A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector is the sound of the super-producer taking his trademark “Wall of Sound” style and smashing beloved Christmas carols into it. “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas” now have more in common with “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “He’s a Rebel” than they do the traditional yuletide aesthetic. Spector brings his best talent to provide the center for all of this ornamentation (ha!), and what emerges is not only the greatest holiday album ever recorded, but also one of the all-time greatest pop albums.
Nostalgia permeates the songs here, and Spector’s trademark operatic tendencies and grandeur only underscore these traits. Whether it is LaLa Brooks’ teenaged vocals adding a childlike glee to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or Bob B. Soxx’s impassioned statements on “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” Spector gets some of the best emotional readings any of these songs have ever received. Ronnie Spector’s innately sensual voice zaps the innocence out of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” but her carnality adds a knowing wink to the construct of the song that makes it sound and feel fresh.
His maximalist tendencies also make these songs play like rock and roll riots throughout. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is a rave-up that would sound right at home sandwiched in-between “Then He Kissed Me” and “I Wonder” on a Crystals album. It’s the sound of a group of young girls turning a fairy tale promise into a barn burner and an excuse to dance in the snow. Same goes for “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” where their breathlessly girlish voices cascade over a beat made of pounding drums, horns, and clanking percussion.
While Ronnie Spector does melt “Frosty the Snowman” through the sheer force of her sexuality, it’s “Sleigh Ride” that’s the biggest rocker on the album. Between the sound effects, the background chants of “ring-a-ling-a-ling ding-dong-ding,” Ronnie’s sex kitten invitation, and a swirling production that threatens to spiral off into chaos before eventually succumbing at the very end, “Sleigh Ride” would be the highlight of just about any other album. Yet it has to settle for merely being second best here.
Darlene Love is the true MVP of this album, given her four solo appearances and background vocal work with Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and there’s no stopping her. She’s playful on the surreal “Marshmallow World,” dreamy on “White Christmas,” and a one-woman choir on “Winter Wonderland” as Spector layers her vocals on top of each other. Nothing beats “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” the lone original song on this album and an emotional tour de force. In what is quite possibly the strongest vocal performance of her esteemed career, Love belts, yearns, and pours her heart and soul out all across “Christmas.” Her passion is enough to cause a blizzard during a Texas summer.
If there is one misstep on the album, it’s quite possibly the ending coda. Phil Spector speaks a few words of thanks before the entire recording artists harmonize a few lines of “Silent Night.” It’s over just as quickly as it starts and the harmonized vocals are heavenly, but Spector’s spoken word segment is a bit distracting. It doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the album in any major way.
It isn’t the season until I listen to A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector at least once, typically more than that. More so than just about any individual album, A Christmas Gift for You is the purest distillation of Spector’s genius. Although Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica comes closest to not only rivaling it in sheer pop spectacle and power, but in toppling it for supremacy. (The box set Back to Mono (1958 – 1969) is an entirely separate story as that’s three discs of his best and brightest singles all in one collection, and this is included in that set anyway.) It’s just one hell of a delightful piece of pop music at its greatest, and an absolutely essential and vital must-own album.
DOWNLOAD: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”