Christmas 1963 was a somber season in America. The recent assassination of President Kennedy cast a pall that lasted for months. Nevertheless, some of the most enduring pop Christmas music was first heard that year. We previously mentioned [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Phil Spector[/lastfm]’s great album A Christmas Gift to You — today we’ll listen to another holiday standard dating back to the same year.
The breakthrough year for the [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Beach Boys[/lastfm] was 1963: “Surfin’ USA,” “Surfer Girl,” and “Be True to Your School” all reached the top 10; “In My Room” and “Little Deuce Coupe” got a lot of airplay, too; likewise the 1962 hit “Surfin’ Safari.” So when the band decided to cut a Christmas single, the odds were good that it would be a hit, and it was. “Little St. Nick” went Top 10 in cities across the country.
The next year, “Little St. Nick” was included on The Beach Boys Christmas Album. That album has been rendered obsolete by a number of compilations released over the years, many of which include songs recorded for a second Christmas album in the 1970s — an album the band’s label rejected.
Some of the band’s Christmas output is problematical — on some tracks, the band sounds disinterested; on others, they’re shoehorned into choral arrangements that sounded out-of-date in the ’60s; still others are simply poor songs (the execrable “Santa’s Beard,” for example). But when they get it right, as on “Little St. Nick” or the excellent “Merry Christmas Baby,” it’s classic, and it deserves to be heard every year.