In 1964, The Beach Boys released four records – three studio albums and a live one. They hadn’t yet hit their creative peak (that would come in 1966 with ‘Pet Sounds’), but they’d hit a commercial stride. ‘Christmas Album’, from November 1964, was both a cash-in and a significant piece of work in a much-maligned genre, and its genesis can be traced back to December 1963 when the group first released their signature Christmas song, ‘Little Saint Nick’, which opens ‘Christmas Album’. ‘A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector’ also came out in 1963 and it’s likely that Brian Wilson was trying to match its quality. Most notably, he recruited another hero of his, Dick Reynolds of The Four Freshman, to help with arrangements.
THE STORY BEHIND THE SLEEVE
‘Christmas Album’ was put together in October 1963 and June ’64, meaning The Beach Boys were pulled in from the Californian heat and made to wear thick woollens for the naff but suitably innocent image. It was shot by Capitol Records’ staff photographer George Jerman, who would later take the group to San Diego Zoo for the cover of ‘Pet Sounds’.
DID YOU KNOW?
1. ‘Christmas Album’ is a record of two approximate halves, comprising five originals and seven standards. The standards are fully orchestrated with arrangements by Dick Reynolds.
2. ‘Christmas Day’ – one of the originals – marks the first time Al Jardine took a lead vocal on a Beach Boys song. Brian gave him another shot in March the following year with ‘Help Me, Rhonda’.
3. Lead single from the album, ‘The Man With All The Toys’, is just 92 seconds. On the other hand, the only carol on the album, ‘We Three Kings Of Orient Are’ clocks in at 4:04 minutes – the longest song The Beach Boys recorded in the entire 1960s.
4. Brian Wilson was unhappy at the time of the release of ‘Christmas Album’. He had a nervous breakdown in the same month, and permanently pulled out from touring with the group.
5. The Beach Boys didn’t record another Christmas song until 1974. A full Christmas albums was planned for 1977, then discarded, although tracks from the sessions saw the light of day on a 1998 compilation, ‘Ultimate Christmas’.
BEHIND THE LYRICS
“There’s a tale about Christmas that you’ve all been told / And a real famous cat all dressed in red” – ‘Little Saint Nick’
Brian called the first half of the album the “teen side”, hence the description of Father Christmas as “a real famous cat all dressed in red”.
“He yanked the beard right on off of his chin / And in his eyes I could see he was hurt” – ‘Santa’s Beard’
Easily the weirdest song on the album. It finds Mike Love taking his five-year-old brother to a department to meet Santa, only to find out he’s not the “real” Father Christmas.
“And if you happ…, happen to be listening to this album right now…” – ‘Auld Lang Syne’
A quirk. Dennis speaks a Christmas message to fans over ‘Auld Lang Syne’, but fluffs his lines. Exactly why Brian, a perfectionist, left the mistake in remains a mystery.
WHAT WE SAY NOW
The album’s become such a classic, it’s easy to forget how odd it must have been for fans to hear a group known only for songs about sun, surf and girls to record a set of Christmas songs.
Songs from ‘Christmas Album’ have been covered repeatedly by Beach Boys fans. Our favourite version? ‘Little Saint Nick’ done by John Denver and The Muppets in 1979.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
“There’s a very definite influence of The Four Freshmen on the arrangement as well as the [vocal] delivery, and obviously we all look up and admire the style of The Four Freshmen.” Brian Wilson, 1964.
The Beach Boys’ relentless release schedule showed no sign of easing up: they released three albums in 1965 that mark the beginning of Brian’s experimental phase. It’s not a coincidence that he smoked his first joint in December 1964, just as America was enjoying of the innocent charm of ‘Christmas Album’. The album itself is one of the few festive records to stand the test of time.
Recorded: October 20, 1963; June 18-30, 1964
Release date: November 9, 1964
Producer: Brian Wilson
Studio: Western Recorders, Hollywood
Highest UK chart position: Didn’t chart
Worldwide sales: 500,000+
Singles: Little Saint Nick, The Man With All The Toys
Tracklisting: 1. Little Saint Nick 2. The Man With All The Toys 3. Santa’s Beard. 4. Merry Christmas, Baby 5. Christmas Day 6. Frosty The Snowman 7. We Three Kings Of Orient Are 8. Blue Christmas 9. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town 10. White Christmas 11. I’ll Be Home For Christmas 12. Auld Lang Syne