Various Artists – A Christmas Gift To You From Phil Spector

January 01, 1970

(Phil Spector Records/Legacy)

 

www.legacyrecordings.com

Anyone who’s heard this album warming the hearts of giddy shoppers in a major
department store over the past 40 years should be fully aware what an essential
part of what we now call “the holidays” A Christmas Gift For You (Phil Spector Records/Legacy) has become since its original 1963 release. For
any late arrivals to the party, you’ll have to stow your disgust at Spector’s
recent legal troubles at the door like a soggy umbrella, admittedly not an easy
thing to do.

There’s a very good reason Phil Spector, probably the only record producer in
the history of pop music who gets top-billing over his artists, has found such
worldwide acclaim. Make no mistake: He revolutionized the record industry in
the pre-Beatles/J.F.K. era by creating what has become known as “the Wall
of Sound.” Spector’s method of working entailed recording huge bands of the
best session musicians Los Angeles had to offer, then shoe-horning them into
Gold Star Studios to cut loose on amazingly detailed arrangements by his
right-hand man, Jack Nitzsche. Add two of the most scintillating vocalists the
world has ever known-Ronnie Bennett Spector and Darlene Love-to the mix and the
original material, a laundry list of tepid Christmas songs your grandmother
might have dug in their original versions, didn’t really matter. What Spector
and cohorts did to them was nothing short of alchemy. It was, indeed, the
singer (and the players) not the song!

Spector’s favorite guitarist, Tommy Tedesco, is abetted on these sessions by
fellow stringbenders Bill Pitman, Irv Rubins, Nino Tempo and jazz great Barney
Kessel. Leon Russell, Don Randi and Al Delory form a phalanx of keyboardists.
Ray Pohlman and Jimmy Bond play bass, while Nitzsche, Frank Capp and Sonny Bono
add exotic percussion touches (sleigh bells, castanets, hand claps, tubular
bells) in all the right places. As always, the legendary Hal Blaine sounds like
he’s playing drums with redwood tree trunks. Spector then rolled up his sleeves
and compressed this mammoth creation so that it sounded great whether it came
from a kid’s tinny transistor radio or from mom and dad’s primitive car radio
speakers.

You’ve never really heard “White Christmas” until you’ve experienced
how Darlene Love, recently nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
(Ronnie Spector is already in with the Ronettes), transforms the old chestnut
into something amazing. “The sun is shining, the grass is green, the
orange and palm trees sway/There’s never been such a day in old L.A./But it’s
December the 24th/And I’m longing to be up north/So I can have my very own
white Christmas,” murmurs Love before tearing it up in the song’s second
chorus.

Ronnie Spector, with her huge vibrato and endearing New York accent, turns
“Frosty The Snowman,” a song you’d think no one could tackle, into a
fabulous teenage love anthem, in the grand tradition of all the classic sides
by the Ronettes, those already landmarks in ’63, like “Be My Baby,”
and ones yet to come, such as their ’64 tour de force, “Walking In
The Rain.”

Bobby Sheen, billed here as Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, turns “The
Bells of St. Mary’s” into a thrilling gospel workout that belies the
tune’s pedestrian melody. The Crystals’
sometimes lead singer, LaLa Brooks, (Love took over on occasion) doesn’t get as
much ink as Spector’s two vocal juggernauts, but she sounds terrific belting
out “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”

If you think Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” is the most
heart-rending yuletide song ever, you must never have encountered Darlene
Love’s masterpiece, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” a gargantuan
work written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry and Phil Spector, fully capable of
melting the polar ice caps. It also contains possibly the finest eight-bar
tenor sax lead-break ever recorded, and that’s saying something when you
consider all the stunning examples from the records of Fats Domino and Little
Richard.

Spector once referred to his music in a TV interview as “little symphonies
for the kids.” With the ink barely dry on its licensing deal to reissue
Spector’s Philles Records back catalog, Legacy is about to restore some of the
most exciting music ever made to print. Santa Claus is going to have to stay up
pretty late to top that one.

Standout Tracks: “Christmas
(Baby Please Come Home),” “Frosty The Snowman”  JUD COST

 

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