A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector paved the way for many beloved and neglected Christmas albums to follow. Let’s find out what made this such a special album.
As a producer, there was never a dull moment working with Phil Spector. His famous “wall of sound” recording technique developed with Larry Levine brought us some of the most memorable records of the time.
While back in 1963, he might have been quite the controversial figure we know him as today, the release of Phil Spector’s Christmas album was completely overshadowed by the assassination of JFK.
Although it flopped initially, the first pressings of the record are desirable collector’s items and the album did have chart success when it was reissued in 1972.
How to sound like Phil Spector’s Christmas Album
It’s no secret that Spector had some of the best session players, songwriters, and arrangers at his disposal, but let’s take a closer look at some of the instruments that created the timelessly festive sound.
In the pre-DX7 days, glockenspiels and tubular bells were the hallmarks of the Christmas sound. The percussionists working on the album were Jack Nitzsche, Frank Capp, and Sonny Bono, with Cher doing backing vocals on most of the songs.
Like the vibraphone, a full concert glockenspiel has a sustain pedal requiring a little more technique for creating musical dynamics than the miniature xylophone you remember from childhood.
You can find them in various sizes and price ranges, but you can probably capture the basics with a Sonor NG31.
The unmistakable-looking Gibson electric archtop guitar is synonymous with the warm sound of early blues, jazz, and rock ‘n roll recordings.
At the time he produced his Christmas album, Spector regularly worked with several guitarists including Barney Kessel, Bill Pitman, Irv Rubins, Tommy Tedesco, and Nino Tempo.
Equally important to the sound of a hollow body, is your choice of amp. An amp with built-in reverb comes in handy when you don’t have the space for ambient mic configurations.
Depending on the feel, an upright bass’s authenticity can bring a Rock ‘n Roll recording to life. Spector worked regularly with the great Jimmy Bond, who had recently started session work but had a reputation as a live musician.
Before joining up with The Wrecking Crew, Bond performed with artists like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sonny Rollins. In addition, he subsequently became equally successful as a session player.
Although he too played upright bass, Ray Pohlman was one of the earliest adopters of the Fender P-Bass. Apart from his work with Phil Spector’s Wrecking Crew, he performed on many timeless recordings including Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys.
1963 was also the same year that Carol Kaye made the bass guitar her primary instrument. She soon became one of the most in-demand session players of the time, eventually branching out into film score recordings with producers like Quincey Jones and Lalo Schifrin.
No Phil Spector production would be the same without The Wrecking Crew’s Hal Blaine on drums. His rock-solid timing can be heard on classics of the time from The Crystals, The Ronettes, and The Righteous Brothers.
Throughout his career, Hal generally preferred Ludwig shells and Remo drum heads, but the natural ambience of the drum sound comes from the live room at Gold Star Studios, with mics placed at a fair distance from the sound source.
Today, there are more tools for achieving a natural drum sound than there were in the early 1960s, and luckily Ludwig still makes great drums.
What are your favourite aspects of Phil Spector’s wall of sound? Please let us know in the comments below!
More Christmas cheer:
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- Deagan Song Bells 102.: Deagan Resource
- Gibson guitar catalogue, 1962: Vintage Guitar and Bass
- 1950s John Juzek double bass.: Upton Bass
- 1958 Fender P-Bass: Paige Davidson/Well Strung Guitars
- Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl: theanalogues.net