Phil Spector’s Christmas Album A Christmas Gift To You is an all time classic
Although he wasn’t the first person to give Christmas tunes a Rock n Roll flavour (Both Elvis – in 1957- and rival record label Cameo Parkway Records – in 1961, featuring Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell – had released Christmas records) there’s little doubt that Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift To You is The Christmas Rock n Roll Record.
Spector took a bunch of corny Christmas songs such as Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and magically turned them into rock n roll. Darlene Love of The Crystals sang White Christmas, The Ronettes sang I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and LaLa Brooks (with The Crystals) sang the lead on Parade of Wooden Soldiers, amongst others.
In celebration of this, I have been doing a little digging around to present Ten Things You Didn’t Know (You Didn’t Know) About Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift To You:
1. Despite all appearances, the album was recorded in August, in the sweltering heat of high summer.
2. Sparing no expense, Spector kept the studio booked for 24 hours a day, sometimes working through the night. One of the three piano players was Leon Russell who more recently recorded an album with Elton John and was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Sonny Bono plays percussion.
3. A flying wig was the only thing that called a halt to proceedings: After an especially late night Darlene Love became somewhat tired and delirious waiting for Spector (a notorious perfectionist) to come back with the music tracks. Ronette Nedra Talley remembers seeing “Darlene throwing back her head back laughing at something and her wig flying off. That was it. There was no more recording after that, nobody could get their composure”.
4. The project became a nightmare for recording engineer Larry Levine: “It got to the point where Phil and I were at each other’s throats because night after night we were in for six weeks doing that album” he said.
5. The album finishes on a cringeworthy soliloquy from Spector. According to Larry Levine, the soliloquy originally lasted over five minutes with Spector “extolling his virtue, how great he was, while trying to sound humble” before he was persuaded to trim it back to two minutes.
6. Afterwards, according to Arranger Jack Nitzsche’s room-mate Denny Bruce, Spector and Nitzsche amused themselves by recording alternative versions. “Hello, this is Phil Spector. It’s Christmas – why don’t you go f- yourselves”…
7. The record was shipped on the first week of November 1963. On the 22 November, President Kennedy was assassinated. In a mood of national mourning Spector immediately withdrew the Christmas album from release.
8. A Christmas Gift For You was listed at #142 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, and Brian Wilson has described it as his favourite album of all time.
9. Because A Christmas Gift To You was never a great seller in its time and was withdrawn from sale it became relatively scarce. Although there have been many re-releases, if you wanted to buy an original UK copy on the London (plum coloured) label in mint condition now it would set you back £100.
10. The album first charted in the UK forty years ago – in December 1972 – after Apple records secured the UK rights to A Christmas Gift… after The Beatles worked with Spector on their Let It Be album.
Christmas just isn’t the same without it…
Record #131: The Ronettes – Sleigh Ride
- The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector by Mick Brown
- Out of his Head: The Sound of Phil Spector by Richard Williams