Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Grinch Who Saved Christmas

The Grinch Who Saved Christmas

Christmas time for me and a lot of people is a time to look forward to. It has very little to do with religious dogma , stories of stables, uncaring inn-keepers and nosey shepherds and more to do with the occasion to eat, drink and be merry surrounded by friends and family.

A staple of my household festivities has always been the music played and among the Dean Martin’s, Sinatra and Slade getting a pounding there has always been a single album that stands high above the rest as the hallmark of the holiday season. This album is ‘A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector’ from 1963. It is an album of Christmas classics such as ‘White Christmas’, ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’ given the ‘Wall of Sound’ treatment from the Phil Spector stable of artists such as The Crystals, The Ronettes and of course Darlene Love who’s standout track ‘Christmas (Baby Please come Home)’ has been the official song for the David Letterman Christmas show for as long as I can remember.

The album was a labour of love for Phil Spector and this alone raised a few eye brows when news started to filter out from the studio about what his next project was. This after all was the work of a confirmed Jewish Atheist 22 year old guy that was known to be less than friendly to most people he met making a happy Christmas album. A guy with more enemies than friends who’s tyrannical approach to record making was ripping up the format and catching lightning in a bottle over and over again could only create jealously among his pears who couldn’t wait for his first slip up before they descended upon him to bring order back to the old guard.

The studio sessions throughout the hot summer of 1963 were fast paced and furious to the musicians involved. One commented later that it was very disorientating to be shaking jingle bells and playing Xmas songs for 11 hours then walking out side to a hot summers day and readjusting back to bikini’s and surfboards but eventually after weeks and weeks it was complete. The musicians were pushed to their very limits with sessions sometimes running into weeks rather than the standard hours slots. Roomfuls of top first call musicians such as Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Glen Campbell,Cher(at 17 years old!) and legend has it even Beach Boy Brian Wilson turning up to add their own musical talents (Wilson even states that this album is his favourite of all time), this was either going to be his greatest achievement or biggest commercial flop.

It is literally impossible to feel depressed while listening to this album. Christmas can after all be a depressing time for some that may be away from their family or secluded due to circumstance and although this is no magic pill definitely sugars the medicine to a level where a smile forms on even the most humbug laden individual.
The album itself was pretty much guaranteed to be a smash hit after insiders listened to the first pressings and considering the un-matched run of hits Spector had produced throughout the year it was a definite ‘sure thing’. This was stopped abruptly in it’s tracks by the release coinciding with the assassination of JFK (the same day!). The album subsequently found it’s audience and with it’s re-release by The Beatles own Apple Label in 1972 eventually found it’s way into most record collections.

I’d admit I am bias as I admire Spector’s work greatly and will hold my hands up to the fact that I have listened to this on the beach in Spain before while slowly getting sun-burnt. It’s an album for 365 days a year for me but for those that like your Christmas’s white and cold with turkey and stockings over the fire place I can’t think of a better way to spend it.

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