Between the years of 1963 and 1969, The Beatles sent flexi-disc records at Christmas time to members of their fan clubs in the United Kingdom and the United States. These records were spoken and musical greetings from The Beatles to help celebrate the Christmas season. In 1970, an LP compilation was made up of the previous flexi-discs, and this compilation came to be know as The Beatles' Christmas Album.
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
1963: The Beatles' Christmas Record
The first album was recorded on October 17, 1963 and distributed on December 6, 1963.
The album 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.
The record was five minutes in length and sent to UK fan club members. An edited version was sent to American fan club members in 1964.
1964: Another Beatles Christmas Record
The second album was recorded on October 26, 1964 and distributed on December 18, 1964.
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?"
The total playing time was 3:58.
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
The third album was recorded on November 8, 1965 and distributed on December 17, 1965.
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."
The total playing time was 6:20.
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
The fourth album was recorded on November 25, 1966 and distributed on December 16, 1966.
Recorded between sessions for "Strawberry Fields Forever," for the 1966 offering, the usual greetings and thanks gave way to a 'Pantomime' — a 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."
The total playing time was 6:36.
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!
The fifth album was recorded on November 28, 1967 and distributed on December 15, 1967.
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.
The total playing time was 6:06.
1968: The Beatles' 1968 Christmas Record
The sixth album was recorded through November and December, 1968 and distributed on December 20, 1968.
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.
Included, as well, 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.
The total playing time was 7:48.
1969: The Beatles' Seventh Christmas Record: Happy Christmas 1969
The seventh and final album was recorded through November and December, 1969 and distributed on December 19, 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.
George Harrison only appears briefly, and Ringo 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, Ringo and his son.
The total playing time was 7:39.
The Compilation Album
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.
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Posted December 8, 2013.