Tag Archives: Hal Blaine

Christmas/Holiday Theme Week – A Christmas Gift For You

Over a string-laden instrumental version of  “Silent Night”, Spector proclaims his vision of “something new and different for Christmas”.  In light of Spector’s murder charge, his statements come off as a bit creepy.  However, in November 1963 when A Chirstmas Gift For You was released, Spector wasn’t joking.  The album was so far ahead of its time in every way.  Christmas songs never sounded so sexy, and alive, thanks to powerful performances by The Ronettes, Darlene Love and the Crystals.  Elvis and Frank Sinatra may have recorded Christmas albums but those version were for sitting by the fire –  songs you could go to sleep to.  Spector’s versions went meant to be heard in bars and enjoyed by those who wander home with a random girl for Christmas-  just watch the Christmas scenes in “Goodfellas” for proof.

Unfortunately, Spector’s vision of Christmas as released at the wrong time. In November 1963, not many people were thinking about sexy girls singing about Santa Claus, and reindeer.   The album became a flop upon its initial release, and while it’s usually listed on a critic’s list of “the best holiday albums”, you’re more likely to find a Josh Grobin Christmas album or Mariah Carey one in the average person’s holiday collection.  U2 may have given a rebirth to the album’s sole original “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” in the late 80’s.   I certainly enjoy U2’s version (and it’s the version I was familiar with first).  But U2’s version traded in the power of the original for schmaltz.

With a few exceptions, most holiday songs or records have been slightly cheesy.  But Spector’s album was anything but.  Even the silly “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is given a slightly naughty reading.  If the joke of the song is that Santa Claus is really daddy, Ronnie Spector makes it seem as if mommy is really cheating on daddy with Saint Nic.  Of course it could be this is the only version of the song I’m familiar with, and up until a week ago, I assumed in the song’s context, Santa Claus was real.

After years of listening to Spector’s album, his version of the songs have become definitive for me.  I usually can’t stand “Frosty the Snowman” (it didn’t help I cried as a kid when he melted into water at the end of the holiday special), but Ronnie Spector’s commanding voice and Hal Blaine’s pounding drums might just bring any pile of snow to life.  Usually, the narrator in “White Christmas” seems to long for his or her childhood – caught up in the past longing for something that may or may not come.  Darlene Love may also dream of the same “White Christmas” as Irving Berlin intended, but dammit she wants it this year.

With A Christmas Gift For You, Spector proved that Christmas music didn’t have to be for kids and their grandparents with fond memories of their childhoods.  It could be exciting, fun, and even sexy.  Almost 50 years after its initial release, A Christmas Gift For You remains the essential holiday pop album, because it dared to be a rock and roll/pop first instead of a Christmas album sung by rock artists.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Women Singers: “Be My Baby” – The Ronettes

So I realized that the  majority of my posts (okay pretty much all of them) have been guy-centric and perhaps as a bit sexist in my selections.  So I plan to remedy that situation with this week’s list.  (And this won’t be a half-assed week either, just in case anyone tries to call me out on that.)

To kick things off, I’m going to start with what I think might the ultimate pop-song.  And if you don’t believe me – a certain Mr. Brian Wilson lists “Be My Baby” as his all-time favorite song.

“Be My Baby” begins with perhaps the most famous drum intro in popular music.  It sounds standard now, but the sound of the song itself was quite revolutionary at the time.  “Be My Baby” is Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound at its epitome.  Session man Hal Blaine’s thunder-clap drums  reinforce Ronnie Spector’s declaration that “we’ll make them turn their heads everywhere we go.”

Ronnie Spector doesn’t have the same control and force in her voice that Darlene Love (another Spector-girl) had.  Yet she commands “Be My Baby”.  Her voice is sexy and yearning.  Spector might be begging for the listener to be her baby, but by the second verse you want to be her baby.  “Since the day I saw you, I have been waiting for you,” She coos.  And for a moment it seems innocent, but Spector nails the thin between romance and sex in the song  And there’s no denying the “oooh-oooh” at the end of the song.  I’ve always loved the violin break in the middle of the song.  It seems to add tension in the song – and it just thickens Spector’s Wall of Sound Production.

Be My Baby

John Lennon’s “interesting” cover of “Be My Baby”

The Ronettes performing “Be My Baby”:  (Sound quality is kind of iffy):

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized