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Sunday, December 01, 2013


You've waited all year, and it is finally here! Day number one of the second annual edition of “A POP CULTURE ADDICT'S ADVENT CALENDAR!

And, this year, as you can see up above, I've decided to use ornaments to count down the twenty-five days within the advent calendar.

Now, if you weren't around last year for the first advent calendar I did, I'll gladly explain it to you.

Does anyone remember those advent calendars that they sold in stores? In most cases, they were pictures of a holiday scene that had several numbered doors stamped all over the front. Depending on the advent calendar, they could have 24 doors (one for every day leading up to Christmas Eve), or 32 doors (one for every day leading up to New Years Day). And, behind each door was a wonderful treat. Most advent calendars that I ever had when I was a kid contained chocolate treats shaped like bells, holly, snowflakes, and other Christmas imagery (which was a fantastic bonus for a self-confessed choco-holic such as myself). But other advent calendars featured stickers or pictures, or other fun treats as well. I always loved advent calendars because it was a fun way to count down the days until December 25.

So, last year, I thought about bringing an advent calendar to this blog, where each day was dedicated towards a holiday themed topic. Christmas music, movies, TV specials...even the Tuesday Timeline entries would have some reference to the Christmas season. And it was such a success last year that I thought I would try it again this year.

I have to tell you, I'm really excited about having the 2013 Advent Calendar begin on a Sunday. With December in full swing now, there are tons of holiday themed songs that I can choose from for the Sunday Jukebox feature. And, with four Sundays to go before Christmas Day, I certainly need all the ideas that I can get.

Today's blog entry comes courtesy of an all-girl group known as “The Ronettes”, a group that became popular in the mid-1960s with such classics as "Be My Baby", "(The Best Part Of) Breakin' Up", and "Walking in the Rain".

The group - whose best known line-up was Veronica "Ronnie" Bennett-Spector, Estelle Bennett, and Nedra Talley - earned a Grammy Award in 1965, and their iconic hit "Be My Baby" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.  The group had eight singles chart on the Billboard 100, and of those singles, five of them made the Top 40.

And, as far as the Ronettes went, it was a real family affair.  Veronica and Estelle were sisters, and Nedra was their cousin.  The band was also considered a real melting pot of nationalities and ethnicities, as the Bennett sisters had African-American, Cherokee, and Irish roots, and Nedra was half African-American/half Puerto Rican.

The band unofficially formed in 1957 and initially was made up of six members; Veronica, Estelle, Nedra - and cousins Diane, Elaine, and Ira.  They played a few shows (with disasterous results), but by the early 1960s, the group seemed to hit their stride.  By 1961, the group had earned a record deal with Colpix Records, but before the deal was signed, Diane, Elaine, and Ira left the band, making the Ronettes a trio.

For the next two years, the Ronettes tried their best to have a hit single on the radio, but when they still failed to make a solid impression two years into their contract, the decision was made to try and find another record label.  Estelle somehow got a hold of a contact number for Phil Spector, a record producer for Philles Records, and contacted him with the hopes of securing an audition with him.  Phil agreed to the audition, and in early 1963, the audition took place at Mira Sound Studios in New York City.  At the audition, Spector played the piano while the Ronettes sang "Why Do Fools Fall In Love", and reportedly Spector was so blown away by Veronica's vocal stylings that he stopped playing and exclaimed that she was the voice that he had been looking for.

Spector's plan was to initially sign Veronica as a solo artist, but Veronica's mother put the kibosh on that idea, telling Phil that he signed all of the Ronettes, or none of them.  Of course, in order for the Ronettes to sign on to Spector's record label, they had to tell Colpix Records a little white lie - that the group was quitting show business.

The lie worked.  Colpix let the girls leave, the girls signed onto Spector's record label, and the rest is history.

TRIVIA:  Did you know that Veronica married Phil Spector in 1968?  That's how she adopted her new stage name.  The couple divorced six years later, and as we all well know, Spector is now behind bars serving time after being charged with murder!

Now, you might think that "Be My Baby" was the Ronettes' biggest hit.  But, here's the thing.  The group had another song that is well-known, and is likely played at almost every holiday party at least once a rotation.  

And, I bet some of you are scratching your heads right now, wondering what the song is.  Fear not, I'm posting it now.  And, to give you a hint before you scroll down, the title offers up a clue.

ARTIST:  The Ronettes
SONG:  Sleigh Ride
ALBUM:  A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector
DATE RELEASED:  November 22, 1963

Now, before I go ahead with the discussion on this particular version, I thought I would talk about the original version upon which this piece was inspired by. 

Now, you know all about how "Sleigh Ride" is all about somebody wanting to do nothing more than cuddle up next to their object of affection on a crisp, winter's day on a sleigh ride through pristine white snow fields.  But, what if I told you that the original song was written during a sweltering July day in 1946?  Well, that's how the story goes.  Leroy Anderson, the composer of the song, wrote the song during a summer heat wave, and by 1949, the song had been recorded by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra.

And of course, over the past six and a half decades, hundreds of cover versions of "Sleigh Ride" have been recorded.  So, what makes the version by the Ronettes different?

Well, believe it or not, the song appeared on an album that was a complete flop when it was first released!

You see, the song appeared on a holiday album in which Phil Spector arranged to have several secular favourites sung by artists signed to Philles Records.  These artists included Darlene Love, Bobb E. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, The Crystals, and of course, The Ronettes.  And, on the album of thirteen tracks, the Ronettes took part in four.  They recorded "Sleigh Ride", "Frosty the Snowman", and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by themselves, and took part in the collaboration "Silent Night" with the other artists who performed on the album.  It was definitely an ambitious that Spector himself was quite proud of.

Unfortunately, one of the main reasons why the album flopped was because of the timing in which it was released.

I mean, don't get me wrong.  November 22 on any other year would have been the perfect day to release a Christmas album.  After all, it's just before the American Thanksgiving celebrations, and the date is quite close enough to December that people could have really enjoyed having the album play during their festive celebrations.

Unfortunately, the album release was on November 22, 1963 - which as you well know was the date that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  It was a sad day in American history...and certainly not a good day to release a festive, happy Christmas album.

Of course, the release date of November 22, 1963 was already planned without the knowledge that something so tragic would happen that day.  But unfortunately, the original release of the album suffered as a result of that day.  The album was more or less a failure on the charts, barely even making a dent on the music charts.  Try as Phil Spector did, the album just didn't resonate well in the turbulent 1960s.

Flash forward ten years later to the 1970s, however, and the album suddenly had new hope.

You see, Apple Records (the same record label founded by the Beatles in 1968) made the decision to re-release the album with different cover art in 1972, and as it turned out, that decision was a good one, as the re-released version reached #6 on Billboard's Christmas Album Chart!  

So, it may have taken some time for the Ronettes to have their place on Christmas playlists all over the world...but wasn't it worth the wait?

Coming up tomorrow, we have Day #2 of the advent calendar...and in tomorrow's entry, we hitch a ride on the polar express!

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