IT’S a special time in the Bowman household this Christmas. Our first one with a little baby in tow means there’s going to be an invasion of relatives in our direction.
There’s so much to prepare: food, booze, presents, decorations, booze, sleeping arrangements and booze. Needless to say, given my track record of being someone incapable of organising anything of any real worth, I’ve been prevented from going anywhere near such dangerous things as wrapping paper, tinsel and the kitchen.
So what’s left for me to do? As always it would appear music is my fall back option as I get to be in charge of the stereo for another year running.
Thankfully there’s a ready-made mix tape just waiting to be unwrapped in the form of Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You, an album which quite simply is Christmas as far as far as I’m concerned.
Listening again to the recently reissued compilation, as I did the other day, it’s a strange feeling realising that the single greatest Christmas album ever made was created by a convicted murderer.
If you try to forget the frightening wigs, the guns and the trials, it’s still worth remembering that Spector made some of the most thrilling music of the pop era. His work with the Ronettes and the Crystalls gave us the likes of Be My Baby, He’s A Rebel and Then He Kissed Me, but his work on this collection of traditional festive favourites marks him out as an utter genius for my money.
Why? Well look at the titles: White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, Frosty the Snowman. These are songs so hoary and clichéd they should have remained the preserve of Val Doonican and Bing Crosby but in Spector’s hands they become glorious, technicolour tales of yearning, sadness and poignancy. It’s a neat trick.
There’s originality too with the wondrous Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), the one track written by Spector. You might recognise it from Gremlins or Goodfellas, but in the hands of the imperious Darlene Love it becomes that most special of festive songs.
The sheer power and emotion in Love’s delivery is stunning. Quite why she’s constantly over looked as one of America’s finest female vocalists in favour of the likes of Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Gladys Knight is beyond me. Listen to Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) and you can see why Bruce Springsteen called her a “one womanwall of sound”.
As soon as the opening trills of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus ring out I’m back home on Christmas morning with my dad around our hi fi as he sticks on his vinyl copy of the record. Mum’s in the
kitchen fussing over the sprouts and my brother’s rushing down the stairs ready for an argument with me.
It takes a special kind of album to sum up those images.
As I’ve got older I’ve envied people who seem to be able to simply slip into that famous Christmas spirit. I’m afraid I need something to spark it but thankfully Spector’s gift to us is always there.
I’ve always found it fascinating that it flopped on its original outing, mainly due to having the misfortune of being released on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated. It’s seems incredibly poignant that here was an album created to make people feel cosy and warm coming out on a day when the whole world was plunged into doubt and fear.
So do yourself a favour this Christmas and download a copy of Spector’s masterpiece.
It’s one present that won’t disappoint.