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Behind The (Christmas) Music
This week, Everything Oldies tells the stories behind the classic pop Christmas songs and albums you've come to know and love. From the original titles of some of your favorite Yuletide standards to the story of how unforeseen bad timing kept a classic 60's Christmas album from being fully appreciated upon its release, we hope you enjoy the tales that go along with the songs that have made Christmas merrier for many years.....
- An Unwanted 'Gift'
Brian Wilson calls it his favorite album of all time. It has a spot on many critics' Top 10 list of the greatest albums ever recorded. It ranks in the top half of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, holiday themed or otherwise. So why was it a commercial flop upon its release, and to this day nowhere to be found among the best selling Christmas albums of all time? The most likely culprit is a case of the most unfortunate timing in music history involving an event which forever changed a nation.
In 1963, there was no name bigger among music producers and moguls in the pre-Beatles era than Phil Spector. He had several #1 songs under his belt, and in addition to producing multiple artists and serving in executive capacities with other record labels, he also had his own label, Philles Records. His perfection of the "Wall of Sound" production style featuring session musicians collectively known as the Wrecking Crew (including Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine, Sonny Bono, and Leon Russell) had produced a string of chart hits, including 2 songs that are staples on Oldies radio years later ("Be My Baby" by The Ronettes and "He's A Rebel" by Darlene Love and The Blossoms). Spector had put an emphasis on singles, eschewing the album format, but that would change when he decided to employ the full resources of Philles Records including its entire artist roster along with the "Wall of Sound" and the Wrecking Crew for what he thought would make record store cash registers ring and radio station turntables spin that Christmas season.
Featuring songs which had become traditional Christmas standards, Spector put a fresh spin on them for A Christmas Gift For You. The first single, "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)", featured virtuoso vocals from Darlene Love. Other highlights include the three songs contributed by The Ronettes ("Sleigh Ride", "Frosty The Snowman", and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus") and The Crystals' rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". With Spector's imprint and the Wrecking Crew's musical prowess, it appeared to be a combination that would be unstoppable on the radio and in record stores.
So what went wrong that caused A Christmas Gift For You to be an epic failure at first? It wasn't the marketing effort. It certainly wasn't the lack of creativity. It had everything to do with the release date of the album, set months before anyone would have any way of knowing the events that would unfold. A Christmas Gift For You had only been on record store shelves for a few hours on its release date, Friday, November 22, 1963, when Walter Cronkite announced to the nation that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The collective mood of the country was a very somber one for the holiday season in 1963, making celebrations muted. Phil Spector's Christmas Gift wasn't what the country was ready for during this time of tragedy.
Fortunately, the story of Spector's epic album has a happy ending. It has been reissued in various formats almost a dozen times, and with each successive re-release its legend, and critical acclaim, has grown. The combined sales of the reissues of A Christmas Gift For You total in the millions, and although none of them have sold enough to crack Billboard's list of the Top Christmas Albums of All Time, it has reached its potential comercially, and with the proliferation of wall-to-wall Christmas music formats on radio stations across the country, several of the singles from the album, including The Ronettes' "Sleigh Ride" and Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)", have become holiday standards in their own right. Bruce Springsteen's classic rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" was inspired by The Crystals' rendition on the album, and U2's cover of "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" was modeled closely after Darlene Love's. Love performs the song each year on the Christmas episode of David Letterman's Late Show (scheduled this year for Dec. 23).
Before he began killing girlfriends, Phil Spector was just another creative genius who gave us a Christmas masterpiece..........
Golden Hits Radio & GHR-2's Burning Question of the Day
"Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" began as a promotional vehicle for what now defunct department store chain?
Check back tomorrow @ Everything Oldies for the answer, and leave a comment here with your best guess!
Friday's Burning Question (and Answer) of the Day
Who was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums hit #1 on the Billboard album charts?
Answer: Donna Summer