This past month marked the 50th anniversary of the release of one of the most beloved and acclaimed holiday albums of all time, producer Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift for You. The 13-track collection featured four acts on Spector's Philles label, The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, delivering renditions of mostly classic Christmas tunes that boasted Phil's now-immortal "Wall of Sound" production technique.
Released on November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, A Christmas Gift for You initially was not a big chart hit, but appreciation grew for the project over the years, and when it was reissued by The Beatles' Apple Records label in 1972, it peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200 chart. Among the many memorable tunes on the album is Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," an oft-covered original song penned by Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry; The Ronettes' versions of "Frosty the Snowman" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"; and The Crystals' versions of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."
Former Crystals lead singer La La Brooks was only 15 years old when she laid down her vocals on A Christmas Gift for You. She tells ABC News Radio that what Spector achieved with the album began a whole new way of looking at and recording holiday music.
"I think Phil was the pioneer of putting [together] the standards with a rock 'n' roll sound, and having class to it," Brooks declares. "I think Phil brought a whole different concept of Christmas music, and I think Motown followed it, and I think Mariah Carey and other people [have continued to follow what] Phil [started]."
La La also is proud to point out that The Crystals' take on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" served as the basis for Bruce Springsteen's own very popular rendition of the tune.
"I think he loved Phil Spector's sound and his wife did too," Brooks maintains, "so I think that if someone was to interview him I think he would [say,] 'I copied that from a 15-year-old La La Brooks'…but if he's not here to say it, I say it for him."
Spector, of course, was convicted in the 2003 shooting death of an actress named Lana Clarkson at his home in Alhambra, California, before which the producer had a long history of erratic behavior. La La, however, insists that the Phil she knew didn't seem like a dangerous person.
"I was a child and I didn't see the Phil that people are talking about, to be honest," she tells ABC News Radio. "In fact, I used to think he was cute, because I'm 15, so…somebody gives you an impression, and I liked his boots or I liked the way he dressed savvy."
Brooks also reveals that during her time under Spector's wing, she learned important lessons on being a professional artist, things she put to good use while recording her first official solo album, All or Nothing, which was released in October.
"I can close my eyes right now and see myself standing there when I'm 15, Phil saying, 'La La, do it over again! Take one! Take two! Take forty-two!'" she recalls with a chuckle. "When you're a child…you sort of complain…But, now I realize, after I did my album, the CD that I have out, he helped me to have that endurance and [desire for] perfection."
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