Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Beatles 21: Christmas Album

Every Christmas from 1963 to 1969, the official Beatles Fan Club sent its members a specially recorded flexi-disc, consisting of dialogue, comedy and exclusive music from the boys. Ranging from four to eight minutes, they were always a nice holiday surprise for the fans every year, along with the hit single and new album they hoped to find underneath their trees. In 1970, after the group had splintered for good, fans received an actual LP, consisting of all those flexi-discs, with a clever retrospective cover to boot.
In addition to being a lot of fun, The Beatles’ Christmas Album provides a fairly descriptive arc of their career. 1963’s message is excited and fresh, with the boys breathlessly thanking their fans for making them famous. 1964’s greeting is similar, but with a bit more wry humor sneaking in between the songs and speeches. By 1965, they’re just as exhausted as they are restless to do something new, making the humor even more pointed (doubtlessly helped by all the pot they were smoking). The turning point arrives in 1966, where the straight talk is replaced with a collection of short skits, bookended by the original “Everywhere It’s Christmas” and featuring the unique performance of “Please Don’t Bring Your Banjo Back”.
1967’s message takes the idea further, combining a Monty Python-esque sendup of BBC programming with the slightly psychedelic group original “Christmas Time Is Here Again!” interspersed in and out, along with such other jingles as “Plenty Of Jam Jars” and “Get Wonderlust For Your Trousers”. It was the last of the collaborative fan greetings; 1968’s disc—complete with an appearance by Tiny Tim—was recorded by each Beatle separately and edited together after the fact, as was the John-and-Yoko-heavy 1969 message. Even so, their personalities are consistent: Paul is musical; Ringo is a clown; George thanks their closest friends for sticking with them; and John is consumed with his public personal life.
Since EMI has the rights to holiday-themed songs by John, Paul, and George, logic would suggest that an official Beatles Christmas CD, expanded or not, would be a perennial holiday best seller. These seven tracks, a continuously entertaining 45 minutes of speech, skits and song, led the short list of Beatle recordings fans would like to see officially released, and their continual non-appearance remained a mystery. Except for a three-minute montage based around “Christmas Time Is Here Again!” included on a mid-‘90s CD single, a severe edit of the 1963 message that snuck out on iTunes in 2010, and two further minutes buried on Spotify five years after that, none of these messages had been in print or distributed since 1970. In 2017 they were finally reissued—as a box set of seven replica vinyl discs retailing for about eighty bucks, with no CD, digital, or even streaming equivalent. Meanwhile, its continual absence from legitimate shelves meant The Beatles’ Christmas Album was endlessly counterfeited and pirated over the years. Some of the better-packaged bootlegs contain all of the messages in pristine sound, with various relevant outtakes to fill up the disc. With just a little digging around cyberspace, these can be heard and enjoyed all year long.
(Footnote: even if the Fabs didn’t have much use for each other in the new decade, they retained fond memories of these little gestures for the fans. John and Yoko prepared a segment for a possible 1970 message just in case, followed a year later by the original “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, which is probably being played on a radio station somewhere at this very moment. Also doubtlessly saturating the airwaves today is “Wonderful Christmastime”, Paul’s contribution to the genre, which has been wearing out its welcome since 1979. George’s “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” was a 1974 single, and Ringo recorded a whole album of rock ‘n roll holiday tunes in 1999.)

The Beatles The Beatles’ Christmas Album (1970)—4
Current CD equivalent: none

3 comments:

  1. i was listening to a beatles program last weekend and the dj said that the reason the christmas albums haven't been released is because christmastime is here again and all the stuff around it were copywritten. i don't know who owns them but it seems to me that that is what is holding up the release.
    dick

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's a good theory. The publishing would belong to Michael Jackson, unless they were administered differently. The band/Apple owns the recordings. I should think it would fall under the publishing deals of any other recordings of the time.

    Beyond that, it amazes me that the subject hasn't even been broached by anyone in the business.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks, "digging" proved well-spent.

    ReplyDelete