Tuesday, December 24, 2019

W.O.C.K On Vinyl: Beatles - Christmas Singles (1963-69)

Before things get too serious here at Rock On Vinyl, I thought it might be fun to post a song / album at the end of each month, that could be categorized as being either Weird, Obscure, Crazy or just plain Korny.
The Beatles' Christmas records was a composition of melodies interpreting love and support during the holidays from the 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 Beatles 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

    Recorded: 17 October 1963
    Location: Studio Two, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
    Writer: Tony Barrow
    Producer: Tony Barrow

    Issued: 6 December 1963
    Label: Lyntone, LYN 492
    Flexi disc: 7", 1 side, 33? RPM
    Total time: 5:00

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

    Recorded: 26 October 1964
    Location: Studio Two Abbey Road
    Writer: Tony Barrow
    Producer: Tony Barrow

    Issued: 18 December 1964
    Label: Lyntone, LYN 757
    Flexi disc: 7", 1 side, 45 RPM
    Total time: 3:58

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.

* Crimble or Krimble is a slang term for Christmas coined by The Beatles as part of their 1963 Christmas record issued via the Beatles Fan Club

1965: The Beatles' Third Christmas Record

    Recorded: 8 November 1965
    Location: Studio Two, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
    Writer: Tony Barrow, The Beatles
    Producer: Tony Barrow

    Issued: 17 December 1965
    Label: Lyntone, LYN 948
    Flexi disc: 7", 1 side, 33 RPM
    Total time: 6:20

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 Beatles 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: 25 November 1966
    Location: Dick James Music
    Writer: The Beatles
    Producer: George Martin

    Issued: 16 December 1966
    Label: Lyntone, LYN 1145
    Flexi disc: 7", 1 side, 33 RPM
    Total time: 6:36

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 Beatles Bulletin on the other, with enough room for a mailing label and postage.

1967: Christmas Time is Here Again! 

    Recorded: 28 November 1967
    Location: Studio Three EMI Studios, London
    Writer: The Beatles
    Producer: George Martin

    Issued: 15 December 1967
    Label: Lyntone, LYN 1360
    Flexi disc: 7", 1 side, 33 RPM
    Total time: 6:06

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

    Recorded: November–December 1968
    Location: various
    Writer: The Beatles
    Producer: Kenny Everett

    Issued: 20 December 1968
    Label: Lyntone, LYN 1743/4
    Flexi disc: 7", 2 sides, 33 RPM
    Total time: 7:48

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," "Yer Blues," 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 

    Recorded: November–December 1969
    Location: various
    Writer: The Beatles
    Producer: Maurice Cole

    Issued: 19 December 1969
    Label: Lyntone, LYN 1970/1971
    Flexi disc: 7", 2 sides, 33? RPM
    Total time: 7:39

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 appears only 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.

For extensive accounts of each Christmas release, I highly recommend you take a look at the following Rolling Stones Magazine review
This post consists of MP3's (320kps) ripped from the Yellowdog Bootleg and was sourced on the internet earlier this year (thanks to the original uploader). Full album artwork and label scans are included. The original Fan club flexi 45's are super rare, and individual flexi's in good condition sell for nearly $300 each on eBay.
And so these Beatles Christmas Records fit the WOCK on Vinyl charter - they are super Obscure and of course fill the Christmas spirit.
May I take this opportunity to wish all my blog followers a Joyful and Merry Christmas and a New Year full of wonderful music and cheer.


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