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Phil Spector's Christmas Album Turns 50

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In 1963, producer Phil Spector released two landmark recordings, the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and the album A Christmas Gift For You featuring familiar songs performed by Spector's stable of artists.

The latter was not an immediate hit. Critic Greil Marcus wrote that in the aftermath of John Kennedy's assassination, "America was not in the mood for the loudest - and sexiest - Christmas music in the history of Christendom."

But in the ensuing five decades it's become as durable a seasonal staple as It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. You don't have to be listening to a set of holiday music on the radio for very long before a cut from Christmas Gift comes up, and it's usually the highlight.

Spector's famous "Wall of Sound" production, with its masses of voices and instruments (and for this album all types of bells) was perfectly suited to the sparkling excess of America's Christmas.

The Ronettes' "Sleigh Ride" rides along on a galloping rhythm. assisted by the sounds of clomping horse hoofs.

The Crystals' "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" has a breakdown with clinking piano and drum fills that sound like soldiers marching and crossing swords.

It was risky to include an original song amongst all the well-loved classics. But "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", sung by Darlene Love, doesn't just hold its own - it's the standout track. From the dramatic opening notes to Steve Douglas' saxophone solo to Love's pleading "please, please" climax it's the most intense and soulful Christmas song ever recorded.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" has become deservedly become a modern holiday standard, just like the album it's taken from. Undoubtedly we'll be hearing them over the next 50 Christmases.

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