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At the time Back to Mono was released in 1991, Phil Spector’s reputation as one of pop’s great visionaries was intact, but there was no way to hear his genius. It wasn’t just that there were no collections spotlighting his productions, there weren’t collections of artists he produced. It wasn’t until Back to Mono that there was a thorough overview of Spector’s greatest work, and while it’s not without flaws, it still stands as one of the great box sets. Some may complain that there are no selections from his superstar ’70s productions for John Lennon, George Harrison, Leonard Cohen, and the Ramones, but that’s for the best, since their presence would have been incongruous, taking attention away from the music that forms the heart of Spector’s legacy. All of that music is here, not just on the first three discs, all devoted to singles, but also on the fourth disc, his seminal 1963 holiday album, A Christmas Gift for You, which isn’t just the greatest rock Christmas album, but a crystallization of his skills. It could be argued that the song selection overlooks some obscure fan favorites, such as “Do the Screw,” but that’s simply nitpicking, because what’s here are all the great Spector records, which were hardly just great productions, they were great songs as well. As the set plays, it’s hard not to be stunned by the depth of the material and clarity of Spector’s vision for his famed Wall of Sound, whether you’ve heard these songs hundreds of times or not at all — especially because they gain power when grouped together. Many producers have been credited as the true creative force behind many rock records, but usually that’s hyperbole. In Spector’s case, it wasn’t, as this set gloriously proves.

-Stephen Thomas Erlewine,

Various Artists-PHIL SPECTOR: BACK TO MONO (1991 compilation)
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I think anyone has mixed feelings at the least regarding Phil Spector. He made gigantic sounds out of mono, and influenced all great studio greats of pop after him. But he was also deranged, abusive, and probably a murderer. It’s with that in mind that listening to his Christmas album brings such a mix of emotions for me. Was it always imbued with such a darkness, or am I applying that retroactively? For me, this stuff was part of the landscape of movies like Goodfellas before I ever heard it completely.

Is it possible to hear this garishly saccharine music, imagining Phil waving a gun around and keeping Ronnie Spector a virtual prisoner, that it was released on the day Kennedy was assassinated… and find a distorted beauty in its facade? Is it just a fascination with the dark underside of American pop culture?

Something I’ve been thinking about this Christmas, when everybody I know is having a bummer of a time or is at some sort of personal crossroads. In my world it just feels distinctly un-Christmas-like this year. No big deal, it happens.

Inside cover to the reissue. Click for enlarged terror.

If you’re altogether unfamiliar, AMG’s Dennis MacDonald offers up the platitudes:

Featuring Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” in its prime and his early stable of artists, the Ronettes, Crystals, Darlene Love, and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector stands as inarguably the greatest Christmas record of all time. Spector believed he could produce a record for the holidays that would capture not only the essence of the Christmas spirit, but also be a pop masterpiece that would stand against any work these artists had already done. He succeeded on every level, with all four groups/singers recording some of their most memorable performances. This is the Christmas album by which all later holiday releases had to be judged, and it has inspired a host of imitators.

Anyway, I posted the mono mix from Spector’s BACK TO MONO box, and a bootleg of the stereo mix on the Phillies Records reissue by bootleg team DR. EBBETT’s. If you get one, make it the mono mix, which is definitive. I include the stereo mix for the curious who already have the mono mix.

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320kbps MP3

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