The Ultimate Beatles' Christmas
"Yes, everywhere it's Christmas... at the end of every year," and as everything
they attempted, the Beatles did it first, and they did it best...
The "it" this time around was a special Christmas record to be
distributed only to Beatles Fan Club members who had, in Paul's words on the '63 disc,
"paid the subscription." The initial idea came from their press officer at
the time, Tony Barrow. The Fabs' following had become so enormous by the end of 1963
that the close contact they'd once enjoyed with their fans was quickly becoming non-existent.
Thus, the concept of a seasonal message sent to those who had not only supported
them by sending in their shillings and pence, but had been the most faithful enthusiasts
Beatles Christmas Record"
So it was on Thursday, October 17, 1963 that the Beatles gathered around the mikes
in EMI Studio Number Two at Abbey Road between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. and let their verbal
charms take over. This was an historic day in their recording history anyway, given
the fact that their first four-track recordings took place earlier in the session, and one
of the songs recorded was "I Want To Hold Your Hand," the song that would end up
breaking them in America. A giddy feeling was evident in their voices, and even
though much of the banter was scripted by Barrow, it was obvious listening to the final
product that the Beatles were the ones who made it such a great piece of humor.
While Ringo sounded particularly tentative (he'd only been a Beatle for a year and
two months), the others more than made up for it in sheer wacky energy. "The
Beatles Christmas Record" was edited and mixed by George Martin and Norman Smith the
same day it was recorded, and in November was pressed on "flexi-vinyl" by
Lyntone Records as LYN 492 for distribution to 30,000 ravenous fans on December 9, 1963.
The disc created a huge amount of excitement, as there were a relatively few
available compared to the swiftly-growing numbers of Beatles fans. As with all
future discs, there were no repressings made after the initial run, so the flexis were
obviously a prized item in one's collection. What this meant however, was that there
was no going back; since the demand was so high and the fan base grew to unheard of
proportions in 1964, a Christmas disc was not only demanded but expected for that
Christmas season. So, Tony Barrow went to typewriter again to put together
"Another Beatles Christmas Record".
Beatles Christmas Record"
Though at three minutes and fifty-eight seconds it was the shortest of all seven
Christmas records, "Another..." was probably the funniest of the lot. John
in particular was "on", making light of the scripted action ("...you fans
have seen to that... page two..."), insulting fans without them knowing it, unless
they were German, by calling them "Beatle peedles" (slang for penis in stated
country), and in general showing why he got the "witty Beatle" tag. The
others were no slouches either, however, and highlighted the "sum is greater than the
parts" theory that usually comes up when speaking of the Fabs. "Another Beatles
Christmas Record" was recorded in five takes on Monday, October 26, 1964 in Studio
Two between 7:30 and 10 p.m. It was taped during sessions for "What You're
Doing", released on the Beatles For Sale LP in November, and as with the '63
recording, it was edited and mixed the same day. It was released as LYN 757 on
December 18, 1964 in a pressing of 65,000, more than double the previous year's total.
Interestingly, this recording wasn't released in the U.S. The members there
received a disc pressed on cardboard (the U.S. format for all the messages up to and
including 1967) that contained the 1963 message! U.S. fans would have to wait until
1970 to own this one...
"The Third Beatles Christmas Record"
It's obvious when listening to "The Third Beatles Christmas Record",
issued December 17, 1965 on LYN 948, that the boys were getting a little more cynical and
not so quite as fun-loving as in the previous years. Recorded toward the end of a
lengthy Rubber Soul session in Studio Two for George's tune "Think For
Yourself" on Monday, November 8 (only 25 days before the issue of the LP!). The
strain is showing as the clock was closing in on 3 a.m. This message didn't have a
prepared script, and in an attempt to get anything on tape that might be usable,
the tapes were left rolling during the vocal sessions earlier in the day to catch any
pearls the Fabs might have tumble from their lips. (Portions of these rough tapes
have been issued in varying lengths on earlier unofficial releases, with one of the
snatches of John, Paul and George singing "...and you're got time to rectify all the
things that you should..." from this session appearing as a sound effect in the Yellow
Submarine film.) This strategy didn't work, so they finally sat down and
recorded the most dispirited Christmas message of the seven, with references to "here
we are again, same old studio, same old mike" leading into a quickly aborted
rendition of the Four Tops' hit from earlier in the year, "It's The Same Old
Song" before the copyright issue becomes clear! Somehow, George and Norman
edited a listenable record out of the tapes the next day between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m., from
the three "takes" that were recorded. (Side note: there seems to be some
controversy as to whether or not this message was issued to the U.S. fan club; the April
1966 "Beatle Bulletin" stated that the materials for this disc were received too
late to manufacture and distribute the disc in time for Christmas '65, but other sources
state that some U.K. discs were imported and distributed.)
"Pantomime, Everywhere It's Christmas"
Perhaps as a result of hearing the final 1965 disc, the 1966 record was another
matter entirely. Dispensing with the usual "greetings and off-the-cuff
songs" format of the three previous messages, the Beatles assembled in the Dick James
Music first floor demo studio in New Oxford St. (where one year later the 20 year old
Elton John would start recording his first demos of early John / Taupin compositions) on
Friday, November 25 and performed a tightly scripted and well-thought out pantomime onto
tape throughout the evening. There were two individual pieces recorded, with Paul on
piano throughout this heavily "Goon Show"-inspired work that was produced by
George Martin and edited by (interestingly) Tony Barrow on December 2, with the tapes
being rushed to Lyntone for flexi-pressing and release to the Fan Club as LYN 1145 on
December 16, 1966. The contents of "Pantomime, Everywhere It's Christmas"
probably flew right over the heads of the majority of the teenagers who received it to
play on their Close and Play's around the Yule Log, but it's an extremely entertaining
piece of comedy, particularly on repeat listenings. (A couple of side notes: this
was the first two-sided Beatles Christmas record due to its length; except for the '67
disc, all future records would be split in two in a similar fashion. Also, listen
for the voice of Fab roadie Mal Evans reciting the title of the record toward the end, the
first of his three Christmas record appearances. Finally the artwork for the
accompanying sleeve featured the first direct input by one of the Beatles, in this case
Mr. McCartney, Esq.)
Time (Is Here Again)"
One would expect after the year of unbelievable experimentation, both musically and
otherwise that took place in the Beatles' world in 1967, that the Christmas disc that year
would reflect the same bold direction. One would not be disappointed. The Fabs
moved into Studio Three at Abbey Road on Tuesday, November 28 at 6:00 p.m. to record the
biggest production of all seven discs, "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)". A
song was recorded by this title, credited to (and sung by)
Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr, to use as glue for the various U.K. television and radio
spoofs that were featured, starring "the Original Beatles" taking the different
roles as quiz-show masters and prize-winners, audition announcers and many others. Plenty
of sound effects and production techniques were used, along with appearances by special
guests Victor Spinetti (as the tap dancer with Ringo, as well as playing a BBC guard
toward the beginning of the disc), "Something Else by Malcolm Lift-Evans", and
George Martin (as the stern headmaster at the end of the craziness, stating the point of
the exercise in plain and simple terms). The session ended at 2:45 a.m., with
editing and mixing done later on the 29th (2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. to be exact) by George
and Geoff Emerick, and the disc was distributed to the Fan Club (with a sleeve designed by
John and Julian Lennon, with help from Ringo) on December 15, as LYN 1360. Pointing
to the future, the sleeve notes this was "Another little bite of the Apple"...
The song "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)" itself lasted well
over six minutes in its original form and is featured on disc two from the full length
"EMI boardroom tape". The first time this tune almost saw release to the
general public was in 1984, when a minute-long extract (disc two, track 23) was grafted by
Geoff Emerick to the end of the alternate take of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" for issue
as the b-side of the aborted "Leave My Kitten Alone" single from the ill-fated Sessions
project. It was finally issued, again in a bastardized form, as a bonus track on the
1995 "Free As A Bird" single, with spoken seasonal greetings recorded in
November 1966 laid on top. This version closed disc one of this set.
"The Beatles Sixth Christmas Record"
As has been noted, the Christmas records often mirrored the Beatles' own
progression in the studio, and this was also reflected in the 1968 disc, imaginatively
titled "The Beatles Sixth Christmas Record". Much like The Beatles
("White Album") issued in November of '68, where collaboration on songs and
performances was becoming a thing of the past, this record also featured separately taped
contributions by the four individual Beatles done throughout the year, with John's bits
including a great deal of input from his newly-acquired girlfriend Yoko Ono. A
particularly un-Christmasy piece that the two recorded was John's poem "Jock and
Yono", a fairly bitter swipe at those who dared to criticize their new love.
Some parts were taped at the famous "Esher Sessions" at George's house in
May, 1968 where demos were first laid down at the "lush London homes" of John
(actually, the flat he was renting from Ringo) and Paul, with Ringo's recorded in the
"back of his diesel-powered moving van "Somewhere in Surrey".
George's main section of the disc consisted of an appearance with Mr. Tiptoe Thru
The Tulips himself, Tiny Tim, singing "Nowhere Man", which was taped at Brian
Epstein's business partner Nat Weiss' New York apartment in October, 1968. All in
all, it was a bit of a mess, somehow edited into a whole by Beatles' pal DJ Kenny Everett
(billed as "Kenny Foreverett...[who] deserves to be called producer though this is an
unpaid position"). His radio shows were masterpieces of editing, assembling
non-sequitur bits of tape together into fascinating collages of sound, and he did a good
job with a similar concept here. The finished product was issued to the Fan Club as
LYN 1743 / 4 on December 20, 1968.
"The Beatles Seventh Christmas Record"
And in the end, it came down to a bit of tape, location and date of recording
unknown, at the beginning of "The Beatles Seventh Christmas Record" (another
daring title): the formerly Fab Four at a 1969 recording session being cajoled by John
into speaking a half-hearted "Happy Christmas" for the fans into his private
tape recorder. Compare this to the collective joy of the earlier records, and one
can see why it all ended. This final original Fan Club disc was again "soldered
into a collective disc by the iron wrist of Maurice Cole", which happened to be the
real name of the previously mentioned Kenny Everett. John and Yoko dominated the
proceedings, with most of the eight-minute disc being used up by their occasionally witty
ramblings. Paul found the time to contribute a lovely minute and a half Christmas
original probably titled "This Is To Wish You" (in both acoustic and electric
versions), but George and Ringo had a whopping 22 seconds between the two of them to greet
the faithful! The Beatles were already unofficially through as a unit, but the
double sided flexi-disc went out to the unsuspecting fans on December 19, 1968, record
number LYN 1970 / 1.
On December 18, 1970, with the Beatles' breakup now being public
knowledge (and within a few days, a matter of legal record), the U.S. and U.K. Fan Club
members were offered the opportunity to purchase (for $2.50 in the U.S.) all seven
Christmas messages on one hard-vinyl LP. Interestingly, all the tracks were taken
from the original flexis for the LP master, and not the tapes used for the discs.
While the U.K. cover had a rather bland design, but a better title (From Then
To You, Apple LYN 2154), the U.S. Beatles Christmas Album (Apple SBC100) had
a great sleeve, showing the changes in the Beatles' appearances through the years.
Both covers are featured in the packaging to this set, so you can make up your own
mind which you prefer; we like choices. The LP was a welcome, if somewhat difficult
to obtain, way of getting the tracks in a heartier, more permanent format than the flexis.
Now you're enjoying an even *more* permanent version!
In addition to the tracks mentioned, we've also taken the liberty of
adding all of the commercially-released Beatles seasonal musical greetings to disc one to
help complete your Fab holiday collection: John and Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War Is
Over)", issued as Apple 1842 on December 1, 1971 (and a year later in the U.K. as
Apple R5970 on November 23, 1972); George's "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", which came
out a little late for the holidays as a 45, but the thought was there, on December 23,
1974 (Apple 1879), with U.K. release on December 6, 1974 as Apple R6002); and Macca's
"Wonderful Christmastime", recorded during the McCartney II sessions and
released as the first "Paul McCartney" single since 1971 on November 26, 1979,
backed with "Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reggae" (taped during 1975) as Columbia
1-11162 in the U.S. and Parlophone R6029 in the U.K. on November 16, 1979.
Christmas Rarities - Group And Solo
In addition to the bonus tracks mentioned above, we've also included some rare
group and solo seasonal musical greetings to help complete the picture. Following a
December, 1970 Christmas message recorded privately by John and Yoko at their Ascot home,
John's evergreen "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" is represented by a demo version
recorded at the Lennon's St. Regis Hotel suite in September of 1971, as well as a rough
mix done at the Record Plant East in late October, prior to the Harlem Children's Choir
voices being dubbed onto the track. Paul's less-than-evergreen, but still popular
"Wonderful Christmastime" was performed live during Wings' final tour in
December, 1979, including this recording made in Glasgow on the 17th. Finally,
George says his seasonal piece with the less specific "Ding Dong, Ding Dong".
Included here is a rough mix of the backing track recorded at his F.P.S.H.O.T.
studio in November, 1973 with Ringo on drums (so we'll count this as his solo
contribution!). This comes from the infamous "Geffen Tape", assembled by
George when shopping for a distributor for his fledgling Dark Horse label and entrusted to
Finally, as with any Christmas gift, there has to be a surprise in the
stocking. Suffice it to say your extra goody consists of a selection of snippets
recorded by the four Beatles collectively and individually over the last 35 years that
we've assembled for you to savor.
We hope you've enjoyed this compilation of Christmas records as much as
we've enjoyed melting them.
And remember O-U-T spells "out".