If you have a window near, go ahead and look outside. Chances are, there are some Christmas lights up somewhere within view. In the coming week, you’ll probably frantically brave mall crowds and horrific parking lot jams for last-minute gifts, wondering why it is that you avoid the mall for an entire year only to finally cave when it’s impossibly chaotic, deafeningly loud and smells something like garland draped across a junior-high locker room. Nearly 50 percent of you have already seen It’s A Wonderful Life this month, and roughly 92 percent of you will catch at least one of the 22 available viewings of A Christmas Story that will run every two hours from Christmas Eve night up through the morning of the 26th. These things are undeniably Christmas. Other things are too, but somehow, the meaningful stuff is more distinct. But nearly everyone seems to live the lights, the movies and the malls. And the songs, of course.

Well before I planned to write about Phil Spector’s Christmas Album (or whichever name you prefer to call it), I was actually wondering how these holiday staples came to be–like Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist, or a Red Rider BB Gun, and most specifically, a song. Most of the jingles we carol are pretty old. Hell, “Jingle Bells” is 150 years old, while the 1930s and ’40s seem to be the heyday of holiday tradition. I guess they wouldn’t really be traditions if they weren’t old, and we like to keep them that way, apparently. Consider that Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” (1942) is the best-selling single of all time, of any music, not just holiday music. (His “Silent Night,” from 1935, is third all time.) That’s not to say new traditions can’t be created, it’s just that many of them reside somewhere below the lofty status held by these longstanding customs, and I wonder if it’s even possible to create a Christmas classic anymore.

I think Phil Spector probably wondered this, too, only he was in a position to do something about it. His curated mix of holiday tunes pushes the limits of Christmas music–whether it’s tweaking the lyrics of “White Christmas” or writing his own in Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Spector, a Jew born on Christmas day, did what few were or are capable of doing. He made the largesse–both genuine and contrived–of Christmas even bigger. With his trademark Wall of Sound, Christmas hits you in the face like an avalanche gaining momentum. And now, when you’re making your mix of Christmas classics, one of Spector’s songs makes the cut. (It probably even makes the cut on your “cool” mix, where you go heavy on obscure funky soul holiday licks and Tom Waits’Christmas Card from a Hooker…) This seems like a remarkable achievement to me, considering the number of times these songs have been recorded–the fact that there’s an original, and then there’s Spector’s, and maybe a few others. But what is a more remarkable achievement to me is that I could listen to “Baby Please Come Home” in June, a solid six months before I decide to go the mall, six months before I even think of watching A Christmas Story. I don’t listen to it in June, mind you, but I could. Because it’s a pop song, it isn’t just a Christmas song. It just happens to sound even better when all of that other shit is going on. words/ j crosby

MP3: Darlene Love :: White Christmas
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7 Responses to “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector”

  1. here I am reading your post while listening to the second half of hour 3 of the Jay Thomas Show on SiriusXM 108 (albeit on a couple of hours delay) and he’s replaying a past show with none other than Darlene Love, and yes she’s telling stories about phil pulling out guns in the studio. It should replay from 9-10pm EST today (Monday) on Sirius/XM 108.

  2. I find it strangely comforting that some of our most beloved Christmas classics started out as flops. “Its a Wonderful Life” was a box office disappointment and the Phli Spector Christmas album had the tough luck of coming out on the day President Kennedy died. As it turns out, Father Time can be kind – to greatness. Thanks for the post and Happy Holidays!

  3. Spector’s Christmas album is definitely on my short list of cool Christmas albums. I also highly recommend Low’s Christmas album called “Low Christmas.” Austere and minimal and beautiful.

  4. […] a little bit more about this album over at Aquarium Drunkyard, or download the tracks from Amazon.com for a mere US$5.00. That’s a gift in and of […]

  5. I was ruminating on the way Twelve Days of Christmas has persisted in its popularity despite clearly having no pertinence to contemporary society. The only explanation I could determine was this preference for that which elicits nostalgia around the holiday (that, and perhaps we just really like songs where we have to try to remember all the words–even if we’re not really paying attention to what we’re singing).

    The upside is that although when an original Christmas song comes out it cannot bring up memories, eventually it will get old and be something the spur a nostalgic response.

    Christmas songwriting is a game of patience.

  6. MERRY X MAS PHIL

  7. I wish U the best lovin Phil.

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