Good King Wenceslas last looked out
On the Feast of Stephen, Ho!
As the slow ray around about
Deep and crisp and crispy.
Brightly show the boot last night
On the mossty cruel.
Henry Hall and David Lloyd,
Betty Grable, too-oo-oo.
Hello, this is John speaking with his voice.
We’re all very happy to be able to talk to you like this on this little bit of plastic. This record reaches you at the end of a really gear year for us and it’s all due to you. When we made our first record on Parlophone towards the end of 1962, we hoped everybody would like what had already been our type of music for several years already. But we had no idea of all the gear things in store for us.
It all happened really when “Please, Please Me” became a Number One hit and after that, well “cor the Blimeys, heave the mo.” Our biggest thrill of the year, well I suppose it must have been topping the bill at the London Palladium and then, only a couple of days later, being invited to take part in The Royal Variety Show.
This time last year we were all dead chuffed because “Love Me Do” got into the Top Twenty and we can’t believe really that so many things have happened in between already.
Just before I pass you over to Paul (arf! arf! arf! arf!) I’d like to say thank you to all the Beatle people who have written to me during the year and everyone who sent gifts and cards for my birthday, which I’m trying to forget, in October. I’d love to reply personally to everybody but I just haven’t enough pens.
In the meantime:
Garry Crimble to you
Garry Mimble to you
Getty Bable, Dear Christmas
Happy Birthday me too.
If you haven’t gotten into the Christmas spirit yet or you are looking for something a little more nostalgic—albeit rock and roll nostalgia—to get into the spirit, you might want to find a copy of The Beatles’ Christmas message recordings which were recorded for their fan club members from 1963-1969.
The recordings are not too Christmassy; indeed, other than a few attempts at singing some traditional Christmas songs (which they have fun butchering) the lads mainly joke around about what they have done and haven’t done for that year. However, there is a Christmas feel to the messages as well as a more personal side to John, Paul, George, and Ringo. That’s what makes these recordings priceless.
In the first message the guys talk a little about themselves and then have fun singing “Good King Wenceslas” as well as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer “where they change some of the lyrics to “Rudy the Red-Nosed Beagle” and “Rudolph the Red-nosed Ringo.” And instead of everyone “picking on Rudolph” someone sings how that famous nose was “picked.” Things get a little weird though in the third message when they’re not as innocent and cute like the way they might have been in the first two messages. Still, they have fun butchering “Yesterday.”
In some of the later messages, you can see how they have matured as a band with their creative use of the studio for their messages. Whereas in the first two or three one can imagine them sitting around a microphone and delivering their Christmas messages, they start to get a little more creative and crazier. One can even detect a bit of Monty Pythonesque humor in their messages.
Some even get a little darker and bizarre. And in one part of their final message—with what sounds like John and Yoko walking outside—John starts singing “Good King Wenceslas”—just like he and the others had sung on the first recording. It comes across a little bittersweet, and perhaps full-circle because it would end up being their last Christmas message.
I first heard these messages back in 1978 when I was serving in the United States Air Force at George AFB, just outside of Victorville, California. Actually, I just heard one of them, the first one from 1963 on the Dr. Demento show—broadcast from some LA radio station—while I was working the graveyard shift a few weeks before Christmas. That year, I would be able to go home for Christmas, my first one back home since 1975.
It would be another three years later before I heard these messages again. In 1981, Alan Thacker, formerly of Buckacre and then the lead singer of The Jerks (and at the time a good friend of mine) turned me onto the rest of The Beatles’ Christmas messages. Alan was a big fan of The Beatles and had a huge collection of their albums including one that contained these messages. He had put the first Christmas message on a “break tape”—music that was played when The Jerks were on break when they played out—and it was so cool when I heard it again. Later Alan recorded a few more of the messages for me.
That was a special year 1981. Aside from dropping out of SIU, hanging out with my best friend Chris Vasquez and going on the road with The Jerks, it was also a Beatles’ year. It started back in the fall of 1980 when John Lennon came out with Double Fantasy and then tragedy on December 8 when Lennon was assassinated outside his Dakota apartment. With that gunshot, the chances of a Beatles’ reunion were shattered forever. And I suppose a lot of us just started to listen to The Beatles more.
The Jerks played a lot of Beatles’ covers and the drummer; Dick Verucchi had seen The Beatles twice when he was a kid. That was good enough for me to feel a part pf rock and roll history—something like six degrees of rock and roll separation. Later that summer, almost everyone in the band was reading the first authorized Beatles’ biography Shout! (it’s still one of the better books on the band). And then, a couple of the guys went out and ordered some Beatles’ boots from Trash and Vaudeville in New York.
Around the same time that I started listening to a couple of The Beatles’ Christmas messages that Alan had recorded for me, I was hanging out with Sarah Kostellic who was also a good friend of Alan’s and had just bought an album with these messages on it. She made a tape of them and that is what we listened to the night we drove down to Peoria, Illinois to attend a John Lennon Tribute at the Second Chance as well as one cold, December Sunday afternoon just driving around the Illinois Valley.
It would be a few more years before I heard these messages again. This time it was 1988 and I was attending graduate school at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. It was right before Christmas and I was going to Texas to spend Christmas with my Mom in Irving—our first Christmas together since 1978. I was hanging out with Jay Hedblade from Macomb and for some reason we started singing “Good King Wenceslas” one night and remembered these Beatles’ Christmas messages. It was right around the same time the English Department had a Christmas Party on a Friday night.
Later that evening, Jay, Stacy and Shaney (two English majors) and I were back at my apartment when who shows up but Tom Joliffe, the former soundman for The Jerks. He was playing a gig in town (he was a drummer) and just stopped by to say “Hi.”
Everything does come full circle.
A year later I am teaching in Hamamatsu, Japan and one day about two weeks before Christmas, I come across a The Beatles’ Christmas Message album and I buy it. A friend later recorded them for me but sadly the album was lost in a fire and the tape is somewhere in a box with other tapes.
It’s been 30 years since I first heard these recordings and after all these years I’ve been able to locate this these Christmas messages again to enjoy. Listening to these messages this year I am feeling more nostalgic than in recent years. I guess a lot has to do with turning 50 earlier this year and just feeling older.
Say what you will about how cheesy these recordings might seem the first couple of times you hear them; I am taking more of the nostalgic view. To be sure, it feels good to wax nostalgic even though what you remember can be a little painful and bittersweet.