"The Beatles' Third Christmas Record" (1965)
The Beatles' 1965 Christmas offering got off to a false start on October 19th, when the band convened at London's Marquee Studios to create what they hoped would be a bold step forward in holiday greetings. It was a week into their creatively fertile sessions for Rubber Soul and anything seemed possible, but this represented one of the few occasions when the magic failed to materialize. Outtakes purportedly from the date reveal ambitious plans for elaborate sketches stitched together for a show on their own fictitious pirate network, "Radio Beatle People."
Unfortunately, none of the musicians appear all that enthusiastic as the tapes roll. Sound effects fade in and out seemingly at random, while the band attempts to make up jokes and stories, apparently on the spot. McCartney reads the in-studio weather, portrays a German pipe organ superfan, and leads listeners on a visit to a "wind-making" factory, while Harrison serves as sports commentator at a boxing match with Lennon doing his best faux Muhammad Ali raps. Most interesting, albeit gross, is a discussion on the finer points of dismembering babies while a loop of a cooing infant plays. The bit may have provided inspiration to photographer Robert Whitaker, who was present in the studio for at least some of the session. Five months later he would bring the grisly scene to life while shooting the infamous "Butcher Cover" for the Beatles' Yesterday and Today album.
Through it all they fail to maintain the same carefree bonhomie of years past. "Uh, John, I understand you had a couple of words to say to us," McCartney says at one point. Lennon can only mumble, "It's been a long time since I've had a chance to speak to you on this level and ... that's about all." McCartney, acting as host and cheerleader, continues to prod his mates into action. "Where's all the good cheer we used to know? Maybe we're not pulling together, ladies and gentlemen. Maybe we have to pull together with one concerted effort ... and pull our party in the lead! If we could keep going for another couple of hours and maybe we'd get something." After a lengthy amount of aimless chatter, Lennon chimes in with a crucial observation: "Has anyone mentioned Christmas yet?" To remedy the issue they toss off a few skewered holiday ditties with names like "The Holly and the Mustard" and "Silent Bonfire Night." Starr scores the biggest laugh during "The 12 Days of Christmas," singing the off-color, "On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me, one bird a hummin', two sailors coming ..." The session, and the tapes, were abandoned soon after.
They would try again at Abbey Road on November 8th. Aware that the band was struggling, producer George Martin kept the tape running while they worked through Harrison's "Think For Yourself" earlier in the day, hoping to capture some amusing studio chatter to add to the mix. (It was not to be, but a snippet of backing vocals did surface in the film Yellow Submarine.) Recorded well after midnight, the 1965 Christmas greeting followed much the same format as previous years', beginning with a comic warble of "Yesterday" and an original by Lennon titled "Happy Christmas to Ya List'nas." A brief parody of Barry McGuire's end-times anthem "Eve of Destruction" features a surprisingly overt reference to the escalating conflict in Vietnam – much to the annoyance of their manager, Brian Epstein, already smarting from their stubborn refusal to reprise their annual Christmas performance residency. An airing of the Four Tops' recent Motown hit "It's the Same Old Song" – almost immediately halted amongst shouts of "Copyright!" – can be heard as a message to Epstein, and anyone else who cared to listen. The Beatles' need to progress artistically had become all-consuming.