The Beatles' Christmas records
The Beatles' Christmas records were spoken and musical messages from English rock group The Beatles that were posted out on flexi disc at Christmas time to members of their official fan-clubs in the United Kingdom and the United States. One such record was issued each year from 1963 to 1969 and an LP compilation of all seven in 1970.
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.
None of the original recordings has ever been subject to general release though a version of "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)", an original composition which appeared in edited form on the 1967 record, eventually gained an official release in 1995, as part of the The Beatles Anthology project.
1963: The Beatles' Christmas Record
The first Christmas recording from the Beatles featured several renditions of the traditional carol "Good King Wenceslas" and individual messages from the four, ending with a closing chorus of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Ringo". This offering, as well as 1964's, was scripted by Beatles' press officer Tony Barrow, who had instigated the Christmas message programme.
An edited version of this recording was sent to members of the Beatles' American fan-club in December 1964.
1964: Another Beatles Christmas Record
The song "Jingle Bells" is sung, followed by individual messages to the fans. John mocks the prepared statement, doing an imitation of Paul Harvey and includes his own pseudo-words and ad-libbing. When Paul asks him if he wrote this himself, he says, "No it's somebody's bad hand-wroter. It's been a busy year Beople peadles, one way and another, but it's been a great year too. You fans have seen to that. Page two ... Thanks a lot folks and a happy-er Christmas and a Merry Grew Year. Crimble maybe." (The statement is apparently handwritten as at various points in the recording, Paul reads "making them" as "melting them" before correcting himself and George reads "quite a time" as "quiet time" before correcting himself with "great time" as well.) Finishing up the record is a brief rendition of the traditional song "Oh Can You Wash Your Father's Shirt?"
Another Beatles' Christmas Record was not sent to American fans. Rather, at Christmas time 1964, US fans received an edited version of The Beatles' Christmas Record, which had been sent to British fan-club members in 1963. Also, as opposed to using flexi-discs, the US fan-club sent the message in a tri-fold cardboard mailer, with the "record" embedded in one of the flaps of cardboard.
1965: The Beatles' Third Christmas Record
Several off-key, a cappella versions of "Yesterday" are dispersed throughout the record, alongside Lennon's "Happy Christmas to Ya List'nas", "Auld Lang Syne", a one-and-a-half-line version of the Four Tops' "It's the Same Old Song" (which they quickly stop before they violate the copyright) and an original poem titled "Christmas Comes But Once a Year".
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: The Beatles' Fourth Christmas Record – Pantomime: Everywhere It's Christmas
Recorded between sessions for Strawberry Fields Forever, for the 1966 offering, the usual greetings and thanks gave way to a 'Pantomime'-themed collection of original songs and dramatic skits. The songs include "Everywhere It's Christmas", "Orowainya", and "Please Don't Bring Your Banjo Back". Paul McCartney plays the piano. The sketches performed include "Podgy the Bear and Jasper" and "Felpin Mansions."
Once again, 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!
An elaborate production, Christmas Time is Here Again! was developed around the concept of several groups auditioning for a BBC radio show. The title song serves as a refrain throughout the record. The Beatles portray a multitude of characters, including game show contestants, aspiring musicians ("Plenty of Jam Jars", by the Ravellers), and actors in a radio drama ("Theatre Hour"). At the end John reads a poem, "When Christmas Time Is Over." This offering was likely a deliberate homage to/continuation of the broadly similar "Craig Torso" specials produced for BBC Radio 1 that same year by the Beatles' friends and collaborators the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and also shares much in common with their then-unreleased track "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)", recorded six months previously.
While British fans received a flexi-disc in an elaborate sleeve, American fans received a postcard similar to that of 1966.
1968: The Beatles' 1968 Christmas Record
The first Beatles Christmas fan-club disc to be recorded separately, the 1968 offering is a collage of odd noises, musical snippets, and individual messages. McCartney's song "Happy Christmas, Happy New Year" is featured, along with John's poems "Jock and Yono" and "Once Upon a Pool Table." Also notable is a rendition of "Nowhere Man" by the ukulele-playing Tiny Tim. Also included is a sped-up snippet of the Beatles' own "Helter Skelter" and a brief snippet of Perrey & Kingsley's "Baroque Hoedown" which was used three years later in Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Birthday" are also heard in the background for part of the message.The dialogue and songs for the flexi-disc were organised and edited together by DJ and friend of the Beatles, Kenny Everett.
Finally, the US fans got a flexi-disc for Christmas in 1968, but it came in a modified version of the 1967 UK sleeve.
1969: The Beatles' Seventh Christmas Record: Happy Christmas 1969
The final Beatles Christmas offering was also recorded separately, as the band had effectively split by this point. It features an extensive visit with John and Yoko at their Tittenhurst Park estate, where they play "what will Santa bring me?" games. Harrison only appears briefly, and Starr only shows up to plug his recent film, The Magic Christian. Paul sings his original ad-lib, "This is to Wish You a Merry, Merry Christmas." Starting at 1:30, at the tail-end of Ringo's song, the guitar solos from "The End" are heard, followed by Yoko interviewing John.
For the only time, the American and British jackets were identical. The US version of the flexi-disc had an elaborate drawing of the Beatles' faces on it. Drawings were credited to Richard Starkey & Zak Starkey.
|From Then To You (UK)
The Beatles' Christmas Album (US)
Artwork as used in the US
|Compilation album by The Beatles|
|Released||18 December 1970 (fan-club only)|
|Recorded||1963–1969, various locations|
|Genre||Spoken word, Surreal humour, Rock, Christmas music|
|Label||Apple/Lyntone LYN 2153/4 (UK), SBC-100 (US)|
|Producer||Tony Barrow, George Martin, Kenny Everett|
|The Beatles chronology|
In December 1970, in the wake of the band's break-up, the UK fan-club sent out a compilation LP of all seven recordings, entitled From Then To You. The master tapes having been mislaid, the LP was mastered from copies of the original flexi discs. In the US, the LP was repackaged as The Beatles' Christmas Album and sent out by the fan-club around springtime 1971. With no new recording, the LP served to remind that the Beatles were no more, but had the advantage of durability over the original flexi discs, and, for the US, it was the first time the 1964 and 1965 messages had been made available.
With no general release of the recordings having been made, numerous bootlegs of the recordings have since appeared.
In December 1982, two albums claiming to comprise a legitimate release of the Beatles' Christmas messages appeared on the US market. One of them, which contained the 1963–1966 recordings, was called Christmas Reflections, on a label called Desert Vibrations Heritage Series (HSRD-SP1). The other, with the recordings from 1967 to 1969, was called Happy Michaelmas and was on a label called The Adirondack Group (AG-8146).
Less than a year later, on 29 September 1983, an entrepreneur announced that he was going to issue all seven messages on one record, which he planned to call John, Paul, George and Ringo. The Beatles' representatives quickly sued, claiming copyright and trademark violations, and won in court. As a result, the 1983 album was never released, and the two 1982 LPs were withdrawn.
The first three minutes of the music bed of the 1967 single, with greetings recorded for the 1966 single superimposed during the final minute, was released under the name "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)" as one of the B-sides of the "Free as a Bird" single in December 1995. (Ringo Starr recorded his own cover of "Christmas Time Is Here Again" on his 1999 Christmas album, I Wanna Be Santa Claus.)
Dialogue from the 1965 and 1966 recordings were featured as the tail-end of the 2006 compilation, Love. After the final number, "All You Need Is Love", has ended, the listener is then treated to the non-sensical ad-libs from the group that appeared at the end of the 1965 flexi-disc. Mere seconds later, this is merged into the final moments from the 1966 flexi-disc, complete with Paul's ad-lib line, "Jolly Good".
An edited and abridged version of the 1963 single appeared as unlockable bonus content in 2009 The Beatles: Rock Band video game and was made available as a free download from the iTunes Store between 23 December 2010, and 9 January 2011.
- Unless detailed further, all recording details are per Lewisohn 1988 and Calkin 2002.
- Lewisohn 1988, p. 36.
- Gilliland 1969, show 27, track 1.
- Spizer2003, pp. 209–211.
- Spizer2003, p. 212.
- Spizer2003, p. 214.
- Gilliland 1969, show 54, track 1.
- Spizer2003, p. 216.
- Spizer2003, pp. 218–219.
- Spizer2003, pp. 220–221.
- The Beatles' Christmas records at Allmusic
- Spizer2003, p. 222.
- Cox, Perry; Joe Lindsay (1983). The Complete Beatles U.S. Record Price Guide, 1st Edition. Phoenix, Arizona: O'Sullivan Woodside. pp. 102–105. ISBN 0-89019-082-8.
- "Citations and Summaries, CopyrightData.com". Retrieved 26 May 2007.
- Badman, Keith (2005). The Beatles After the Break-Up 1970–2001: A Day-by-Day Diary. London: Omnibus. ISBN 0-7119-8307-0.
- Calkin, Graham (2002). "The Beatles Discography". Retrieved 16 September 2011.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!: The U.S.A. is invaded by a wave of long-haired English rockers." (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu.
- Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 0-517-57066-1.
- Spizer, Bruce (2003). The Beatles on Apple Records. New Orleans: 498 Productions. ISBN 0-9662649-4-0.