This Phil Spector article was written by Kieran Stowell, a GIGsoup contributor
Famed for his “Wall Of Sound” approach to musical production, Phil Spector’s attempt at a Christmas record in 1963 seemed like a sure-fire success, However it wasn’t until it’s re-release in 1972 where it gained it’s commercial success.
Now it is argued that the reason the record was a flop in the first place was due to it being released the same day as the assassination of President Kennedy. However by 1972, Spector was a major player in the music industry, being single handily responsible for producing/writing some of the biggest chart topping hits of the time. He had also gained the respect of The Beatles who reissued the record under their label “Apple.”
Is there a chance that the record was not the “masterpiece” that critics labelled it, but instead just a product of a sales campaign led by the biggest names of music at the time?
Accompanied by strings, bells and horns as well as odd noises (such as the horse neighs at the beginning of “Sleigh Bells”) The record makes the most of its four artists, making emphasis on their vocals.
Darlene Love particularly steals the show, opening with her rendition of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” Though it’s a track usually reserved for crooners, Love’s magnificent vocals bring out the sheer excitement for the holidays that previous renditions of the song seem to have missed.
The track even features a humorous moment where Love references the fact she is recording a Christmas track while in sunny Los Angeles. Love also provides the brilliant vocal work on the record’s only original song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” the end result being the best song on the record and an instant classic.
Spector’s wife at the time Ronnie appears on the record as part of the group The Ronettes who perform on some of the more well known Christmas songs such as “Winter Wonderland” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” the tracks don’t differentiate themselves much from the original source material but their strong vocals and the energy they put into each song thy perform is enough to keep you entertained.
However the other two artists; The Crystals and Bob. b Soxx & The Blue Jeans are the weakest links. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” features a rather awkward spoken word segment before diving headfirst into the track in a way that just seems jarring and ultimately noisy. The rest of the track from that point doesn’t exactly do a lot to impress and ends up feeling very safe.
At the same time with Bob.b Soxx, on the two tracks he and The Blue Jeans feature on, his voice is ultimately drowned out by the lavish musical production.
Musically the record has some interesting moments, as stated earlier “White Christmas” is almost unrecognisable, while the string section on “Ruldolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” is impeccable. However there are times where it felt that apart from some minor variations on each song, the album’s overall instrumentation is pretty samey. Luckily for the most part, the vocals of the artists manage to carry the track on it’s own.
Phil Spector clearly had eyes for talent, The artists for which he chose to feature on the record each have their own quirk that makes them interesting, mix this with his intricate musical direction it’s understandable why this record is considered a favourite to many.
That being said, It is far from being a “masterpiece” some of the record’s tracks, musically and vocally fail to make any real kind of impact, thus become ultimately forgettable.