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Matches And Candles And Buns

The history of the Beatles' Christmastime fan club records

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Matches And Candles And Buns

The cover of the 1963 Beatles Christmas Fan Club Record

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Their rock contemporaries (The Rolling Stones, The Animals) looked down on the novelty of a Christmas Record, while their pop contemporaries (The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys) saw it as an opportunity to cash in, yet the Beatles themselves managed again, somehow, to have it both ways. The Beatles Christmas Records were sent to the Official Beatles Fan Club once a year between 1963 and 1969; not Christmas songs per se, they mostly consisted of just the lads themselves clowning around in the studio, creating Xmas (and other) improvised songs, and inserting the obligatory holiday wishes.

However, what sounds like novelty is actually a quite fascinating slice of the legacy. For one thing, they contain original Beatles songs that haven't been released or are hard to find. From obvious goofs like "Everywhere It's Christmas" to the excellent "Christmas Time Is Here Again" (a song which contains some of Ringo's finest moments on the drums), to the Paul solo "Happy New Year", which sounds like "I've Got A Feeling" would had it been done on his mostly-acoustic hearth-and-home McCartney album. And we can't forget what these records must have meant to the fans in an analog, mediaunsaturated time; these discs, even today, sound like a phone conversation with all four Beatles at once.

Most importantly, though, these records -- sent on floppy mailable inserts called "flexi-discs," a product of the US' Eva-Tone company, licensed to Lyntone in the UK -- contain a clear delineation of the Beatles Arc of History. When listened to all at once, chronologically, they provide a startling parallel to the band's own adventures. The earliest ones are full of energy and overwhelming optimism, but they're simple and only subtly adventurous. As they move into 1965, more experimentation comes into play, and the lads begin to take creative hold of the medium, ad-libbing and using the studio to full effect. By the time the series ends, the series is only perfunctorily about Christmas or the Fan Club: everyone sounds restless and the collaborative spirit has vanished. These records never uncover the unhappiness that Let It Be does; they're very pleasant (and fun) listening. But don't think they don't tell part of the story... by 1969, Yoko appears more than Paul does.

1963

The Beatles Christmas Record
Recorded October 17, 1963, Studio 2, Abbey Road, London
Released to members of the UK fan club on December 6, 1963 and US members on December 18, 1964 (Lyntone LYN 492)
Time: 5:03

Beatles PR man Tony Barrow had the idea for the Beatles Christmas fan club discs as a way to circumvent to piles of fan mail the band could no longer answer, inspired by the Queen's own Christmastime message to her subjects. After recording "I Want To Hold Your Hand" (ironically, the song that would exponentially increase their fan base) and "This Boy," the lads sat down to read Barrow's script, from which they deviated wildly. (This and the next three discs, through 1967, also contained quarterly Beatles fan club newsletters.)

Highlights:

All: "Good King Wenceslas"
Introductions and thanks:
John (Love Me Do, Royal Command Performance)
Paul (Jellybsbies, What We Enjoy Best)
"Good King Wenceslas" in fake German
Ringo (Ringo's history, "Good King Wenceslas" lounge version)
George (Fan Club heads, "Good King Wenceslas")
All: "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer"

1964

Another Beatles Christmas Record
Recorded October 26, 1964, Studio 2, Abbey Road, London
Released to UK fan club members on December 18, 1964 (Lyntone LYN 757)
Time: 4:01

After recording their version of Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't" for the Beatles For Sale album, the Fab Four gathered once again to read a Barrow script. This time, however, the fans have to be thanked for buying more than just the Beatles' music! (This recording has the distinction of being the only one that played at 45 rather than 33 rpm.)

Highlights:

Piano intro: "Jingle Bells"
Paul thanks fans for record sales
John thanks fans for buying his books
George thanks fans for seeing "the movie"
Ringo thanks fans just for being fans
"Oh, Can You Wash Your Father's Shirt?"

1965

The Beatles Third Christmas Record
Recorded November 8, 1965, Studio 2, Abbey Road, London
Released to UK fan club members on December 17, 1965 (Lyntone LYN 948)
Time: 6:20

After recording "Think For Yourself" for Rubber Soul, the Beatles ran through yet another Barrow script -- but this time there's some actual music, such as it is, including loving (?!) mockeries of Barry McGuire's "Eve Of Destruction," the Four Tops (sort of), and their own "Yesterday." There's also a nice fold-out of the group in holiday gear. The fake radio broadcast hints at Beatles Christmas Records to come.

Highlights:

Intro: "Yesterday" in intentionally bad harmony
Thanks from all for cards and presents
"Happy Christmas To Ya List'nas" / "Down In The Jungle" (?) / "Auld Lang Syne"
"It's The Same Old Song" - copyright!
Fake radio broadcast
"Auld Lang Syne" in the style of Barry McGuire
"Christmas Comes But Once A Year," John, then all
"Yesterday" reprise, "Christmas Day," message from John

1966

Pantomime (Everywhere It's Christmas)
Recorded November 25, 1966, Dick James Music offices, London
Released to UK fan club members on December 16, 1966 (Lyntone LYN 1145)
Time: 6:36

While arguably at the peak of their creative powers, Paul convinced the band to produce a real record, based on the Goon Show comic skits they'd grown up on as kids, and with music-hall tunes to match. Complete with a cover designed by Paul, "Everywhere It's Christmas" was the result. This was the only Beatles Christmas fan-club discs to list actual tracks on its back cover, to come as a double-sided record, and to feature an outside guest, in this case road manager Mal Evans, who merely speaks the title.

Tracklisting:

Song: Everywhere It's Christmas
Orowanyna (Corsican Choir And Small Choir)
A Rare Cheese (Two Elderly Scotsmen)
The Feast
The Loyal Toast
Podgy The Bear And Jasper
Felpin Mansions: Part One (Count Balder And Butler)
Felpin Mansions: Part Two (The Count and The Pianist)
Song: Please Don't Bring Your Banjo Back
Mal: Everywhere It's Christmas
Reprise: Everywhere It's Christmas

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