"The Beatles' 1968 Christmas Record"
Much like the White Album, released several weeks earlier on November 22nd, the Beatles' 1968 Christmas record represents the efforts of four independent artists working under a shared banner. Each Beatle recorded their part largely on their own, often at home, and handed the tapes to their friend, BBC Radio 1 DJ Kenny Everett. Though it's tempting to cite this separation as evidence of their impending implosion the following year, a more likely scenario is that they were simply too busy. Harrison was in the midst of a six-week trip to the United States, falling in with Bob Dylan and the Band. McCartney was also back and forth between New York City and his farm in Scotland as his relationship with Linda Eastman became increasingly more serious. Lennon had to contend with a recent marijuana bust, and the Starr family was in the midst of moving homes.
Growing pains aside, Lennon's input hints that all was not well within their ranks. His poem "Jock and Yono" is a thinly disguised Carrollian allegory describing the trials and tribulations of his burgeoning relationship with Yoko Ono, which had already endured a miscarriage and the aforementioned marijuana bust – to say nothing of a hostile London press. "They battled on against overwhelming oddities," he recites over Ono's delicate piano, "including some of their beast friends." The malapropism was not lost on Harrison, who was reportedly quite offended by the line. An additional poem, "Once Upon a Pool Table," was equally surreal though less biographical, telling the tale of "a short-haired Butcher's boy by the way of Ostergrad."
McCartney delivered the most tuneful contribution, offering a sweet acoustic ditty in the vein of his recent White Album tracks like "I Will" and "Mother Nature's Son." Lacking a title, he wishes fans "Happy New Year, happy Christmas, happy Easter, happy autumn happy Michelmas, ev'rybody," under a chord change that seems to predict "I've Got a Feeling," which he would bring to the Get Back sessions the following January.
Starr performs an ingenious one-man comedy skit, portraying both himself and an unhinged middle-aged harpy shrieking down the telephone line. The pitch gets even shriller when Harrison introduces Tiny Tim, the idiosyncratic American artist who earned fame performing pop hits from the 1920s with a ukulele, ghostly white pancake makeup, and a strangulated high-pithed yodel. Much as Harrison's collaboration with Eric Clapton injected a dose of excitement into sessions for the White Album, Tiny Tim's quivering version of "Nowhere Man" is a surreal highlight of the 1968 Christmas record – one that must be heard to be believed. "Thank you and God bless you, Tiny," Harrison says with an appropriately Dickensian twist.
The band handed off their tapes to Everett, who used his manic brilliance to blend them all together with snatches of White Album cuts (including "Helter Skelter," ""Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," "Yer Blues," and "Birthday") as well as an early piece of electronica, "Baroque Hoedown" by Perrey & Kingsley. Each Beatle's contributions spoke to their personality: McCartney's gift for melody, Lennon's brilliance for self-expression, and Starr's humor and charisma. Harrison, however, sounds particularly put out as he greets fans. "Well, here we are again, another fab Christmas," he says with barely contained sarcasm. "Christmas time is here again. Ain't been around since ... last year!" Despite the callback to the previous year's record, that sense of band unity had all but evaporated as 1968 drew to a close.