"Christmas Time Is Here Again!" (1967)
Now that the band had mastered their studio domain, the Beatles' 1967 seasonal message – wrapped in a Sgt. Pepper–like collage of vintage photos created by Lennon and Starr – would be the apex of their Christmas recordings. Recorded back at Abbey Road's Studio Two on November 28th during a nine-hour marathon session, "Christmas Time Is Here Again!" expands on the sketches of the previous year by adding the only performance among the Beatles' holiday recordings that could safely be categorized as a proper "Christmas song." The tune is little more than a holiday mantra, but the Beatles sell it through their full-throated commitment and a clever arrangement reminiscent of their new single, "Hello, Goodbye." Lennon, ever fond of unusual count-ins (he can be heard intoning "Sugar plum fairy, sugar plum fairy" on early takes of "A Day in the Life"), introduces the song with a hastily exhaled "Interplanetary remix, take 444!" before a lushly multi-tracked chorus of Beatle voices remind listeners that Christmas time is indeed here again.
The plot, scripted by the band the day before, makes about as much sense as "Everywhere It's Christmas." The story begins with the Beatles portraying a fictitious group called the Ravellers, on a quest to audition for the BBC. Once they've made it past the gatekeeper (played by their friend Victor Spinetti, who had appeared in A Hard Day's Night, Help! and the yet-to-be-released Magical Mystery Tour) they perform a tap-dance in the "fluffy rehearsal room." From there it all becomes a bit difficult to follow as the record fades into a fever dream of fractured broadcast clichés including jingles ("Wonderlust for your trousers!"), a noir radio drama called Theater Hour and a game show where the grand prize is a trip to Denver and automatic appointment to "independent candidate for Paddington." The Ravellers, having apparently passed the audition, return to croon a tune about jam jars across the airwaves for the benefit of injured woman in Blackpool.
A haze of maniacal echo-drenched laughter gives way to the regal voice of George Martin, addressing fans for the first time on the disc. "They'd like to thank you for a wonderful year," he says with the tone of a kindly but exasperated schoolteacher, before the students repeat his words with mock reverence. Lennon signs off with a Goonish original poem, a sort of lonely Christmas "Jabberwocky" delivered in a thick Scottish brogue over the sound of a wintery gale. "When the beasty brangom button to the heather and little inn," he says while "Auld Lang Syne" plays softly. "And be strattened oot in ma-tether to yer arms once back again. Och away, ye bonnie." So ends the Beatles' last documented recording of their extraordinary year. It would also be the final Christmas disc recorded together by the group as a unit.