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Beatles’ Rare Fan-Club Christmas Records: A Complete Guide

Band’s brief, whimsical holiday discs – released from 1963 through 1969 and newly reissued – offer a glimpse into their stunning evolution

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In honor of a new reissue, we take a detailed look at the Beatles' whimsical series of fan-club-only Christmas records.

Mirrorpix/Everett Collection

Sure, the Beatles set the standard by which all popular music is judged, but you’d be forgiven for wondering if they lacked a little in the holiday-spirit department. The Beach Boys, the Supremes, James Brown, Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder and scores of other rock icons have donned red velvet hats and crooned about Santa and Frosty in the name of all things merry. Yet the Fab Four never had a widely available holiday offering – until now.

Between 1963 and 1969, the Beatles sent limited-edition Christmas singles to paid-up members of their fan club. Consisting of wordplay-laden spoken messages, surreal skits and snatches of original songs, these ultra-rare plastic “flexidisc” records existed in a hazy area between bootlegs and legitimate, if tough to find, releases. Now they’re all being reissued on vinyl as part of a limited-edition box set, The Christmas Records, making them available for general purchase for the first time ever.

The goofy tracks capture the band at their most playful, showcasing their warm camaraderie and wit punctuated by cheery cries of their invented Yuletide greeting: “Happy Crimble!” As their fame grew and the pressure became more immense, the Beatles welcomed the chance to blow off steam and follow their creativity into areas beyond their usual pop fare. These low-stakes sessions emboldened them to experiment, sometimes inspiring ideas that would later appear on their better-known work. Even when they’re not pushing the artistic envelope, their eccentric humor, heavily influenced by British radio comedy collective the Goons, remains as funny now as it was half a century earlier.

To celebrate their grand unveiling, here’s a comprehensive look at the Beatles’ seven Christmas records. 

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“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. 

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“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.

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“The Beatles’ Seventh Christmas Record: Happy Christmas 1969”

The Beatles existed in name only by the Christmas of 1969, after Lennon famously told his compatriots in September that he wanted “a divorce.” But for fear of disrupting upcoming business deals, as well as a genuine sense of confusion, the band decide to keep any talk of a breakup strictly among themselves. To maintain a sense of normalcy, they dutifully set about recording pieces for yet another Christmas record, once more to be assembled by Everett.

Most of the Beatles opted to tape their pieces in the comfort of their own homes. Ono, who had just contributed anonymous backing piano the previous year, introduces her now-husband as they stroll through the grounds of Tittenhurst Park, their Ascot estate where the final Beatles’ photo session had taken place on August 22nd. Together they stage a jokey interview, ranging from their favorite foods to their place in the decade to come. “I think it’ll be a quite a peaceful Seventies … [peace] and freedom,” Ono opines. As the autumn leaves crunch underfoot, Lennon can’t help but belt “deep and crisp and even” – the line from “Good King Wenceslas” he gleefully butchered on the band’s first Christmas record. Once a fresh 23-year-old having a laugh with his mates, he’s now an adult superstar, roaming his palatial estate with his wife, preaching peace to the globe. Even now, the monumental six-year leap remains difficult to comprehend.

McCartney performs another inviting acoustic original, this one titled “This Is to Wish You.” Music will remain his preferred method for bringing peace to those who endured the tumultuous decade he had helped to shape – as well soothe his own soul during the uncertain time. Starr sings a song of his own, a goofy ad-libbed tune, and manages to work in a plug for his new film, The Magic Christian with Peter Sellers, whose radio work with The Goon Show can be felt in each of the Beatles’ Christmas discs. Harrison, however, remains unwilling to submit to this last vestige of mop-toppery. His contribution, a single line uttered at the London offices of Apple Records, runs six seconds long.

Among recordings of Christmas choirs and pipe organs pulled from the tape vault, Everett utilized another preexisting piece of music: “The End” from the Beatles’ swan song, Abbey Road. Perhaps even he had an inkling that this would be the last offering of its kind from the group. He ensures that the concluding sound heard on what would prove to be the final Beatles Christmas record is that of laughter, a fitting reminder of the inherent good humor that runs throughout the band’s works. Even to the bitter end, the Beatles could be counted on to raise a smile. 

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