The tale of the first Crimble begins on October 17th, 1963, inside Abbey Road’s Studio Two. Before beginning work on what would become their next single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the Beatles had some Yuletide housekeeping to attend to at the behest of their press officer, Tony Barrow, who suggested that they record a Christmas greeting as a special treat to their rapidly swelling fan club. The band liked the idea enough to acquiesce, but were still content to leave the specifics to a seasoned professional like Barrow, who prepared a script filled with standard expressions of gratitude and seasonal platitudes.
Of course, there was a lot to be thankful for. It had been an extraordinarily year of firsts for the Beatles, during which they released their debut LP, embarked on their first headlining tour and began their unparalleled string of Number One hits. Five days earlier they had sent the United Kingdom into its first throes of advanced Beatlemania with a televised performance on Val Parnell’s Sunday night institution, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, inspiring thousands of fans to swarm the stately West End venue. The hysterics would soon become tiresome, but for now it was fresh, and a genuine tone of naïve bewilderment pervades what would be known as “The Beatles Christmas Record.”
Celestial chimes, the only musical instrument to appear on otherwise a cappella track, herald the band’s arrival as they gather around the microphone to sing a version of “Good King Wenceslas” that’s both hilariously off-key and also hilariously wrong (the snow is not “deep and crisp and crispy” nor is Betty Grable’s name checked). The earnestness and showbiz sincerity of Barrow’s script is immediately undercut as Lennon introduces himself with a cheery, “Hello, this is John speaking with his voice!” Thanking fans for a “really gear year,” he notes the deluge of cards he’d received for his 23rd birthday the week before: “I’d love to reply to everyone personally, but I haven’t enough pens.”
After some irreverent dog barking, he hands it over to McCartney, who echoes the gratitude – save for one thing. Ever since the Beatles expressed their fondness for Jelly Babies (an English cousin of jelly beans) in a recent interview, fans had been shipping them by the crate-load. No longer wishing to be pelted by the confection during live appearances, McCartney takes the opportunity to tell the world, “We’ve gone right off Jelly Babies!” Striking up a faux-German reprise of “Good King Wenceslas” with Lennon, he passes off to Starr, who responds with his own in the style of a hep-cat nightclub crooner. “Thank you, Ringo,” Harrison deadpans as their mock applause dies down. “We’ll phone you!”
The band left it to Barrow to cobble together a workable recording from their banter. “I actually cut the tape recording with scissors, patched the pieces together, and let the discarded bits drop to the floor,” he wrote in his memoir, John, Paul, George, Ringo and Me. “In doing this we destroyed a master tape that at some future date might have raised many thousands of pounds at auction as a unique piece of memorabilia – particularly with all the unused bad language left in!”
Thirty thousand copies of the one-track single were pressed on Lyntone “flexi-vinyl” and sent to fan-club members in the first week of December. In among the jokes and half-songs (like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Ringo”) heard by anointed “Beatle People,” McCartney delivered a surprisingly prescient mission statement. “Lots of people ask us what we enjoy best – concerts and television or recording. We like doing stage shows, ’cause it’s great to hear an audience enjoying themselves. But the thing we like best – I think so anyway – is going into the recording studio to make new records,” he says. “What we like to hear most is one of our songs taking shape in a recording studio, one of the ones that John and I have written, and then listening to the tapes afterwards to see how it all worked out.” Hours after committing these words to tape, the band would have their first transatlantic hit in the can, elevating the Beatles to a level they could scarcely imagine, and insuring that “The Beatles Christmas Record” would have a sequel.