If 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)”.
I 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?