Spector's Eternal Masterpiece

Maybe it's a Noo Yawk thing, but while most discussions of Christmas music revolve around what's the best Christmas song, the finest expression of Christmas music lies in a Christmas album, and that of course would be A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, the crowning achievement of Wall of Sound creator turned convicted murderer, Phil Spector. While cuts like The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" or Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep-Mountain High" are justifiably famous, it may be the Christmas record that will eventually become Spector's most influential and likable legacy.

It's natural to wonder what he thinks today, sitting in jail during the holiday season, while his masterpiece released on November 22, 1963, the day JFK was assassinated, steadily grows in influence and popularity. In many ways it's become the musical equivalent of the beloved Rankin and Bass stop-motion Animagic feature film (with the Bumble and Yukon Cornelius), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

While The Crystals and Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans have their moments, and Darlene Love has fashioned an entire career out of the fame she gained here with her version of "Christmas (Baby please come home)," this record's musical success is really due to The Ronettes. The New York City accent of Veronica Bennett (aka Ronnie Spector) never ceases to bring a smile to my face when she sings "Frawsty the Snowman," or when she rides a fast-tempo'd "Sleigh Ride," complete with the famous "Ring-a-ling-a-ling Ding-dong-ding" background repeats and sings in her NYC accent, "It's lovely weather for a sleigh ride togetha with you."

The other star here is the production. A fierce devotee of mono rather than stereo recording, Spector's highly orchestrated layering, instruments doubling and even tripling parts and that distinct cathedral-like sound that Beach Boy Brian Wilson adored remains highly influential today. A Christmas Gift for You is the finest expression of Spector's philosophy if only because he had total control. With Let It Be, the Beatles album he mixed and remixed, the recordings themselves were done prior to his becoming part of the project. Oddly enough, A Christmas Gift refutes Spector's long-held contempt for albums over singles. While "The Bells of St. Mary" may not be to every taste, this is a coherent, wonderfully arranged and sequenced collection of songs from start to finish.

Jackblues's picture

Just got this album a few days ago. Unfortunately on CD. Sounds horrible. The $3.99 price tag got me. One day the vinyl will be mine if only for Ronnie Spector.

deckeda's picture

As is usual, if you’re either collecting or merely want the best sound, early originals are a decent bet. The earliest ones were from Philles Records: https://www.discogs.com/Various-A-Christmas-Gift-For-You-From-Philles-Records/release/6989940

Robin Landseadel's picture

Nothing will take the "taint" off the legacy of Phil Spector. He always was a criminal, he cannot be redeemed.

spacehound's picture

Being a criminal and being a musician are not related in any way. No more than my sometimes exceeding the speed limit on my way to the river I fish detracts from my fishing skills.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Well, it didn't help the reputation of Carlos Gesualdo one little bit.
This is not "virtue signaling". This is what happened.

spacehound's picture

The reality is that today we have no way of telling how successful or otherwise he was.

There must be hundreds of composers and musicians who were quickly forgotten after their death. It doesn't make them unsuccessful.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Seems like stating the obvious—someone's Christmas record is heard in a different way because the producer of said record turned out to be a murderer—is really upsetting people here. I have no doubt that this record has many wonderful moments for many people. I acknowledge that there's a lot of talent on display here. But stating that I can't hear this record the same way I used seems to be upsetting people no end. Sorry, I'm taking nothing back, this celebration has an inherent flaw, and denying that Fact doesn't make it go away.

dalethorn's picture

There's a rather large elphant in the room here, and that is the ongoing efforts in the public sphere to rewrite all kinds of history, even to the point of replacing actors in existing/finished films, just because "people might get upset" at seeing them. I would agree that we shouldn't promote the *continued* success and profitability of bad guys, but in this example I don't think Spector will get any of this money. I looked over someone's book they purchased about Frank Sinatra, and saw that the introduction was full of hand-wringing apologies for his "bad" things during his life. Screw that - I don't listen to Sinatra to be concerned about his deeds aside from music, nor would I want to read those pinhead apologies about his character. If someone does want to dig in to Spector's life and dirty deeds, more power to them. But save the apologies for them - I care only about the music.

spacehound's picture

That he murdered someone 40 years after he made the record doesn't affect the merit of the record at all.

And there are about 6 billion of us. Like ants. So anyone who claims to give a rat's ass about one murderee or his/her murderer, neither of whom they ever knew, is probably faking it to show those 6 billion ants how 'caring' they are.

As for 'Christmas' music from pop people, current or old, I don't listen to any of it. It's just another money making bandwagon. I'm not religious, but a few traditional hymns or carols as they are 'customary' is fine.

dalethorn's picture

Charles Manson has 7 albums on iTunes, last time I counted. Oddly enough, it might have been 30 or more if he hadn't shot a drug dealer in Hollywood - an act he wasn't even prosecuted for.

We can agonize over the miscreance of every other musician and the bad in their life, but what a waste of time that would be.

BTW, Mantovani was the first to create a "Wall of Sound" for the early "console stereos" at the dawn of the LP era. Unless you count some of the earlier efforts in augmenting the mechanical recordings of the early 1900's.

supamark's picture

was made over 40 years before he murdered that woman. He was not a performer on the album. It seems to be a bit silly (unless you were a friend/family of the deceased) to link them.

spacehound's picture

It's just a load of fake indignation.
Publicly saying "He was a dreadful man so I can't enjoy his music" is merely an attempt to show how 'virtuous' you are.

Much like all this 'Hollywood molester' garbage. Ninety-nine percent of moviegoers don't have clue who produced/directed/whatever the film they are enjoying, and if they do know the don't give a rat's ass about the 'bad behaviour' of those people.

I draw a simple line. Laws are supposed to be obeyed. Period.
So you can't draw a distinction between one offence and another.
Thus anyone who has ever exceeded the speed limit or stolen an apple shouldn't get wound up about "criminals" as they are criminals themselves. The law is NOT a "Pick any ten you will obey from this list of fifty" process.

ednazarko's picture

Since I bought the LP lord knows how long ago, that's been The Way It Is: It's not Christmas at my place until the Motown Ladies sing. OK, I'm oversimplifying about "Motown Ladies," but - until this album has played front to back, it's only allegedly Christmas.

Every year I'm amazed at how, for a couple of the songs where they significantly re-arranged, maybe even re-conceived it, this album's version has become the new standard for others performing the song. And there's a fair amount of hyperactive breathless arrangements, like that Bells of St. Mary song, swooshing and swirling around.

Wore the LP out, thankfully had it ripped to reel to reel. Wore that tape out, fortunately CDs were just getting going. The CD always grated... I thought the iTunes version of the album actually sounded better. Then it showed up on HD Tracks, and I'm not sure how much work was done on it, but that HD version (I think it's 24/48...) doesn't grate on me like the CD.

Robin Landseadel's picture

I'm stated what I feel, you jump on me like I'm defiling the Virgin Mary. Face it folks—Phil Spector always was an awful person. He was allowed to take it to the limit. He's paying the price and he deserves it. No more of this "Fake indignation" crap. You have no right or cause to blame me for how I feel. All I said is I can't listen to this record anymore knowing what I know about this man.

PeterMusic's picture

I saw the magnificent Darlene Love in concert a year ago. She spent a considerable piece of time letting us know that Spector abused her and others in serious ways, and conveyed the message that he was an all around despicable person. These vignettes were interspersed with beautiful renditions of Spector's work. If it's OK with Darlene to enjoy his work, it's OK with me