by Howie Edelson
For a band so closely identified with the sun, surf and ebullience of summer – they sure do play a sizable part of every holiday season.
60 years after the release of The Beach Boys’ first holiday track, the forever Christmas evergreen, “Little Saint Nick,” along with the group’s cherished 1964 offering, The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, the sweater-clad sound of a certain three brothers, their cousin, and friend will undoubtedly be spun in countless homes in the days leading up to, and especially on, Christmas day.
Released on November 9th, 1964 – only three weeks after their soon-to-be chart-topping Beach Boys Concert collection — The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album was constructed to honor both the past and the present by appealing to all generations — something The Beach Boys could do simply by crowding around a microphone.
Mike Love remembered that it was Christmas, above all other holidays, that provided the earliest inspiration for him to sing with his cousins – Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson: “The first memories of group get togethers is Christmas parties where we’d do Christmas carols. And then after the Christmas carols were done, we’d segregate into age groups. My parents and Aunt Audree and Uncle Murry and that group would get together and they’d sing those 1940’s standards, and then we’d get together and sing R&B and Everly Brothers (songs), stuff like that.”
Brian Wilson still looks back on the family’s childhood Christmas celebrations as a high point of the year: “Oh yeah. Yeah. Mike’s mom and dad were Christmas carolers. I mean, they – they had the whole family over, all the relatives, and we’d go sing, (sings) ‘Joy to the world,’ y’know, (sings) ‘Hark the herald angels sing.’ Very nice.”
For 1964’s The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, the group backed themselves on a total of five original numbers – including such originals as “The Man With All The Toys,” “Merry Christmas, Baby,” and “Christmas Day.”
Mike Love recalled how Phil Spector played an important part in spurring cousin Brian Wilson into formulating the group’s own iconic holiday set: “In August (1963), during one of Brian’s studio visits with Spector, he watched him produce songs for a Christmas album, which would feature mostly secular tunes, such as ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Frosty The Snowman.’ Spector’s was not the first Christmas album, but he helped redefine the genre with his tour-de-force production. Brian was inspired to create his own Christmas song — ‘Little Saint Nick.’”
Although 1963’s multi-act release, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, served as the initial inspiration for a Christmas album Brian Wilson could call his own, for half of his set, he enlisted the help of The Four Freshmen’s arranger Dick Reynolds to spread his magic around the 41-piece orchestra that cradled the Boys’ vocals. It’s important to note that in 1964 The Beach Boys were, arguably, the only rock n’ roll group capable of delivering a genre-hopping and cross-generational album.
Half rock / half big band – a complete Christmas sound. Something for everyone.
Al Jardine tackled his first lead vocal on the Christmas Album with Brian’s gorgeous ballad, “Christmas Day” and has fond memories of both the band and orchestral dates: “I remember singing with the orchestra. We set up a mic in Studio A at Capitol and it was terribly difficult to sync up with the orchestra. . . So, they recorded the basic tracks of the orchestra and we went in and did the overdubs afterwards. ‘Christmas Day’ was my first solo vocal that Brian wrote for me. I played the bass and sang on it.”
As he had done with “Surfer Girl,” Brian Wilson began composing “Little Saint Nick” while driving in his car. Mike Love remembered, “I wrote ‘Little Saint Nick’ with Brian, lo these many years ago. . . We wanted to make Santa’s sleigh a hot rod, because we’d done ‘409,’ ‘Shut Down,’ ‘Little Deuce Coupe.’ If you listen to the background vocals of ‘Little Saint Nick,’ it could be like we’re the Vienna Boys Choir! It’s beautiful choral harmonies in a rock song.”
It took no one by surprise how The Beach Boys, with such grace and ease, were able to make perennials like “Frosty The Snowman,” “We Three Kings Of Orient Are,” “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and “Auld Lang Syne” not only their own — but in some cases, the definitive version.
In the ensuing years, The Beach Boys have periodically rekindled the holiday spirit while recording. Leaving L.A. far behind In November 1974, the band braved the elements while recording in Colorado at James Guercio’s Caribou Ranch. Back at home later that month, an admittedly studio shy Brian Wilson brought his and Stevie Kalinich’s “Child Of Winter” to life with the group. The song – a longtime favorite amongst die-hards – along with the Carbou sessions, set in motion the first steps that would see Brian Wilson resume production duties for the band in 1976. Brian explained how the music was slowly coming back to him in a more forceful manner: “Yeah, it bottled up in there — and somewhere way back in there. And it came out like butter. I mean, I didn’t have to really try very hard, y’know, it was just so natural.”
In 1998, Dennis Wilson’s gorgeous “Morning Christmas” finally saw release, reminding listeners how tender, thoughtful and quiet the wildest of the bunch could actually be.
Upon its original release, The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album peaked at Number Six on Billboard’s Holiday Chart and has been a mainstay across the globe and is consistently among the best-selling collections in the group’s catalogue. More importantly, it’s perhaps the most listened to Beach Boys album by THE ENTIRE FAMILY at once. What a beautiful and lasting legacy.
The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album has outlasted so many of rock’s ensuing grand holiday gestures. There’s a simplicity and an honesty in it that has captured each new generation with its joy, its beauty and its FUN; enduring proof that The Beach Boys can easily define ANY season.
Every season belongs to The Beach Boys!
Merry Christmas, Baby.
(and a Happy New Year, too (baby))