XMAS BONUS: “Christmas Time is Here Again” by the Beatles

A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs
A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs
XMAS BONUS: "Christmas Time is Here Again" by the Beatles

As we’re in the period between Christmas and New Year, the gap between episodes is going to be longer than normal, and the podcast proper is going to be back on January the ninth. So nobody has to wait around for another fortnight for a new episode, I thought I’d upload some old Patreon bonus episodes to fill the gap. Every year around Christmas the bonus episodes I do tend to be on Christmas songs and so this week I’m uploading three of those. These are older episodes, so don’t have the same production values as more recent episodes, and are also shorter than more recent bonuses, but I hope they’re still worth listening to.

Hello, and welcome to this week’s second Patreon bonus episode. I’m recording this on December the twenty-third, so whether you hear this before Christmas is largely down to how quickly we can get the main episode edited and uploaded. Hopefully, this is going up on Christmas Eve and you’re all feeling appropriately festive.

Normally for the Patreon bonuses in the last week of December I choose a particularly Christmassy record from the time period we’re covering in the main podcast — usually a perennial Christmas hit like something off the Phil Spector Christmas album or the Elvis Christmas album. However, this year we’re in the mid sixties, a period when none of the big hits of US or UK Christmas music were released, because it’s after the peak of US Christmas music and before the peak of UK Christmas music. There were Christmas albums by people like James Brown, but they weren’t major parts of the discography.

So today, we’re going to have a brief run-through of the Beatles’ Christmas records. These were flexi-discs — which for those of you who are too young to remember them were records pressed on very, very, thin, cheap plastic, which used to be attached to things like kids’ comics or cereal boxes as promotional gimmicks — sent out to members of the group’s fan club. In a way, these were the Beatles’ very own Patreon bonuses, sent out to fans and supporters, and not essential works, but hopefully interesting and fun.

They very rarely had anything like a full song, being mostly made up of sketches and recorded messages, and other than a limited-edition vinyl reissue a few years back they’ve never been put on general release — though one song from the discs, “Christmas Time is Here Again”, *was* released as a B-side of the CD single of “Free as A Bird” in 1995:

[Excerpt: The Beatles, “Christmas Time is Here Again”]

Other than that, the Christmas records remain one of those parts of the Beatles catalogue which have never seen a proper widespread release. The first record was made on October the 17th 1963, at the same recording session as “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, at the instigation of Tony Barrow, the group’s publicist, who also came up with a script for the group to depart from:

[Excerpt, the Beatles’ first Christmas record]

Barrow apparently edited the recording himself, using scissors and tape, and much of that was just taking out the swearing.

Incidentally, I’ve seen some American sources talking about the word “Crimble” being a word that the Beatles made up themselves, but it’s actually a fairly standard bit of Scouse slang. The second Christmas record was recorded at the end of the sessions for Beatles For Sale and was much the same kind of thing, though this time they incorporated sound effects:

[Excerpt: The Beatles’ Second Christmas Record]

That was never sent to American fans. Instead, they got a cardboard copy of an edited version of the first record (it’s possible to make records out of cardboard, but they can only be played a handful of times). They wouldn’t get another Christmas record until 1968, though British fans kept receiving them.

The third record sees the group parodying other people’s hits, including a brief rendition of “It’s the Same Old Song” interrupted by George Harrison saying they can’t sing it because of copyright, and an attempt to sing Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” and “Auld Lang Syne” at the same time:

[Excerpt: The Beatles’ Third Christmas Record]

The fourth record, from 1966, was recorded during the early sessions for “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and titled “Pantomime: Everywhere It’s Christmas”. For those outside the UK and its sphere of cultural influence, pantomime is a British Xmas stage tradition which is very hard to explain if you’ve not experienced it, involving performances that are ostensibly of fairy stories like Cinderella or Snow White, but also usually involving drag performances — the male lead is usually played by a young woman, while there’s usually an old woman character played by a man in drag — with audience participation, songs, and old jokes of the “I do declare, the Prince’s balls get bigger every year!” type.

As the title suggests, then, the 1966 Christmas record is an attempt at an actual narrative of sorts, though a surreal, incoherent one. It comes across very much like the Goon show — though like one of the later episodes where Milligan has lost all sense of narrative coherence:

[Excerpt: The Beatles, “Pantomime: Everywhere It’s Christmas”]

it’s probably the best of the group’s Christmas efforts, and certainly the most fully realised to this point. The 1967 Christmas record, “Christmas Time is Here Again”, is even more ambitious. It’s another narrative, which sees the group playing a fictitious group called the Ravellers, auditioning for the BBC:

[Excerpt: The Beatles, “Christmas Time is Here Again”]

It also features parodies of broadcasting formats, which I’ve seen a few people suggest were inspired by the Bonzo Dog Band’s then-recent Craig Torso Show radio performances, but which seem to me more indicative just of a general shared sense of humour:

[Excerpt: The Beatles, “Christmas Time is Here Again”]

But that record has become most famous for having one of the closest things on any of these records to a full song, the title track “Christmas Time is Here Again”:

[Excerpt: The Beatles, “Christmas Time is Here Again”]

As well as later being issued as the B-side of a CD single, that was also remade by Ringo as a solo record:

[Excerpt: Ringo Starr, “Christmas Time is Here Again”]

Although my favourite use of the song is actually as an interpolation, with slightly altered lyrics, in “Xmas Again” by Stew of the Negro Problem, one of my favourite current songwriters:

[Excerpt: Stew, “Xmas Again”]

“Christmas Time is Here Again” would be the last Christmas record the group would make together. For their final two Christmas releases, they recorded their parts separately and got their friend, the DJ Kenny Everett, who was known at this point for his tricks with tape editing, and who shared their sense of humour (he later went on to become a successful TV comedian) to collage them together into something listenable. The highlight of the 1968 record comes from George’s contribution. George, a lover of the ukulele, got Tiny Tim to record his version of “Nowhere Man” for the record:

[Excerpt: Tiny Tim, “Nowhere Man”]

And for the seventh and final Christmas single, recorded after the group had split up but before the split was announced, Everett once again cobbled it together from separate recordings, this time a chat between John and Yoko, Ringo improvising a song and plugging his new film, and Paul singing an original Christmas song:

[Excerpt: Paul McCartney, “Merry, Merry, Year”]

George’s contribution was a single sentence.

In 1970, the fan club members got one final record — an actual vinyl album, compiling all the previous Christmas records in one place. All the Beatles would in future record solo Christmas singles, some of which became perennial classics, but there would never be another Beatles Christmas record

[Excerpt, the end of the third Beatles Christmas record]

3 thoughts on “XMAS BONUS: “Christmas Time is Here Again” by the Beatles

  1. Daniel Spinella

    Hello Andrew, I hope you don’t mind a question that’s just a bit off topic. I’m reading your “Beatles in Mono” book and am interested in buying a set of mono recordings. I’m finding it impossible to find the Beatles “Mono Masters,” but “The Beatles in Mono” box is easy enough to find at different price points. Are the recordings in the box more or less the same as those in “Momo Masters”? I am not a completist but have always been very fond of the Beatles mono recordings. Your advice would be much appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Andrew Hickey

      For anyone else who’s tempted to buy this book of mine, please don’t — it’s not very good and it’s out of print for a reason. I’m writing a new edition that will fix the worst of it, but I wrote it in my twenties and it’s not really up to my later standards…
      As for the question, “Mono Masters” is a two-CD set that’s *part* of the Beatles in Mono box set. It’s the mono equivalent of the Past Masters double CD, but without the tracks on that set which were only ever released in stereo, and with the addition of the tracks from the Yellow Submarine album. It was never released on its own, just as part of that box.

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