Christmas albums have been a staple of the recording industry, but it wasn’t until 1963 that someone tried to put a rock ‘n’ roll spin on the holiday’s carols.
On Nov. 22, 1963, the same day that President Kennedy was assassinated, A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records was released. Phil Spector and Lester Sill started Philles Records in 1961. The label focused mostly on producing and releasing 45 r.p.m. singles. Their Christmas album was one of only twelve albums released on the label.
The LP has four of Philles’ recording artists (Darlene Love, The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans) singing secular Christmas standards (i.e., “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”). The songs were produced with Spector’s famous “Wall of Sound” — a monaural (mono) recording technique that used large groups of musicians to create densely layered sound. It made Spector’s recordings sound fantastic on single-speaker AM radios and jukeboxes. Incidentally, Leon Russell was one of the pianists on the album and Sonny Bono played percussion.
The only original song on the LP was “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” written by Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. The 2:45 recording features Darlene Love on lead vocals and she sings with the full force of heartfelt emotion. The song was released as a single, but was a flop on the charts. In fact, the entire album was considered a failure.
Today, most of the 13 songs on the album are thought to be classics. Cover versions of the originals have been performed by Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Destiny’s Child with minor variations to the arrangements. The album has been re-released over the years and even re-titled as A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.
In today’s world of endless and obligatory rock ‘n’ roll Christmas albums, A Christmas Gift for You is the standard by which all are judged.
Side note: A Christmastime performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love has become an annual tradition on The Late Show with David Letterman.