Wall of Christmas

What comes to mind when you hear the name Phil Spector? Is it the hair? Is it the fact that he is nuts? Is it the fact that he shot that lady in his driveway? Or it is his music, the Wall of Sound, the Ronettes, Let It Be, or his work with John Lennon & George Harrison in the early 70s? I think of all these things, from the crazy to the cool, but I also think of Spector’s really great Christmas LP from 1963, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. Did I mention it was released in 1963? Care to guess the date? November 22, 1963, the day John Kennedy was shot in Dallas. Needless to say that the LP initially faded from view due to this unfortunate event. (Times change as Jay Z’s first volume of The Blueprint was released on September 11, 2001. That record went Platinum) and needless to say everything changed after the President was shot. The following year the Beatles would hit the American airwaves and shores and music, youth music, would rise anew.

When I first got heavy into Frank Sinatra what struck me was the timing. Watching Oceans 11, listening to a record with Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, anything having to do with this culture was really rendered stale and lame by the arrival of British Pop music in the 60s. When you compare times, sure there will be things that seem different, making what was fresh seem stale. I’m sort of shocked then that the Spector Christmas Record didn’t make a splash in spite of those horrible circumstances. When I put it up into the context of 1963 you would think it arrived in a space ship.

The first thing I noticed when I heard the LP was its sense of joy. Pure, raw joy. These songs are happy, no, these songs are a celebration of the season. It sounds so cliché, it feels cliché to write it and look at it, but listening to the record it conjures up happy smiles and happy memories. The template for the Wall of Sound was in place prior to this LP being released; “Be My Baby” was also released in 1963. But this LP is just an amazing bit of sound.

Most of my favorite Christmas music is the kind that invokes a quiet, sedate mood: nighttime, watching the fire crackling in the fireplace, or reflecting on the year that has invariably whipped by in the crack of a knuckle. These records are ones I would consider calm, and that’s part of their appeal. The Spector Christmas ain’t sedate, it ain’t calm. No, this is a record mad for being outside, in the blinding white snow with a deep blue sky overheard. It is joyful, cheerful, and rollicking. The only “slow” song on the LP is the last track, which is really just a spoken bit from Spector himself.

There are some other up-tempo Christmas songs from this period, but none had the same sass or energy as these songs. For the year 1963, the best selling Christmas LP was one by Andy Williams. The Ronettes he ain’t. Ella Fitzgerald’s 1960 Christmas LP had a bit more bite to the songs and arrangements, but the energy feels much more traditional, much more in line with the time. Listen to Ella’s LP, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas and then the Spector LP. You can practically feel the joy and vibrations coming from the plastic when you open the case, so clearly cracking is the LP.

It is that youthful edge, that energy and joy and happiness that makes the Phil Spector Christmas LP with its bevy of different artists an all-time classic that you can listen to during the season and not get bored with or tired of. It is brief but packs ten times the amount of joy that one could seriously expect on a tiny tinny piece of plastic.

One Response to “Wall of Christmas”
  1. Mike Vincent says:

    Here is my Christmas Mix, The War Against Christmas Music, again for those who missed it last week.
    The War Against Christmas Music by Mike Vincent
    Please download the mix and listen to it this season, I think it will bring back memories of being a kid…

%d bloggers like this: