Torch Ballads & Jukebox Music

Phil Spector: Guilty of Creating the Greatest Christmas Album Ever

By posted at 6:57 am on November 23, 2009 6

coverIf I told you that the single greatest Christmas album ever made was created by a murderer, you might think I was talking about the plot of some holiday horror b-movie like Silent Night, Deadly Night. But no, the album I’m referring to is none other than the 1963 classic A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector.

Before the crazy hairdos and trials, Phil Spector produced some of the most exciting music of the 20th century. Best known for his work on girl group hits like “Be My Baby” and “He’s A Rebel”, Spector also produced albums by John Lennon, Leonard Cohen and The Ramones to name just a few. But for my money, his most important contribution was this album of Christmas favorites. If you look at the track listing, you might not think there’s anything special to be heard. The titles, for the most part, are familiar to nearly everyone. “White Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Sleigh Ride”, the favorites are all here. But the heart of this album lies in the one track written by Spector, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.

coverI think the first time I remember hearing this song was during the opening credits for the film Gremlins and later in Goodfellas. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m not really a Christmas person. The entire season usually leaves something to be desired as far as I’m concerned. But here’s the thing, I have always secretly envied those people who get into the “Christmas spirit”. Over the years I’ve looked for something to spark that feeling. And the only thing to do it so far is this song and the album that contains it. The song is performed by the great Darlene Love, a Spector favorite and someone who isn’t nearly as well known as she deserves to be. Don’t get me wrong, I love Aretha, Gladys and Diana. But if I had to choose only one, I’m taking Darlene Love hands down.

When I think of the 1960s, I don’t really look at it like your traditional decade. You know, the kind that are ten years long. No, the sixties had a late start and a wild finale. The post-war idealism of the 1950s actually extended a few years into the 1960s. The last day of that period, that Father Knows Best era, was November 22nd, 1963. When John F. Kennedy’s pulse stopped, the real sixties began.

November 22nd, 1963 was also the day A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector was released. It’s certain that Phil Spector had no idea while he was recording this material that the entire world would change on the day of its release. And that simple coincidence is the beauty of it. This music, intended to fit in with the happy-go-lucky mood of the day, ended up being a much-needed dose of joy in a dark and confusing time.

Even though I could listen to this album year-round and enjoy it, I make it a point not to until after Thanksgiving. It gives me something to look forward to the way others look forward to the holidays.

If only Phil Spector had been listening to this music on February 2, 2003, he might not be serving 19 years to life. But who listens to Christmas music in February?





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6 Responses to “Phil Spector: Guilty of Creating the Greatest Christmas Album Ever”

  1. Welles
    at 8:02 am on November 23, 2009

    Fact: James Brown’s Funky Christmas is the best Christmas album ever made, not the over produced craptastical coaster that is Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You.

  2. Garth Risk Hallberg
    at 2:11 pm on November 23, 2009

    Respectfully, gentleman: James Brown and Phil Spector are like Dancer and Blitzen compared to the 350 lb. sack of awesomeness the Vince Guaraldi Trio is carrying in its sleigh.

  3. Stee Warde
    at 7:03 pm on November 23, 2009

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4jcXqVJ878

    Respectfully to one and all, I agree that Spectors contribution is indeed the gold standard in FINE christmas music coming out of the sixties, just as the 1945 film “The Bells of St. Mary’s” starring Bing himself and Ingred Bergman is also what is the gold standard for me, for,yes indeed, cornball movie christmas sentimentality, What can I say? It still gets me where I live because Ingred looked just like Sister Marsha who was my 1st grade teacher. She was the only and I do mean only,good looking and sweet Nun that I ever met!

  4. Eric Brant
    at 12:38 pm on December 22, 2009

    I am also of the opinion that Spector’s “A Christmas Gift to You” is the finest and most uplifting record ever made of popular Christmas music. It just sparkles, as befits any true celebration of the season.

    But I’d also like to point out (in any case anyone somehow missed noticing) that it is a musical and (for the time) technical tour-de-force. Spector has been described as a genius many times, and this record is itself ample proof. Here we have a 23 year old wunderkind, personally directing the assembled best studio musicians in L.A., along with massed strings and choruses, behind some of the greatest vocalists of the era. All of which resulted in this magnum opus, which still today sounds beautiful and exhilarating on its own terms.

    I hate to use the cliche, but the word “classic” is certainly appropriate.

    It is a great tragedy that the brilliant young man who gave us this delightful Christmas gift in 1963 is now spending his Christmases in prison.

  5. gladly
    at 12:45 pm on December 22, 2009

    About two weeks ago, my job necessitated me doing a lot of work with Darlene Love’s bio, and I’ve been dying to hear this song since then. Thank god for this post. It’s all I can do not to shut my door and sing along here at my desk.

  6. Eric Brant
    at 1:30 pm on December 23, 2009

    For “gladly” :

    Check out YouTube for clips of the great Darlene Love, then and now.

    Here she is recently, celebrating White Christmas again, 46 years after singing it on Spector’s Christmas album:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vSyk_ZquPQ

    And here’s a great little excerpt of her from the glory days, when she was part of arguably the greatest back-up singers ever, The Blossoms:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-yJ_O4kIks

    What a voice…

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