The Beach Boys
Little Saint Nick
In September of 1963, the Beach Boys were hitting their stride with their brand of surf music. The band had already hit the charts with three LP’s and eight singles in just a little over a year. But the leader of the group, Brian Wilson, believing that the surf genre was limited and would soon be outdated, wanted to expand the group’s music and image by adding more car songs.
While touring with the group, co-writing with fellow Beach Boy and cousin, Mike Love and spending time in the studio writing arrangements for the songs, Brian put together a list of new songs that would eventually become the Little Deuce Coupe LP. The Beach Boys started work on the album on September 2, 1963.
Photo courtesy of Michael Ochs/Getty Images.
Later in the month, Brian attended a session at Gold Star studio in Hollywood run by Phil Spector, who was in the midst of recording his monumental Christmas album, A Christmas Gift For You. Wilson, who admired Spector, was invited to play the piano for one of the tracks, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Brian’s performance wasn't used on the finished track but he was paid scale for his effort.
Apparently inspired by his work with Spector, Brian wanted to create a Christmas song in the Beach Boys style. Wilson recalled, "I wrote the lyrics to it while I was out on a date and then I rushed home to finish the music." (1) The result was a derivative of a song in rhythm and subject matter that hit the charts just a few months earlier, Little Deuce Coupe.
The full-band contingent of Brain Wilson, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson and Al Jardine stepped into the Western Studios in Hollywood on October 18, 1963 and cut the instrumental tracks to a pair of songs, Drive In and Little Saint Nick. Two days later, the group returned to record the vocals for Little Saint Nick and an a cappella version of The Lord’s Prayer.
With overdubs of sleigh bells, celeste, triangle and glockenspiel, Little Saint Nick backed with The Lord’s Prayer was released on December 9th, just seventeen days after the assassination of President Kennedy. The record helped break the somber mood of the country as it reached the heavy rotation of playlists on many of the radio stations from coast to coast.
The year 1964 would find Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys as busy as ever. The LP Little Deuce Coupe was in the can and the recording of their fifth album, Shut Down Volume 2, was ready to start on January 1st. That LP was released in April followed by All Summer Long in August, a live album, The Beach Boys In Concert in November and finally, The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, which was released in December.
Photo courtesy of Capitol Records.
Since Little Saint Nick was so well accepted, Brian and Capitol Records decided to do an entire Christmas album. Sessions were scheduled in June for the Christmas album interspersing studio time with All Summer Long. Brian, with much on his plate, opted to use just five original songs filling out the album with seven traditional Christmas songs. While Wilson produced and arranged his original songs, he left it to Dick Reynolds (an arranger for the Four Freshmen, a group Wilson idolized) to arrange the forty-one piece orchestral backings on the traditional songs to which the Beach Boys would apply their vocals. (2)
In all, there were eight studio sessions beginning June 18, 1964 through June 30 to complete the album. The instrumental tracks were completed by June 25th and followed by the vocals recorded from June 27th - 30th. The single version of Little Saint Nick was included on the album without the sleigh bells and other overdubs as Brian believed it was a better fit with the other songs on the album. (3)
As with many holiday releases, the impact can only be measured over a number of years. The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album was certified gold on April 6, 1982. Ultimate Christmas is a 1998 compilation of Christmas music by the Beach Boys released on Capitol Records. It rounds up all of the tracks from 1964's The Beach Boys' Christmas Album in addition to a handful of unreleased tracks from the aborted Merry Christmas from the Beach Boys album in 1977. (4)
The Beach Boys sang Little Saint Nick on Shindig! using live vocals over taped backing tracks. The appearance was dated December 23, 1964.
This is the official video from the Beach Boys that features the original version of the song in stereo.
Little Saint Nick by the group, "Beach Boys SMiLE". This is the way I wish the boys and me would have sounded in my basement 50 years ago!
1) Murphy, James B. (2015). Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961-1963. Page 317.
2) Sanchez, Luis (2014). The Beach Boys' Smile, Pages 59–61.
3) Badman, Keith (2004). The Beach Boys The Definitive Diary of America's Greatest Band: On Stage and in the Studio. Pages 57-58.
4) Elliot, Brad (1998), Ultimate Christmas (CD Liner notes), The Beach Boys, Capitol Records.
Photo courtesy of Capitol Records.