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Thursday, 23 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#13: 'Christmastime Is Here Again' - The Beatles Christmas Flexis 1963-1969

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

It's bizarre given the endless ubiquity of The Beatles that there exists a hidden world of Beatles recordings unknown to even some of the most savvy of their fans.
I'm talking of course about the seven flexi-discs that The Beatles issued to subscribers to their fan club every December as a special Christmas 'Thank You' to their most devoted fans. The discs contain Christmas messages, sketches, songs, surreal sound effects and all kind of Beatlesque nonsense.
What's particularly interesting about them is that if you play them in sequence; i.e. from the 1963 one up to 1969 in the order they were issued, you can actually hear a condensed history of The Beatles played out a lot more candidly than the official version.
The early discs, 1963-64, have a quaint old fashioned quality to them with all four Beatles huddled around a single microphone, nervously taking a turn each to wish all the fans a Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year. There are moments of comedy as they start faffing about and trying to put each other off, but they are a bit stiff and a little bland.
The middle period discs, like the cream of The Beatles music, 1965-67, are the real deal. It's on these discs, like on their official releases that they really let their imaginations run wild. The Goons influence really shines through too as the boys play out increasingly surreal Pantomimes full of non-sequiturs and mindless gibberish. Probably their finest Christmas flexi moment is the 1966 disc, recorded slap bang between the final sessions for Revolver and the first sessions that would bring forth 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane'. Just as The Beatles were at the zenith of their musical creation, so does their abundant creativity spill on to their Christmas disc.
And it's this one we bring to you as an example:

The late period discs, 1968-69, capture in full unflinching gruesomeness, the messy bitter end of 'The Greatest Pop Band Of All Time' in merciless detail. The four Beatles can't even stand to be in the same room as each other, so record their sections on their own.
Paul delivers his Christmas message via the kind of simplistic acoustic ditties that he introduced on The White Album and would subsequently base his early solo career upon. George really has given up on being a Beatle and literally phones his contributions in, what little there is of them. Ringo does what he's always done; plays the man of the people who still can't quite believe he's in The Beatles. His messages are still warm and friendly, long before he would start threatening us with Peace & Love. But it's John's contributions that are the most startling. On the 1968 disc he laments the bad press that he and Yoko have had and even takes a vicious swipe at his fellow Beatles for not being supportive of his relationship with Yoko. It makes for very uncomfortable listening, like listening to a tape of your parents arguing. On the 1969 disc, he and Yoko walk around the gardens of their home with John asking Yoko how she thinks the 1970s will be("peaceful" she hopes). It's odd and quite poignant to hear people talk about a forthcoming decade now that it's way back in the past. Especially as John would go into musical exile in 1975 only to reappear in 1980 with tragic consequences.
Most Christmases I dig out the bootleg CD 'The Beatles Christmas Album' which plays the seven discs in chronological sequence, and I always forget how depressed I end up feeling by the time it gets to the final tracks. As a hidden history of The Beatles, the discs are invaluable, but they do make for rather uneasy listening.
The only complete Christmas song The Beatles ever recorded was 'Christmastime Is Here Again' which was used in segments on the 1967 flexi. The version below is a slightly truncated version which was released as a B-side for the 'Real Love' single in 1995. If you get bored just fast forward to 1min 50sec and you'll hear Christmas messages by the four Beatles followed by John's 'Scottish Christmas', a Robert Burns parody that is actually quite funny.

"Everywhere is Christmas and I'm off to join the cheer!"


PS: If you haven't already done so, please check out our Festive Top Thirty!

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