What does it sound like?:
By mid 1963, after one album and four singles, Beatlemania was in full flow in the UK. It was impossible for the band to respond to the deluge of letters from fans, so they recorded a Christmas message onto flexi-discs and gave them away to their fan club as a thank you. They made one every year of their existence and they are brought together into this box set of multi-coloured 7″ vinyl in their original sleeves.
The idea was Tony Barrow’s, their press officer, who coined the term ‘Fab Four.’ He scripted and the produced the first few but, from the very start, he had a problem with crowd control. The boys never took the recordings seriously and were forever messing about. 1963’s begins with the boys singing King Wenceslas in harmony. Soon, John changes the words and the falsetto voice begins to sounds like a chipmunk. Each Beatle, in turn, delivers his message, encouraged by the others. Paul barks like a dog and one of the others pinches him. The overall impression is of bunch of mates having a good laugh.
1964’s is introduced by Paul tinkling ivories. The boys make no attempt to disguise the fact they are reading their thanks out. This one is a bit more organised but is still full of interruptions and distractions, ending with all four, seemingly, running away bellowing Happy Christmas. 1965 smells of pot. An a cappella Yesterday is mingled with snippets of a jolly Auld Lang Syne. They put on funny voices and ad lib constantly, to the extent none of it makes sense. They are still having a lot of fun together.
George Martin produced 1966’s. Song snippets include Everywhere Is Christmas, Orowainya and Please Don’t Bring Your Banjo Back, all backed by piano. The script is a bizarre pantomime, heavily Gooned. Sound effects are in keeping with those on Yellow Submarine. This one is the most thought-through and the best organised. It is also their most surreal.
For 1967, there are bass and drums for the first time. Christmas Time Is Here Again! could have been a complete song. It was later recreated as a B side of Free As A Bird. The theme involves several acts auditioning for a radio show and being subject to bizarre experiences. George Martin makes an appearance. As a bitter wind blows, John pastiches Burns in a final poem in the style of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.
The last two were produced by Kenny Everrett. He does an excellent job of disguising the fact that none of the four were in the room at the same time. For 1968’s Tiny Tim sings Nowhere Man. He gets more air time than anyone else. All the pieces are stitched together in the style Revolution #9. By Christmas 1969, The Beatles had broken up. Still, each Beatle sounds upbeat. A giggly Yoko interviews John as they walk round their grounds. Paul sings his message as he strums an acoustic. The End looms in the background. John absent-mindedly sings King Wenceslas to himself, in contrast to 1963 when all four Beatles sang it together. Sonorous strings swell until we are left with a choir performing The First Noel.
It’s a nice box, it’s vinyl, it’s The Beatles, it’s a limited edition, it’s Christmas, it will sell.
What does it all *mean*?
These recordings are amongst the weirdest and wildest The Beatles ever made. Listened to in chronological order, they document the arc of The Beatles career, starting off as an enthusiastic, talented bunch of friends, becoming more innovative and experimental in the mid period and disparate but still professional and polished at the bitter end. Their internal relationships may have changed and, as individuals, they matured but they retained a certain wit and charm throughout.
Goes well with…
Virgin ears. The first listen is the best.
Might suit people who like…
The Beatles, The Goons, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) [complete Anthology version].