December 15, 2007

psca Note: Given that it’s the season, I thought I’d link to this post from last year.

“A Christmas Gift To You” (a.k.a. “Phil Spector’s Christmas Album”) is a gem, and must-have for all classic rock audiophiles during the Christmas season. How good is it, you ask? Well, I’m in full agreement with The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson when he calls this album is “one of the top 5 rock albums ever made”. A stupid Christmas album one of the top 5 in rock history, you say? Well, it’s not just me and Brian, but check out this review by Herb Bowie at Reason to Rock:

Album Title: A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector – Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

This is one of my favorite rock albums of all time. It benefits from a number of factors. First, the enforced discipline of only listening to it for a month or two out of the year keeps it fresh. Second, it is seemingly the only time that Spector got to produce a single album featuring all of the artists currently in his stable. Third, the use of traditional Christmas tunes frees Spector and the listener from the somewhat repetitive themes that ran through his original compositions (complete and selfless female adoration, young lovers wanting to get married, etc.). Fourth, the use of familiar Christmas songs allows Spector and his artists to focus on the rock arrangements and the recordings, which were really their strong suits anyway.

The result is a wonderful album. You can hear echoes of it in other rock Christmas recordings down through the years, such as Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which makes use of Spector’s arrangement. Every track features loving details, such as the big smooch at the beginning of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and Darlene Love’s spoken additions to “White Christmas,” adding the perspective of someone in Los Angeles wishing to be in snowy country.

The overall effect is much more relaxed than much of the producer’s other work. Most of Spector’s other recordings were aimed squarely at the top 40, and the need to let out all the stops on every recording — to hit one out of the park every time up at bat — resulted in a body of work that feels a bit strained and repetitive. Also, most of Spector’s other recordings were geared specifically for the adolescent market, and many of the resulting lyrics haven’t aged well.

In contrast, this album feels like an attempt to reach a wider audience. On it Spector and company seem to be consciously demonstrating their powers, transforming the familiar tunes of an older America into something radically different, incorporating the values of a new musical aesthetic. The results are timeless works of art that maintain their charm and energy from year to year, even as other lesser works appear briefly and then fade from memory.

How could that be, you say? Well, first of all, keep in mind that this album is the epitomy of what Spector and his so-called “Wall of Sound” was all about – lots of percussion, LOTS of echo, fabulous arrangements, and top-notch performances by The Crystals and The Ronettes, above all else.

Me, I would recommend giving the album a serious listen at least twice – once as a Christmas album that reflects all the joy and wonder of the season, then, forgetting about the songs in a seasonal mode, just listen to the SONGS and the PRODUCTION behind them. And don’t forget to TURN IT UP for an incredible aural experience.

BTW, you can hear samples of what I’m talking about here.

Merry listening!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:18 | Comments (0)
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