In the early Sixties, Phil Spector was already on his way to immortality, having produced girl-group classics like the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” and the Ronettes “Be My Baby.” Then he had a radical thought: He wanted to make the first rock & roll Christmas album.
In this special holiday episode of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums, our new podcast on Amazon Music, we delve into 1963’s A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, an album that changed the way we look at holiday music. In 2019, Rolling Stone named it the best Christmas album of all time.
A labor of love that pulled together all the top girl groups — including the Crystals and the Ronettes — the album was initially an ill-fated flop, dropping the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated (or so the legend goes). After being reissued via the Beatle’s Apple Records label in 1972, though, the record found its place in both the holiday and rock & roll canons — and inspired everyone from the Beach Boys to Bruce Springsteen to take a crack at Christmas standards. There was darkness under that festive tree, however, as the infamous perfectionist Spector directed artists on the record with an iron fist — and, later, took his obsession with guns to a far darker place when he killed actress Lana Clarkson in 2003.
Spector was unable to talk with Rolling Stone‘s News Editor Brenna Ehrlich for this episode — as he is serving time for second-degree murder — but she did chat with Darlene Love of the Blossoms about the fame of “Christmas Baby Please Come Home,” La La Brooks of the Crystals about conditions in the studio, and Brian Wilson about how Spector inspired the Beach Boys.
She also checked in with Spector fan, journalist Greil Marcus, to talk about the album’s enduring fame. Later in the episode, host Brittany Spanos discusses the history, allure, and occasional ridiculousness of holiday music with Rolling Stone staffers Rob Sheffield and Jon Dolan, as well as comedian, Desus & Mero writer-producer, and podcast host Josh Gondelman
In September, Rolling Stone unveiled the new version of the 500 Greatest Albums poll. It’s a completely updated version of our most-read, most-argued-over list ever, made with help from a group of voters that included Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Stevie Nicks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and members of U2, as well as writers, critics, and figures from across the music industry.
Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums goes inside the making and the meaning of 10 albums from the list, featuring fresh stories from the artists who recorded them and insights from the Rolling Stone staff. The podcast appears exclusively on Amazon Music, with new episodes each week. Listen to every episode here.