A Christmas Gift For You

If you don’t already know, Christmas is coming. That means everyone has been bombarded with holiday tunes for at least a month now. There is so much crap on the radio it can be a bit tiresome trying to avoid it (grocery shopping has never been completed with more haste).

To put it lightly, 1963 was an absolute luscious year for pop music. Phil Spector’s babies: The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love and Bobby B. Soxx The holiday tunes on A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector is Surprisingly, the album only reached the number 13 spot on the Billboard charts that year (to be fair, it was released the same day that Kennedy got shot – it didn’t stand much of a chance).

Right from the opening piano chords, it instantly feels of Christmas warmth, but oh that Wall of Sound sounds SO good. Actually, this album is the reason many popular holiday songs sound like they do today. This album is the first place the dramatic “Santa Claus is coming to down” was repeated in the chorus. Essentially, Jackson 5’s version wouldn’t have been possible without the arrangement for The Crystals.

The star of the album is supposed to be Darlene Love, but the track that shines the most is The Ronette’s “Sleigh Ride.” The absolutely infectious “ring-a-ding-a-ling” is bright – the way it should be.

The album is 50-years-old this year, but this it’s more classic than ever. With all the saturation of Christmas music it can be a bit difficult to fully appreciate when a song is just plain good or when it’s shit (it all feels like Hell some times), but A Christmas Gift for You… is a fantastic album. The sound now is a familiar part of the season. Although it might not feel as revolutionary as it probably is, there are bits of American history wiggled in the grooves that make it sound oh so cozy. It made Christmas pop music what it is today (to put it simply).

Whether or not you feel creeped out by Spector or not, the closing track is actually really sweet and worth a listen. He thanks not only his musicians, but everyone who worked on it. A good reminder that there are plenty of good things about the season worth remembering.

Why The Shangri-Las still matter – a lot

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ll understand: it’s 2013, but you’ll never get over 60’s pop and 80’s synth. Hell, most of us weren’t even alive when our favourite bands were touring. But they still resonate with us because they often stand for something that never turns old.

The Shangri-Las were different than most girl groups in the ’60s. A lot edgier than, say, the Crystals. During their early revival, they even performed in 1977 at CBGB. Punks loved them. Not just in New York, but in London – The Damned’s “New Rose” and “The Leader of the Pack” both start off with the same question: “Is she really going out with him?”  The bad-ass, no-crap attitude is what is still so compelling.

To put it in simple terms: they’re the girl group you’d want to be. They looked like a gang from Queens and history has proved music loves gangs from Queens. Admittedly, some times there just isn’t enough girl love going on. Best to stand with your ladies than against them.

Unfortunately, the original line-up will never be seen on stage again (both the Gasner twins have since past away). That hasn’t stopped the group from experiencing a long-lasting impression beyond the days of girl groups of punk rockers. Last year their single “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)” was exclusively released on single for Record Store Day. And they sold like hot cakes.

It’s not just because they had rebel boyfriends. That cliche would be over-simplifying good pop music. The girls were a group that you knew took care of themselves. For anyone listening in the 60’s to anyone listening now: it’s still an infectious message that makes sense. Some days if there’s just too many stares or harassment, just pretend you’re Mary Weiss and you’ll stand just a bit taller.

Style aside, The Shangri-Las were just an excellent group. Girl and otherwise. Sometimes that’s all that really matters.