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 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 John and Yoko walking outside—John starts singing “Good King Wenceslas”. 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.
Around the same time—not too long before Christmas—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 recorded them and we listened to them 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—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 Beatles’ album with these messages on them and finally, after all these years I would have my own copy.
Listening to these messages this year I am feeling more nostalgic than in recent years. This year especially—with not being able to be back home for the holidays—I am thinking about a lot of things. It’s nice to wax nostalgic, but it can also be a little painful when you are feeling homesick.