Last week I wrote about Phil Spector’s Christmas Album (“A Christmas Gift To You”) and a month ago I wrote about how Brian Wilson was a genius. So, when Brian Wilson turned up at the recordings for Phil Spector’s album to play piano, it would seem to be a match made in heaven. However, this doesn’t take account of Phil Spector’s irrational fear of competition and so Brian Wilson was told that his piano playing was sub standard and told him that he wouldn’t be needed. Stung by this rejection from his hero, Brian Wilson determined to record his own Christmas album. It’s worth remembering that the first three notes of “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes (produced by Phil Spector) had a profound effect on Brian Wilson and he later spoke about the beauty and power of that introduction. He revered Phil Spector and learned a lot from him about how to construct complex arrangements by attending other recording sessions. However, Brian Wilson has written (in “I Am Brian Wilson”) that he used to hear Phil Spector’s voice in his head telling him that he could never produce anything as good as “Be My Baby” or “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”. Brian Wilson wonders if he named “Pet Sounds” as a tribute to Phil Spector (check the initials). There were stories that part of Brian Wilson’s paranoia included fearing that Phil Spector wanted to kill him. This story was so widely circulated that in a 2009 interview in The Independent, Brian Wilson was asked whether Phil Spector ever brandished a gun in his face; he denied this had happened and also asked the interviewer whether it was true that Phil Spector was in prison.
The “Wrecking Crew” played many of the instruments on both Brian Wilson’s and Phil Spector’s records although The Beach Boys themselves play on the first five songs on this album and the instrumentation on the remaining songs is provided by a 41 piece orchestra. Brian Wilson brought in Dick Reynolds to arrange the orchestra – he had arranged many songs by The Four Freshmen who were an early inspiration for the Beach Boys’ sound.
The album was recorded in June 1964, only one month after they finished recording the “All Summer Long” album. It was the fourth Beach Boys album to be released in 1964 after “Shut Down Volume 2” and “Beach Boys Concert”. Brian Wilson sings lead vocals on four of the songs and he has never sounded more melancholic and less in the mood for a Christmas party.
The running time of this album is just under 28 minutes which, by U.K. standards, is mean. Beatles’ albums of the time tended to last between 35 and 40 minutes in the U.K. but the Cut down U.S.A. albums were normally 10 minutes shorter. The album is split into two distinct sides. Side One, which Brian Wilson called the “Teen” side consists of five original songs along with “Frosty The Snowman” and lasts for less than 12 minutes. Side Two has six traditional Christmas songs.
“Little Saint Nick” had been released as a single in December 1963 and reached Number 3 in The Billboard Christmas Chart. I never knew such a chart existed. The version on The Beach Boys Christmas Album has had the sound of sleigh bells removed. The song bears more than a passing resemblance to “Little Deuce Coup”. The writing credit was originally given to just Brian Wilson but after a lawsuit in 1990, Mike Love’s name was added. This applies to the first four songs on the album. “The Man With All The Toys” was also a single and lasts for only 92 seconds. “Santa’s Beard” is seriously weird. The singer takes his five year old brother to a mall and tears the fake beard from Santa’s face, causing chaos. “Christmas Day” was the first Beach Boys song to feature Al Jardine on lead vocals.
There are three songs which appear on both the Phil Spector and The Beach Boys albums: “White Christmas”, “Frosty The Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”.
“We Three Kings Of Orient Are” is over four minutes long which makes it longer than any song the band released in the Sixties – longer than “Good Vibrations” or “Heroes And Villains”. The song was written by a clergyman called John Henry Hopkins in 1857. There is no evidence in the New Testament that there were three kings – the number three is inferred from the gospel indicating that there were three gifts given to the infant Jesus by the Biblical Magi that are reported to have visited the newly born infant. “Blue Christmas” had been previously recorded by Elvis Presley although Ernest Tubb had released a version in 1949. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” was first recorded by a banjoist called Harry Reser in 1934. It has since been recorded by Bruce Springsteen, Michael Buble, The Jackson Five and Mariah Carey. The album ends with a cheesy version of “Auld Lang Syne” with Dennis Wilson speaking (and fluffing) a Christmas greeting to all their fans.
In 1978, The Beach Boys recorded another Christmas album called “Merry Christmas From The Beach Boys” and included such songs as “Michael Row The Boat Ashore”, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, four Christmas carols along with five originals. Warner brothers rejected the album and much of it remains unreleased. ‘Tis the season of goodwill unless you’re a record company out to make a profit, I guess. In 1998 a compilation called “Ultimate Christmas” was released which includes all of “The Beach Boys Christmas Album” and some of “Merry Christmas From The Beach Boys”. This album was later repackaged as “Christmas With The Beach Boys”.