When Christmas Was Fab

Among the most unusual of all Beatles memorabilia are the Christmas records. Each year from 1963 through 1969, the Beatles produced special holiday recordings for paying members of their official international fan club. The Christmas records reflect the Beatles’ history: The first three, 1963 through 1965, conform to the lovable moptop image, with lots of wacky fun and group cameraderie. (The 1963 disc was recorded on the same day the band made “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”) The next two, 1966 and 1967, are more sophisticated and also more surreal, in keeping with the growth and change in the Beatles’ music in that period. The final two, 1968 and 1969, go even deeper into surrealism—and reflect the growing split among the members.

These recordings may disappoint some people who’ve heard of them but never actually heard them. They’re pretty silly, the music is inconsequential, and for the most part, they’re only peripherally related to Christmas. On the early records, recorded (mostly) live in a studio, it’s fun to hear the Beatles goofing around with the scripts they’ve been given. It’s doubtful that even the most hardcore fan-club member could get all the references and in-jokes. The 1966 and 1967 productions were more carefully scripted and thematically whole. The ’67 disc features the recurring theme “Christmas Time (Is Here Again),” which was eventually released in full as the flip-side of “Free as a Bird,” the “new” 1995 single from Beatles Anthology I. In 1968, the four members recorded their parts separately, to be pieced together by an engineer—and the bulk of the singing is done by special guest Tiny Tim, who wails “Nowhere Man.” The ’69 disc was similarly stitched together, and features mostly John and Yoko—Paul and Ringo are heard only occasionally, and George gets one line of greeting.

The Christmas records were pressed on flexidiscs, which are thinner than traditional records. The 1963 disc was sent only to fans in Britain. After the Beatles conquered the United States, American fans began getting the discs, but in 1964, they received the 1963 disc, and in 1965, they didn’t get a disc at all. American fans wouldn’t hear the ’64 and ’65 discs until 1970, when all of the discs were compiled on one album, discussed below. Until 1968, American fans received their records as flexidiscs pressed on the backs of oversized postcards. (Remember when records by Bobby Sherman, the Jackson Five, and the Archies came on the backs of cereal boxes? Same thing.) British fans got their flexidiscs in actual sleeves, and they often came packaged with posters or other extras.

The 1970 compilation album, called From Then to You in Britain and The Beatles Christmas Album in America, was sent only to fan club members and quickly became a widely bootlegged collectible. (Once, it was also a valuable one, although the prices I’ve seen for the collection on eBay don’t seem outrageous to me.) It was pressed from the British fan club secretary’s personal copies of the flexidiscs, so the audio quality isn’t very good. A few years ago, Ringo Starr suggested the Christmas recordings might be officially released at some point, but that point hasn’t come yet, and it may never will.

One online commentator remarks that the Beatles’ Christmas records are a little bit like home movies. He’s got it right. You might enjoy watching someone else’s home movies for a few minutes, just to see that person acting differently in another time and place, but you wouldn’t need your own copy to take home. Similarly, the Beatles’ Christmas records are not something every fan needs—unless you’re obsessed—but they’re fun to listen to once.

And yet, here they are. The 1963 recording is below to bring in the folks via the Hype Machine, but if you want all of them, they’re all in the zip files. These files are going to be live for only 48 hours–until mid-afternoon Friday here in the States—so grab ’em while you can.

“The Beatles Christmas Record” (1963)/The Beatles
Beatles Christmas Records ’63-’66 (zip file, four tracks, 192kbps mp3s, approximately 30mb total)
Beatles Christmas Records ’67-’69 (zip file, three tracks, 192 kbps mp3s, approximately 29mb total)

2 thoughts on “When Christmas Was Fab

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