One week before Christmas Day, 1970, members of The Beatles Official Fan Club received in their mailboxes an entire vinyl album containing seven very special Christmas messages from the group to their fans. The disc was a compilation, accumulating all of the individual Christmas messages that had been distributed each year to the fan club between 1963 and 1969. The English version of the album was called From Then To You. The American version, which is the subject of this article, was simply called The Beatles Christmas Album. The front and back of the American album and the front of the English album are shown below (click to see enlarged photos).
It was Beatles PR man Tony Barrow who came up with the idea in 1963 for The Official Beatles Fab Club to issue free Christmas messages from the group to all paid-up fan club members. Tony had many good ideas during his years with The Beatles and even coined the now widespread term “Fab Four” in an early press release. Tony remained with The Beatles until they set up their company Apple Corps. in 1968, at which time he set up his own show business PR firm in London.
Format of the original Christmas message releases
The Christmas messages began in 1963 and came in the form of a 7-inch record made of very thin flexible plastic (called a “flexi” or “flexi-disc”) in the U.K. Most came with a newsletter of sorts from the fan club office, and a couple also had liner notes by Tony Barrow himself. In the U.K. there were seven issued in all, for every December between 1963 and 1969. In the U.S., the 1963 message was sent out in 1964, as the American fan club did not begin until 1964. It was sent on a tri-fold “soundcard”, similar to a post card that can be played on one side with a turntable, while the other side of the card contains newsletter info. The 1965 disc was not sent at all because it was not received from the U.K. in time. Both the 1966 and 1967 messages were issued in America on a “soundsheet,” which was a larger rectangular black piece of thin plastic. It had a newsletter on one side, and the other side was playable on a turntable. The 1968 and 1969 American discs were flexis, just like the U.K. messages. All but one of the discs played at 33 1/3 rpm (like a long play record), due to the fact that they were longer than a typical song of the day (between 4 and 8 minutes). The shortest message was on the 1964 disc and clocked in at 4:04. This was the only one that played at 45 rpm, like a single. The last two flexis were the longest (between 7 and 8 minutes each) and played on two sides, whereas all of the others were one-sided.
Description of each message 1963-1969
Each of the seven messages are described briefly below:
- The Beatles Christmas Record (1963): John Lennon & Ringo Starr both sing a few rounds of “Good King Wenceslaus,” and The Beatles all sing “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.” There is also a Christmas greeting script that was written by Tony Barrow that each Beatle cheerfully delivers. Also released on soundcard in U.S. in Dec. 1964. Time: 5:00
- Another Beatles Christmas Record (1964): The Beatles run through another script prepared by Tony Barrow and conclude by singing “Oh, Can You Wash Your Father’s Hair” to a piano accompaniment followed by the sound of running feet as the sound on the disc fades away. Unlike other flexis, this one plays at 45rpm instead of 33 1/3 rpm. Not issued in U.S. (where the 1963 message was distributed in 1964 instead). Time: 4:05
- The Beatles Third Christmas Record (1965): The group sings an off-key account of “Yesterday.” The Beatles follow another of Tony Barrow’s scripts, though it is obvious John is doing so reluctantly, judging by his mumbling and not making much sense. They sing a short line of “It’s The Same Old Song” (a Four Tops hit) and a cadence-driven version of “Auld Lang Syne” that somehow references the gore in Vietnam. After a few more words they sing “Christmas Comes But Once A Year,” which segues back into another off-key rendition of “Yesterday.” Not issued in U.S. (because it was not received by the U.S. fan club in time to be distributed for the holiday season). Time: 6:26
- Pantomime: Everywhere It’s Christmas (1966): Unlike previous years, there is no Tony Barrow script to follow. The Beatles came up with a pantomime idea and open with a short piano tune called “Everywhere It’s Christmas,” followed by some group harmonies where they sing something called “Orowaynya.” After that, there is a series of humorous skits, sound effects and even yodeling. Then there is another piano tune called “Please Don’t Bring Your Banjo Back” followed by a reprise of “Everywhere It’s Christmas.” The British sleeve has colorful artwork designed by Paul McCartney. It was issued in America on a one sided thin vinyl record similar to a flexi-disc and a postcard without the artwork. Time: 6:40
- Christmas Time (Is Here Again) (1967): Another series of skits interlaced with bits and pieces of a theme song, “Christmas Time (Is Here Again),” with Paul on piano and George on acoustic guitar, John on timpani, and Ringo on drums. All four cheerfully chant the title. There are also parody commercials and a segment where The Beatles portray a band called “The Ravellers” to sing a song called “Plenty Of Jam Jars.” It was issued in America on a one sided thin vinyl record similar to a flexi (called a soundsheet) and a postcard without the artwork. Time: 6:10
- The Beatles Sixth Christmas Record (1968): Each Beatle recorded his part separately, and it was later edited together. Paul plays an acoustic Christmas song which starts off with him singing “Happy New Year, Happy Christmas, Happy Easter, Happy Autumn, Happy Michaelmas, Happy Christmas, everybody to you.” John reads some of his crazy writings similar to what he did in his In His Own Write book, with various echo effects on his voice. George speaks with Tiny Tim who sings “Nowhere Man” in a falsetto voice, and Ringo talks nonsense. For the first time the disc plays on two sides instead of one due to it’s longer duration. Issued in U.S. on flexi-disc just like the U.K., however the year-old 1967 U.K. cover is used on the 1968 U.S. version and the title is listed as “The Beatles 1968 Christmas Record.” Time: 7:55
- The Beatles Seventh Christmas Record (1969): Each Beatle recorded his part separately, and it was later edited together. On this message we hear John and Yoko walking around outside and talking outside their new Ascot home. John also interviews Yoko about “freedom of mind and everything.” Paul plays another acoustic Christmas improvisation where he sings “This Is To Wish You A Very Merry Christmas, This Is To Wish You A Happy New Year.” Ringo sings something that seems to be called “Good Evening To You Gentlemen,” which continues into part of “The End” from the Abbey Road album. George gives a quick holiday greeting. Once again, due to its longer duration, the disc plays on two sides instead of one. Also issued with same cover art on flexi-disc in the U.S. Time: 7:42
Even though only five of the seven messages were received by U.S. fan club members, all seven messages appeared on both the U.S. and U.K. fan club albums. Both contained the 1963-1966 messages on side 1 and the 1967-1969 messages on side 2.
Spotting the fakes
The Beatles Christmas Album has been frequently counterfeited. Here are some authenticity tests to determine if your copy is real. If any one of these tests fail, you have an illegitimate version of the record.
- The earliest fakes have blurry cover photos on the front side. One authenticity test is to look at the photo of the four Beatles in the lower left corner. The photo should be sharp enough to see both of Ringo’s eyeballs. If the right eye is covered by a dark shadow, it is a counterfeit. Click photo at right to enlarge.
- Similar to the first test, if you look directly over John’s head in the photo immediately to the right of the lower left corner photo, you will plainly see the words “Theatre Royal”. If this does not show up distinctly, it is a counterfeit. Click photo at right to enlarge. Note: The album pictured in the photo is authentic, but the “Theatre Royal” is not not large enough to be seen in this picture.
All legitimate copies of this record were manufactured at Capitol’s Winchester, Virginia factory. The pressing machines there made a 1 ½” diameter indentation ring which is 5/8″ out from the center hole. If the LP has a different sized indentation, or if there is no indentation there at all, then it is a fake. Most fakes have a significantly larger indentation ring. I see them on sale for $400 on Ebay all the time, and they aren’t worth $10. The correct appearance of this ring is seen in the photos below, and it shows up clearest on the sliced Apple side (i.e. side 2) (click to enlarge).
- On legitimate copies, four markings are etched into the trail-off area of the vinyl (all should be apparent):
- the catalog number “SBC-1-100-A” on side 1 and “SBC-2-100-B” on side 2
- a crudely drawn rifle (symbol of Winchester, VA, factory where all legitimate copies were pressed).
- a hand etched “sf”
- a scripted typset that reads “Bell Sound”
- Any colored vinyl pressings are fakes.
When in doubt about any of these, consult a reputable dealer, such as ones I’ve listed below.
Here is a general idea of what different pressings of the fan club Christmas releases are valued at today (near mint/very good) Note: “Near mint” (NM) or “Very Good” (VG) conditions are in line with the standards of Goldmine magazine as defined here:
- The Beatles Christmas Album (Apple SBC 100) $500/$200
- From Then To You (U.K. Christmas Album) (LYN 2153/54) $600/$240
- I’ve recently seen a set of all seven of the U.K. original flexi-discs with jackets and all accompanying newsletter literature in near mint condition for $5000. Individual flexis will have variable worth depending on condition and whether or not jacket and all accompanying literature are present.
- 1964 U.S. Soundcard (actually 1963 message) $300/$120
- 1966 U.S. Soundcard $300/$120
- 1967 U.S. Soundcard $300/$120
- 1968 U.S. Flexi-disc $250/$100
- 1969 U.S. Flexi-disc $200/$80
Note: 1964 and 1965 messages not issued in U.S.
The subject of all photographs of singles, album jackets, etc., in this article are of actual items within my very own record collection. These items are listed as entries in my online vinyl inventory as linked below:
- Apple SBC 100 The Beatles Christmas Album (US LP)
- Lyn 2154 From Then To You (UK LP)
- Lyn 492 The Beatles Christmas Record (1963 UK flexi)
- Lyn 757 Another Beatles Christmas Record (1964 UK flexi)
- Season’s Greetings from The Beatles (1964 US flexi)
- Lyn 948 The Beatles Third Christmas Record (1965 UK flexi)
- Lyn 1145 Pantomime: Everywhere It’s Christmas (1966 UK flexi)
- Season’s Greetings from The Beatles (1966 US flexi)
- Lyn 1360 Christmas Time (Is Here Again) (1967 UK flexi)
- Season’s Greetings from The Beatles (1967 US flexi)
- Lyn 1743/1744 The Beatles Sixth Christmas Record (1968 UK flexi)
- Americom H-2041 The Beatles 1968 Christmas Record (1968 US flexi)
- Lyn 1970/1971 The Beatles Seventh Christmas Record (1969 UK flexi)
- Americom H-2465 The Beatles Seventh Christmas Record (1969 US flexi)
A few dealers in Beatles collectibles
Happy Nat would like to credit the following people and resources for assistance with this article:
- Beatles For Sale On Parlophone Records by Bruce Spizer
- Introducing The Beatles Record Price Guide by Stanley Panenka
- Price Guide For The Beatles American Records by Perry Cox & Frank Daniels
- The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia by Bill Harry
- www.mybeatlescollection.com, fab4collectibles.com
- Heather for photography, coding and proofreading
Please let me hear from you if you have questions, comments, corrections or anything to add about the Beatles Fan Club Christmas releases. I’d love to hear from you!
Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase, some holiday-type Beatles-related music:
1) Christmas Collection: 20th Century Masters A nice CD of Christmas tunes by Ringo Starr (2003).
2) Free As a Bird / I Saw Her Standing There / This Boy / Christmas Time (Is Here Again) 1995 CD-single “Free As A Bird” containing track “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)” used in 1967 Beatles fan club message.
3) McCartney II (Archive Collection) – Deluxe remastered 2011 3-CD & DVD edition of original 1980 LP, containing a couple different edits and video of “Wonderful Christmastime”.
4) Power To The People: The Hits – John Lennon 2010 CD hits compilation w/”Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”.