Every year from 1963 to 1969 the Beatles recorded and released a Christmas single on flexi discs to be mailed free to members of their UK fan club. These singles have now been collected and reissued on vinyl in a singles boxed set by Universal Music, The Christmas Records. All seven are now in a different color of vinyl, from green to orange, and other than 1965, which is at 45rpm, the rest spin at 331/3rpm. As the liner notes in the 16-page booklet frankly state about the original flexi disc format: “This was not hi-fi.” While the fidelity is still fairly rough, this is the Beatles being silly and charming, qualities that ranked right after songwriting and singing in determining why they were such a hit.

The first two Christmas fan club records are just the band talking, winging it one at a time, wishing everyone a “Happy Christmas” and having a good time. They all dutifully remember to thank fans for sending Christmas and birthday gifts. By 1965, John thanks everyone “for playing cards made of knickers,” and then proceeds to sing nonsense in a Scottish accent. A version of “Auld Lang Syne” by John, again this time singing in a grizzled seaman’s voice, follows. A breezy, out-of-tune version of “Yesterday,” with a last verse changed to “bless you all on Christmas day,” closes the 1965 version. At this point the band was together making these records, having a good time.

For the 1966 Fan Club Record, Paul indulged his passion for the English Music Hall and Vaudeville and worked up a loosely scripted production called “Pantomime,” which tells a story, though I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the plot. There are no greetings from the band members on this one and speaking parts alternate with a couple of middling songs. This one is for fans only.

At the heart of the 1967 version, which pokes endless fun at the BBC’s stuffy broadcast standards and programming, is a fully assembled recording of “Christmas Time (Is Here Again).” The BBC send-ups are funny and fairly classic.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Helter Skelter” from the The Beatles make appearances in the 1968 Christmas record, which is a mix of sound effects, such as applause, Paul playing guitar and singing, and John reading his nonsensical poetry in a variety of accents. By this time, in life and on this record, the lovable mop tops are long gone.

The final record from 1969, mostly just John and Yoko, is more high jinx, all mixed into a fast-paced wash of sound containing twinkly music-box music, bits of acoustic guitar, and even orchestral moments of swaying violins.

While there is nothing of great musical consequence on any of these records, and they were done mostly for fun and with varying amounts of real work, you have to give the foursome credit for staying with the concept to the very end. And of course, for those who need and have to possess all things Beatle, this is already an essential set. One of the few musical bits of Beatledom left unissued until now, these singles show yet another lighter side from these masters of pop music.

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