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The Christmas Records
7" vinyl, Box Set
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Vinyl, December 15, 2017
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Never released beyond the fan club until now, The Beatles’ seven holiday messages have been newly pressed on a rainbow of seven-inch colored vinyl singles for The Christmas Records box set, to be released worldwide on December 15. The limited edition collection presents each vinyl single with its original flexi disc sleeve artwork, accompanied by a 16-page booklet with recording notes and reproductions of the fan club’s National Newsletters.
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As a fan since the Jack Paar show film clip in Jan. of 64, who was never in the fan club, I've wanted these for years. They are at once sad, fun, happy, touching, and sure, disappointing (at least in that I always want more.....but in this case there isn't). The 7" disk format does leave something to be desired: they are slightly warped but they play just fine; they're slightly scratchy; the 66 disc's volume is low. But so? Imagine what the original flexi discs sounded like! We have them now. Enjoy them for what they were if for nothing else, and if you don't wish to shell out the money for what are really just novelty recordings......well......don't. But if you are a true fan or a compleatist, buy them and enjoy them once a year.
Full of exuberance and youthfulness in ‘63 and ‘64, they didn’t simply read from a page as many artists would have done. These boys weren’t bothered about straying from what was in front of them and because of that, unlike interview discs, these do bear repeat listening. Yes, it was [hand?] scripted but plenty of misreadings and ad-libbed interjections ensued. The first discs contain the expected thanks for the cards and gifts and buying the records, etc. but also have some musical interludes and general tomfoolery. Wacky renditions of ‘Good King Wenceslas’, ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Yesterday’, an Irish song, ‘Can you Wash your Fathers Shirt?’? That the group were still recording ‘Rubber Soul’ may account for the apparent lethargy of the 1965 message.
The creativity took a leap from 1966, as it did with their music and writing, when a ten part ‘pantomime’ was performed. Tenuously linked, the ten part pub style singing, fairy tales (‘Podgy the Bear and Jasper’) and two Scotsmen (‘A Rare Cheese’) show a Goon style humour. They might not have released any festive songs at the time but they did write and record some short excerpts; ‘Everywhere it’s Christmas’ being one. Possibly the most elaborate of these fan club specials came the next year. The running theme of ‘Christmas Time (is Here Again)’ - a snippet of this six-and-a-half-minute, professionally recorded song is repeated here - included such delights as a parody of TV game shows, a drama of noir potential, tap dancing, Christmas messages and the Ravellers performing a jingle, ‘Plenty of Jam Jars’. It’s the most musical of their Christmas records.
From then on the enthusiasm diminished with the last two being recorded separately and edited to make it seem as if all four were there. Paul entertains with a Yuletide ditty seemingly made up on the spot; John comes up with two surrealistic poems and Ringo has a telephone conversation with himself. Introduced by George, Tiny Tim sings ‘Nowhere Man’. It’s all a bit weird. John and Yoko dominate the last Christmas disc whilst Ringo is heard promoting his new film and singing a bit, as does Paul. On hearing George’s ‘contribution’, which lasts a mere six seconds, you knew there wouldn’t be one the following year.
More or less mirroring their musical progression, this will make surprising hearing for many. With the singles on coloured vinyl, replicated labels, a 16 page book with replicated fan club newletters along with a few recording details, and presented in a nice sturdy box, this is a superb present from Santa for the Beatles fan in your life. (The 1963 disc isn't an exact replica, as that originally came in a gatefold sleeve.)
Beatles fans have been asking for these to be commercially released for years, and assumed it would be on CD, which may happen at sometime, but maybe Apple decided to release it in this form to keep with tradition.. Expensive? Yes, but anything Beatles carries a premium. And if you want the best, you have to pay for it.
Since then, the audio content has been available in bootleg LPs, but as is the usual for bootlegs, no visual content is offered.
Here, for the very first time since the individual release of the 7" flexi-discs, they made available the entire series of individual records, complete with the original artwork on each sleeve (and original individual label art), but instead of being pressed on flexi-discs, they were pressed on substantial colored vinyl.
The set comes with a booklet on the history of the discs complete with historic photos. All of this comes inside a thick, beautiful box. The box art is bright, colorful, and richly printed on thick, glossy paper. I'm guessing that this was done at Stoughton Press, a very high end printing company.
This was clearly a labor of love by those who produced it. This was NOT a money grab.
As for the audio content, well, that part is, perhaps, less essential. It's The Beatles goofing around, sometimes musically, more often not, just wishing their fans the best and thanking for their support. You won't listen to these a lot. But they do sound quite a better than the bootlegs. Capitol clearly went to some good sources for what is on these discs.
If you think of this set as a sort of a coffee table book presentation, you'll be real happy, as long as you're a fan of The Beatles, of course. And at its retail of $73 US, that's about $10 per single, which is what well-pressed 7" singles go for nowadays. That you have a gorgeous box and an informative booklet, and the price is very fair, in my opinion.
I don't know limited this set is, but go for it before the price goes up.