Phil Spector’s ‘Christmas Gift’ Turns 50

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Posted November 22, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
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A true holiday treasure celebrates its 50th anniversary

In 1963, master producer Phil Spector – best known for curating the industry standard of the Wall of Sound – rolled out an assorted holiday disc celebrating the roster of his own Philles RecordsLittle did Spector know that one of the greatest crimes committed in American history would overshadow his pride and joy. 

On the same day of its release, President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated. Because of all the bad news, Spector’s first and only holiday compilation – containing performances from The Crystals, The RonettesDarlene Love, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans – went virtually unnoticed. With the whole world in mourning, Spector decided it was not the appropriate time to promote a holiday album and pulled A Christmas Gift from Phil Spector from the marketplace. Even though the album charted on Billboard‘s year-end Christmas Album sales at No. 13, sales were virtually nothing. Today, those records, if in mint or near-mint condition, are worth than $400 bucks a pop. That’s because it is now considered to be one of the greatest holiday albums ever assembled. In fact, it is often cited as Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s favorite album of all time.

It didn’t take long for the world to appreciate its true value. In 1972, Apple Records re-released the forgotten artifact with different cover art  – a photograph of Spector dressed as a heavily-bearded Santa Claus while wearing a “Back to Mono” button. It was also re-titled Phil Spector’s Christmas Album. That year, the album traveled up to No. 6 on the year-end Christmas album sales chart.

Over the years, the album has accumulated with popularity. Darlene Love‘s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which was released as a single in 1963, is cited by Rolling Stone magazine as being the ultimate Christmas song of all-time. In its list of 33 1/2 Holiday Albums You Better Have…Or Else, HiFi Magazine equally agreed. The often-unsung Love, best known for singing the lead vocals to “He’s a Rebel,” “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” has sung the holiday favorite on Late Night with David Letterman on both NBC and CBS networks for the last twenty-seven years. She is expected to return to Letterman’s stage for the twenty-eight time this December.

Behind the scenes, the album also features the musical contributions of arranger Jack Nitzsche, Gold Star studio engineer Larry Levine and the Johnny Vidor Strings. Topping things off are was the participation of Leon Russell on keyboards, Sonny Bono on percussion and the legendary Hal Blaine on drums.

Its history in re-release territory has been part of the album’s mystique.  After the original Philles issue in 1963, the Beatles’ Apple edition in 1972 actually hit the Top 10 in Billboard.  The first stereo mastered LP was issued in 1974, on the Warner/Spector imprint.  CBS Records even released the album once, via its Pavilion associated label in 1981.  Rhino went back to the mono mastering when it issued the record on CD for the first time in 1987.  Two years later, a new mono version of the CD appeared on Allen Klein’s ABKCO Records, which kept the title in print until 2007, when EMI Music Publishing took control of the Philles catalog, as the next – and most eagerly anticipated – phase of the Philles story began to take shape in partnership with Sony Music, which reissued the album in 2009.

 

Below is a list of the original song listing for A Christmas Gift from Phil Spector:
(Phil Spector Records/Legacy 88697 59214 2)

1.  White Christmas – Darlene Love

2.  Frosty the Snowman – The Ronettes

3.  The Bells of St. Mary – Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans

4.  Santa Claus Is Coming to Town – The Crystals

5.  Sleigh Ride – The Ronettes

6.  Marshmallow World – Darlene Love

7.  I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – The Ronettes

8.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – The Crystals

9.  Winter Wonderland – Darlene Love

10. Parade of the Wooden Soldiers – The Crystals

11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love

12. Here Comes Santa Claus – Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans

13. Silent Night – Phil Spector and Artists

 

UPDATE:
(11/22/13; 4:08 p.m.)

Listen to the complete album of A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector courtesy of Spotify.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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