Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Christmas Gift for You From Philles Records

Today A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records is regarded as one of the greatest holiday albums of all time, if not the greatest. As hard as it is to believe, however, it was hardly a success upon its first release. Indeed, it would take many years before it would come to be considered a classic.

Phillies Records was founded in 1961 by Phil Spector and Lester Sill. It was only a few years into its existence that the label was producing hits in the form of "Da Doo Ron Ron" by The Crystals and "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes. Most of the label's singles were produced by Phil Spector himself, using his Wall of Sound technique (which utilised layered, dense sound achieved by a number of musicians playing the same thing in unison). For the most part Philles Records was focused on the success of singles, but in August 1963 he called his performers together for the first and only album into which Philles Records would pour a good deal of energy. That album was A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records.

Over the next few weeks A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records would be recorded. Phil Spector would book the studio for nearly twenty four hours a day, and it was not unusual for Spector to work until dawn. Indeed, unlike many albums of the day, every song the album was treated as if it was a potential single. The gruelling pace would take a toll on legendary engineer Larry Levine, who was at odds with Spector after working on the album for some time. In fact, towards the end of the six weeks Mr. Levine was so exhausted and aggravated that he no longer wanted to work with Phil Spector. The album itself would include nearly every possible sound linked to the holidays: sleigh bells, chimes, bells, and so on.

For the most part, A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records consisted of secular, holiday standards treated to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound technique. Darlene Love performed "White Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland." The Crystals performed "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The Ronettes performed "Sleigh Ride"and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." An exception to the various Christmas song covers was the single original song on the album. "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)." The song was written by Elle Greenwich, Jeff Barry, and Phil Spector, and it was originally intended to be sung by Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes. Ronnie Spector was not able to give the song the emotional impact it needed, however, so Darlene Love would sing "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" instead.

Sadly, in the short run it would seem as if all of producer Phil Spector and engineer Larry Levine's work would be to no avail. A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records was released on November 22, 1963, which was unfortunately the date that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. With the country in mourning and in little mood for holiday celebrations, A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records would prove to be a disappointment. The album itself would only peak at number 13 on the Billboard Christmas albums chart issued in December 1963. The album's only single release, "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" would do even worse. It did not even hit the Billboard singles chart.

Despite the failure of A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records in 1963, over the years it would come to be regarded as a holiday classic. Over time songs from the album, would receive more and  more radio airplay during the Yuletide. "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" would not only become one of Darlene Love's signature tunes, but a Christmas standard. The album was reissued by Apple Records in 1972 with the title Phil Spector's Christmas Album. That reissue hist #6 on Billboard's Christmas album chart for that year. Since then it has been reissued many times, and it is not unusual for radio stations to play the entire album during the holiday season.

Below are three songs from the album, including what I consider the greatest rock 'n' roll, Yuletide song of all time, "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love

Sleigh Ride by The Ronettes

Parade of the Wooden Soldiers The Crystals

Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) by Darlene Love

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