A Christmas Gift For You

Posted on December 16, 2010 by

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Artist: Various Artists
Title:  A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector
Label: Philles
Released: 1963, various re-issues over the past 45 plus years
Genre: 60’s Rock, Girl Groups

I can’t remember what year I was, but I was in high school when I purchased this album. It was at least sixteen years after its original release. I was in pursuit of my own Christmas sound.

I know I already had purchased a Springsteen bootleg with ”Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” on it, but that was just one song. I had also bought the Motown Christmas album, but I found it spotty. I didn’t have enough Christmas music in my collection to make a mix tape at the time either. I didn’t have a complete holiday soundtrack.

The only other Christmas music I had access to was my mother’s three Christmas LPs; Christmas Music on the Pipe Organ with Chimes, a budget Christmas LP called Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the Diplomat label, and the Bob Ralston Christmas Album, a collection of medleys by an adult chorus accompanied by Mr. Ralston on organ. This was music of a bridge club.

There it was, for $2.99 in the used record bin at Hot Licks (a local indie record store), A Christmas Gift For You. Damn right it was.

Three ascending solo piano notes open the album, and then the signature Wall of Sound hits you. Brass carries the bass line with the piano rolling underneath, sleigh bells jingle, glockenspiels chime and hand claps! Yes, hand claps, the most basic form of percussion and an identifying sound of 60s pop! And then there’s Darlene Love, yearning for her very own “White Christmas,” just like me.

The next track, drummer Hal Blaine brings “Frosty the Snowman” to life more than the magic hat. The short sustain of the pizzicato are landmarks in Frosty’s journey throughout the town as the strings lay a pathway.

Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans take of “The Bells of St. Mary’s” rivals the Drifters’ version. The Crystals’ “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” was the version for which Springsteen based his cover. The manic Leroy Anderson composed “Sleigh Ride” swings in comparison to its many previous undertakings. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” incorporates the bossa-beat, which was the craze back in 1963.

The sound is just so big. It’s as big as the spectacle of commercial Christmas. During the holidays we’re bombarded by lights, displays, sales, cards, hustle and bustle.  In the songs too we are exposed to the Wall of sound, but the strings and the voices caress, the rhythm section makes us want to dance an the bells and chimes accent the holiday spirit. It is brilliance in musical arrangement.

Amongst the thirteen songs, twelve are recognizable standards, now all dolled up in Spector fashion. But the one track that makes the statement is the Spector-Greenwich-Barry original, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” It’s the first holiday song I play every year and the one I listen to over and over every holiday season for the past thirty-some odd years.  Once again, it’s Darlene Love yearning. She’s missing her boyfriend as she watches the snow come down, hears church bells and carolers as she watches the pretty lights on the tree shine. “They’re singing ‘Deck The Halls’ / But it’s not like Christmas at all,” sings Ms. Love. She’s missing that one last element for a merry Christmas, her boyfriend. “If there was a way / I’d hold back this tear / But it’s Christmas day / Baby please come home.” Wow!

There are no elements missing in this holiday collection. Even Phil Spector’s corny formal exposition over “Silent Night” can’t mar this work. If there’s one Christmas album to own, this is it.

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