Various Artists: A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

VAR_AChristmasGiftForYouFromPhilSpectorRe-mastered 2009 reissue of Christmas perennial

Phil Spector’s 1963 Christmas album was an immediate classic and radio favorite, but having been released on the day of John Kennedy’s assassination, it was quickly difficult to find. Radio play kept it alive, however, and it was made available again on the Beatles’ Apple label in 1972. The reissue renamed the album from “A Christmas Gift from Philles Records” to “The Phil Spector Christmas Album” and eventually to its current title; the original cover art was replaced by a photo of Spector dressed as Santa. A later reissue on Warner-Spector airbrushed away the “Back to Mono” button Spector wore in his beard and produced the tracks in stereo. The sacrilege was reversed and the AM-radio-ready mono mixes returned to print with the record’s first CD issue in 1987. Subsequent CD reissues on ABKCO restored elements of the original artwork, and the last reissue left print in 2007.

With ABKCO’s Allen Klein having passed away earlier this year, and Phil Spector in jail, a new day has dawned for the Philles label as Sony and EMI have gained the catalog’s distribution rights and are planning the archival reissues it deserves. That may be the best Christmas present music lovers will get for years to come. The first result is a fresh reissue of this Christmas classic with a 16-page booklet that includes original artwork and liner notes, contemporary notes by Billboard’s Jim Bessman, and superb photos of Spector with his musicians and singers. Most importantly, of course, is the pristine reproduction of Spector’s musical classics in all their mono glory, recorded as his Wall of Sound was reaching its greatest height. Featured are The Ronettes, Darlene Love, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and the Crystals, all recorded at Gold Star Studio with the cream of Los Angeles’ studio musicians.

Spector and his arranger Jack Nitzsche adorned the Wall of Sound with the holiday sounds of jingling bells, bells and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves as they revitalized a dozen holiday classics. Several of these performances became icons that inspired covers of the performances rather than just the underlying songs. To top it off Spector minted his own classic Christmas song with the Spector-Greenwich-Barry composition “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” In an era dominated by singles, Spector created a holiday album that was stocked start to finish with superbly conceived and realized productions – no filler here. It wasn’t the first Christmas album, or even the first rock ‘n’ roll Christmas album, but it was (and remains) the best ever.

Technical note: EMI Legacy’s reissue duplicates the re-master that Bob Ludwig created for the second disc of last year’s UK-released The Phil Spector Collection. This is a complete re-master from the original tape using a full-track mono reproduce head and an Ampex tube-based machine. This replaces the Phil Spector-Larry Levine re-master that was the basis of the fourth disc of ABKCO’s Back to Mono box set and the standalone 1990 version. According to educated ears, the new re-master is less harsh and has smoother bass; it’s also louder, but without any detriment to the dynamics. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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