phrased version this year was even more potent than last year’s — in any case, an annual miracle, this is.

Preceding Darlene Love was another Late Show tradition. Or rather, two traditions.

Jay Thomas must knock the traditional Christmas meat loaf off the Late Show Christmas tree:

And Thomas must tell his true (certainly not tall — shall we say embellished?) tale about his encounter with Clayton Moore, the actor who played the Lone Ranger.

This year, the story was further embellished with a reenactment featuring Dave as the Lone Ranger, a cameo worthy of his work in Cabin Boy:

Some things never get old, do they? Holiday goosebumps courtesy of Darlene Love…

Twitter: @kentucker

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