It’s that time of year again.
Come Monday, December the 1st, you’ll be spinnin’ Phil Spector’s ‘Christmas Gift for You’ longplayer 24/7,…. That is, if you haven’t done so already through 2014? It’s that good an album.
Yes, Phil Spector really outdid himself when he loomed large over sweating Wrecking Crew members in Gold Star studios during long, hot summer nights in 1963. End result? The perfect Christmas record. It will probably never be outdone when it comes to bringing holiday cheer.
For someone as notoriously known for padding out albums with quickly recorded filler, Spector uncharacteristically kept his focus while working up ‘A Christmas Gift for You.’ All the songs are great and sure enough; the one original song on there, Darlene Love’s ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’, has rightly so become one of the ultimate holiday anthems.
Even though the album didn’t see much success upon its original release, no doubt affected by the JFK assasination shortly after it hit the streets, it has since grown in stature. Nowadays, it wouldn’t be wrong to call it the ‘Pet Sounds’ of Christmas music. Year after year it tops the lists of Christmas albums when music critics, blogs or websites offer their opinion of the greatest Christmas music of all time.
Spector’s Wall of Sound and the Christmas spirit definitely was a match made in heaven. A lot of the elements that made his sound work fit the yuletide feeling to a T. We’re talking sleigh bells, sweeping string arrangements and a warm, muddled sound. It’s no wonder that time has proven Spector’s album to be the perfect soundtrack for huddling up in front of the fire while it’s snowing outside. You could say then that the Wall of Sound has become synonymous with Christmas because of the album. And not surprisingly, December is the time of year where you’ll have the best chance of discovering new Spector-influenced music if you check out each year’s flood of new Christmas releases.
To prove my point I’ve decided to combine my love for modern Spector soundalikes and Christmas music in this post. The goal is to compile my personal tribute to ‘A Christmas Gift for You’ using songs from modern artists who clearly show how Spector’s ghost continues to hover over a lot of today’s Christmas music.
The rules are simple. All songs must be from the new millennium. All songs should be original as opposed to Spector’s album, just to keep it a bit more interesting for you, the reader. And it almost goes without saying that I must come up with 13 tracks, – the same amount as on Spector’s album. I’ve managed to find youtube clips for all songs which I’ll embed here for your listening pleasure. So bear with me & the blog if this post takes some time to upload in your browser.
Ready for some Christmas Wall of Sound? Here we go!
1. The Hives & Cyndi Lauper – A Christmas Duel (2008)
This single from 2008 is the perfect opener. It’s a stunning team-up between Swedish retro-rockers the Hives and US veteran Cyndi Lauper. Cyndi really gives Ronnie Spector a run for her money, no doubt drawing on her experience of singing back-up for Ronnie a long time ago.
2. Leona Lewis – Mr. Right (2013)
Here’s a nifty song I discovered last year. It’s from this British singer’s Christmas album and probably the most blatant ‘All I Want for Christmas’ rip-off you’re ever going to hear. Mariah Carey should sue any day now. But since I’ve, unbelievably so, become tired of listening to Mariah’s song, this’ll do nicely to fill the gap.
3. Attic Lights – Why Should Christmas be so Hard? (2012)
Again a more recent song by Scottish indie-pop band Attic Lights. These guys are great and have proven to be perfectly adept at the Spector sound before, – check their ‘Bring You Down’ single for evidence. This is like a cross between Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and Brian Wilson’s mid 60s work. High praise indeed but this fantastic song deserves it.
4. Metro Jets – Jingle Jangle Christmas (2006)
Here’s the second Swedish entry. This was actually a theme song made for a local TV show which is all the more remarkable as it’s one of the best and most enjoyable Wall of Sound pastiches I’ve heard. Listen to that thumping beat and the catchy melody. Imagine how this could have sounded with Darlene Love behind the mic!
5. The Raveonettes – The Christmas Song (2003)
Danish duo the Raveonettes have proven time and again that they’re as big fans of the Wall of Sound as they come. Why, they’ve even had the pleasure of duetting with Ronnie Spector on their fabulous ‘Ode to LA’ single. This song isn’t as loud and busy as some of my other choices but I think it has a feel that makes it obvious for inclusion. Those tinkling sleighbells, that reverby guitar… With a bit more echo on the drums and a Jack Nitzsche string arrangement, you’d have a delicious slice of moody Wall of Sound…
6. Lisa Mychols – Listen to the Bells Ring (2002)
Great use of castanets and a Hal Blaine-sounding drum beat on this classic track from US singer Lisa Mychols. The arrangement is majestic with perfect backing by the Wondermints who have made up the backbone of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s band for years.
7. The Kik – A Christmas Song for You (2011)
The Dutch also know how to rock it out Spector-style! Another Spector fan alerted me to this great track in 2011 and I was instantly won over by their jet-propelled take on the Wall of Sound. Sleighbells galore, rapidfire piano runs and a melody that’s catchy as hell! There’s even a Steve Douglas wannabe honking away on the solo!
8. Parker Lewis – X-Mas Carol NYC (2007)
We’re off to Sweden again for this melancholic ballad. It’s a toned down approach for sure compared to the other songs. I’ve had a soft spot for this one ever since discovering it. The use of glockenspiel, sleighbells and jangling guitars is very touching and perfectly complements the sad lyrics and soft ‘sha-dam-dam’ backing vocals.
9. The Hilarettes – Santa Claus is Here! (2009)
We’re back to more familiar territory with this by-the-numbers Spector tribute. This one is a no-brainer for inclusion with its percussive sax and grand sweeping string arrangement. I would have preferred a singer with a stronger, more distinctive voice but you can’t have it all, I guess.
10. Darlene Love – Christmas Time for the Jews (2005, SNL sketch)
If you’re going to make a convincing Wall of Sound tribute the dream scenario would be getting Darlene Love to belt out your song. That’s what happened in 2005 when comedy show Saturday Night Live decided to do a sketch about the holiday season and Jewish people. What better way to address the topic than with a perfect Spector sound clone? My jaw hit the floor when I first heard this production. It’s note-perfect Wall of Sound and wouldn’t have been out of place on the original ‘A Christmas Gift for You’ album,…. with revised lyrics of course. Sadly, this one has never come out as a conventional track. Someone somewhere should really re-record this great song with new lyrics!
11. Glasvegas – Please Come Back Home (2008)
Not only did Scottish band Glasvegas pay their debt to Spector’s sound with a few songs off their cool debut album in 2008; they even followed in his footsteps that same year by releasing a great Christmas mini-album. Lead singer and main songwriter James Allen has a voice to die for and really knows how to milk a song for all it’s worth. The obligatory sleigh bells and a maelstrom of churning guitars add to the intensity.
12. The School – Kiss You in the Snow (2009)
I’ve written about the criminally overlooked Welsh band the School before. If they indeed went to school in Spectorland, they got straight As! And sure enough, they put their Wall of Sound skills to good use on this cracker of a Christmas single. Listen to that chorus with the background whooos. You could easily imagine the Crystals sing their hearts out on this one.
13. Surf School Dropouts – Another Christmas with You (2013)
The last song here is one I co-wrote and recorded with the group I’m in last year. Please don’t throw tomatoes at me! I know it’s a bit cheesy and self-serving to include your own song but a fellow Spector fan whose opinion I respect urged me to feature it on the blog as he felt it was a great tribute to the Wall of Sound. So what the hell… I do think it encapsulates what this post has been all about. We tried to put everything but the kitchen sink into this one. Mandolins, dramatic strings, glockenspiels, 6 acoustic guitars playing in unison, … you name it.
So there you have it. I hope you discovered some cool songs you didn’t know before coming here. If they’ll bring you some holiday cheer throughout December my mission is accomplished. If you know of songs that would have fit here, please drop me a comment below. I’m always on the look-out for more stuff in the same vein. And if I happen to discover something similar this year I’ll of course write about it on the blog. So keep checking in.