December 15 – If Sgt. P And Magical Mystery Tour Weren’t Gifts Enough

John Lennon did it, so too did Paul McCartney. But surprisingly, The Beatles as a group never did. Put out an enduringly popular Christmas record, that is. But the closest they got to it was on this day in 1967, when they put out “Christmas Time Is Here Again.” 

Through the mail mind you. If you’ve not heard of it, don’t be surprised. It is featured in Mental Floss‘s “11 Christmas Songs That Never Really Took Off” for starters. And it wasn’t available in stores for decades after that. Plus, well… it really isn’t all that amazingly good. Even the Fab Four could from time to time make a misstep, after all. Although since it wasn’t designed to be a hit record, it perhaps served its purpose well. Let’s explain.

From 1963-1970, the Beatles sent out a special Christmas gift to members of their fan club. In Britain it was always a special edition record, usually a “flexi-disc” single, mostly a one-sided one, but in 1968 one with an a-side and b-side. American fans sometimes got the same disc but some other years had to settle for a nice postcard from the lads. Now these discs were rather light-hearted, jokey kinds of things… gag gifts if you will. No “this song is even better than ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and its only available to you” nor “here’s our new single, ‘Come Together’ six months before anyone else can get it” type things. Instead, the records generally consisted of holiday greetings from each of the members and perhaps a few randomly sung bits of carols or their hits. In 1965, they did a bit of an off-key, acapella version of “Yesterday” and went into the Four Tops “Same Old Song” before George tells them to stop because they might be violating copyrights. In 1969, Ringo and George do a little plug for the movie The Magic Christian, and little else. One year they had Tiny Tim play “Nowhere Man” on ukelele. Just as 1967 was arguably the peak of their creativity with regular records (see Sgt. Pepper…, Magical Mystery Tour plus singles like “Penny Lane”) it was arguably also the best Christmas record.

Unlike other such recordings they sent out, this year’s was produced by George Martin. A six-minute, 33rpm disc, it was a sort of concept based on the idea of them being a different band, auditioning for a music radio show, with John reading a Christmas poem at the end. Musically it featured the psuedo-band doing the song “Christmas Time is Here Again,” a rare one with all four credited as writers. While relatively melodic it was far from ambitious and quite repetitive… basically, the title was the lyrics, repeated over and over. They recorded it in one take, with John playing timpani instead of his usual guitar.

Since the number of copies sent out was limited, it wasn’t much heard. Eventually it made its way to record store shelves when it was put out, edited to just the song, as the b-side to the song “Free As a Bird,” the old, incomplete song finished up and put out to promote the Anthology compilation album. By which time, diehard fans wanting some Beatles at Christmas would probably opt for McC’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” or Lennon’s “Happy Xmas/War Is Over,” both already established holiday standards by then.

Even though they never resulted in any songs of lasting importance, the Christmas discs were important. One can only imagine the happiness the fans felt when they went to the mailbox right before Christmas and found a special record by the Beatles that so few people had. And it started a tradition for other bands to follow. Pearl Jam and R.E.M. are just two of the bands that followed suit and sent out special Christmas recordings to their fan clubs in later years.


20 thoughts on “December 15 – If Sgt. P And Magical Mystery Tour Weren’t Gifts Enough

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    Dave, you beat me to it this year! I love this song and it was nice to pick up another Christmas song that wasn’t so worn out…this one you don’t hear all of the time.
    That is a cool thing to provide your fans…I’ve heard some of the Beatles Christmas discs…they are hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        I’ve always liked it and the Anthology happened around Christmas so it has good memories attached to it. I have it ready to go…tomorrow is when I start my Christmas onslaught

        Liked by 1 person

  2. After listening to the disc on 33, 45 and 78, spinning it backwards I think I can say I the hidden message lurking in the grooves is that ‘Christmas time is here again!’ Sarcasm apart, it was a nice gift to the fans.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul

    Really enjoyed this post. There are some pretty “unusual” choices on that album of songs that never really took off. The Tiny Tim rendition Nowhere Man though is unlistenable imho

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad you did! the album you mention the compilation of the 63-69 Christmas records ? (Which I think was itself a Christmas present to fan club in ’70). Yeah, I listened to about 20-25 seconds of Tiny Tim, thinking “what would that sound like?” before going ‘yikes’ and hitting ‘stop.’

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d never heard of her, but looked up that one and found it on Youtube. Yikes…maybe Tiny Tim’s last name is Miller? Wiki say her voice was compared to “roaches scurrying across a trash can lid.”. I can’t figure out though if she was trying to be serious or be funny.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I seem to recall she was ‘discovered’ at some ritzy snooty party when she sat down at some poor Steinway and ‘entertained’ the stunned onlookers with her mix of off-key warblings and ‘Chopsticks’ dexterity. She truly thought she was seriously good when everyone else thought- knew- she was like one of those Z grade movies, like ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space.’ So bad she was, if not good, hugely entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Beatles – Christmas Time Is Here Again – PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

  6. Pingback: Beatles – Christmas Time Is Here Again – PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

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