Christmas… I celebrate it. Fortunately I have some down time today between preparing and partying for this special post.
Learning about the Beatles’ Christmas albums last December played a part in my New Year’s resolution to start this blog in January. Before then, I didn’t know such a thing existed, and that’s when I started questioning how much I knew about what I claimed was my favorite band. This December, you don’t even know how much I know (or you probably do, if you’ve skimmed a handful of posts). But I still barely touched on the Christmas recordings, save for one.
For those out of the loop this year, the Beatles understandably had trouble replying to all their fan mail. In 1963 they began sending out flexi discs to members of their official fan clubs in the UK and US. According to Wikipedia, “Conceived as a means to appease fan-club members whose letters, due to their sheer volume, were not always being answered in a timely manner, the records included the Beatles’ messages of thanks to ‘loyal Beatle people,’ along with skits, Christmas carols, and original compositions.” They released one disc each year from 1963 to 1969.
1963 – “The Beatles’ Christmas Record”
As Nick DeRiso wrote for Ultimate Classic Rock, “Unlike later entries in our History of the Beatles’ Christmas Records, the band is obviously together in the studio.” The Fab Four recorded their first Christmas disc on Oct. 17, 1963 after completing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Mostly composed of classic Christmas covers, their interstitial material was written by their press officer Tony Barrow (according to Wikipedia the session was also his idea. Fun Fact: Barrow’s also credited with coining the phrase “The Fab Four”). The recording was released Dec. 6, 1963. The American fan club received an edited version of this recording the following December.
1964 – “Another Beatles Christmas Record”
The Beatles recorded this message Oct. 26, 1964, the same day as “Honey Don’t.” Again, Barrow wrote prepared statements for the lads, but John (as was his wont) decided to ad lib. This recording was released Dec. 18, 1964.
1965 – “The Beatles’ Third Christmas Record”
You can tell the Beatles were coming into their own on this disc, recorded Nov. 8, 1965 during the “Rubber Soul” sessions. Though Barrow still wrote some of the lines, the Beatles get credit for the script as well.
The recording was released Dec. 17, 1965. Quoth Wikipedia, “Members of the Beatles’ US fan-club did not receive this (or any) Christmas flexi-disc in 1965. Rather, they received a black and white postcard, with a photo of the Fab Four and the message ‘Season’s Greetings – Paul, Ringo, George, John.’ The Beatle Bulletin, the publication of the US fan club, explained in its April 1966 edition that the tape arrived too late to prepare the record in time for Christmas.”
1966 – “Pantomime: Everywhere It’s Christmas”
Mike Springer for Open Culture wrote, “You can sense the band’s creative powers growing in the 1966 message.” The Fab Four recorded their fourth Christmas disc Nov. 25, 1966, between sessions for “Strawberry Fields Forever.” They wrote their own material, and Paul also designed the disc’s cover. The recording was released Dec. 16, 1966.
“Once again,” quoth Wikipedia, “the US fan-club members did not get a flexi-disc. Instead, they received a postcard with the message on one side and a short version of The Beatle Bulletin on the other, with enough room for a mailing label and postage.”
1967 – “Christmas Time is Here Again!”
I actually talked about this one before (Day 36)! The Beatles’ fifth outing was their most elaborate. On Nov. 28, 1967, the Fab Four went from playing Sgt. Pepper’s Band to the Ravellers. Sadly, quoth Springer, “This was the last Christmas message recorded by the Beatles all together in one place.” The disc was released Dec. 15, 1967 with a cover designed by John and Ringo.
1968 – “The Beatles’ 1968 Christmas Record”
As the Beatles began to drift further apart, so did their schedules, and thus this Christmas record’s parts were recorded separately by the Fab Four through November and December 1968. As DeRiso wrote, the vignettes “all neatly approximate their growing distance throughout the recording of the White Album.”
Also like the White Album, the Christmas record features a notable guest star – Tiny Tim (who I know I’ve written about before here), who was invited by George and performs a ukulele cover of “Nowhere Man.” The recording also features snippets of
- “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
- “Helter Skelter”
- “Yer Blues”
- Perrey & Kingsley’s “Baroque Hoedown”
British comedian and DJ (and Beatles friend) Kenny Everett organized the dialogue and music. The record was released Dec. 20, 1968 (and the US fan club got it this time!).
1969 – “Happy Christmas 1969”
As DeRiso noted, “It’s painfully obvious on the Beatles’ seventh and final Christmas record together that they recorded all of their parts separately.” George and Ringo appear very briefly and none of them interact with the others. Fittingly, around the 1:30 mark snippets from the Beatles’ final track “The End” can be heard. They again recorded their parts through November and December, releasing the disc on Dec. 19, 1969. According to Wikipedia, “For the only time, the American and British jackets were identical” – a drawing credited to Richard and Zak Starkey.
Apart from “Christmas Time (Is Here Again),” none of the Beatles’ Christmas recording have been officially released. On December 18, 1970, the year of their breakup, the UK fan club released a compilation of all the flexi discs (called “From Then to You”). The compilation made its way across the pond the following spring under the title “The Beatles’ Christmas Album.” According to Wikipedia, “It was the first time the 1964 and 1965 messages had been made available in the US.“
Well that was a treat! Have a very merry and happy winter holiday, whichever one you choose to celebrate or tolderate, and if I haven’t posted before then, I hope you all had as swell a 2014 as I did.