The Beatles’ Best/Worst Christmas Album

By Alex Koenig

The time is upon us to take note of yet another milder winter and rejoice in the festivities of the holiday season. And with but a few days of merriment left leading to the grand calculated and negotiated gift exchange between you and yours, millions of boys and girls flush with cash and itunes gift cards from their aunts and drunk uncles are left wondering what purchase should best accompany this most wonderful time of the year. Let’s face it; musically speaking this is a rather grim time of the year. The radio landscape suddenly shifts (beginning in late October) from the usual pop treacle to an alternate universe where the likes of Gene Autry, Andy Williams, and that ad executive that wrote “Jingle Bell Rock” receive unadulterated and non-ironic appreciation.

But it’s not as if this is a problem perpetuated solely by the mellow crooners and singing cowboys of yesteryear. Some of the most abysmal pop nothings that visit us annually come complete with the high gloss sheen that only modern pop production can bring. Here’s one I look forward to every year…

It’s something of a personal tradition of mine to sit and listen to this one on repeat and try to grasp all the various acts of vocal acrobatics used by this trained professional and national treasure. Who wants some boring old sad song to listen to at Christmas when our girl Christina can gussy it up real pretty by howling all over place.

Needless to say the situation is a little bleak. But did you know that some artists once found it necessary to record more than just one Christmas song for the purpose of a Starbucks compilation? It’s true! And occasionally they would bundle these multiple songs into their own full-blown releases? It’s a practice that continues to be carried out even in this new millennium of ours, occasionally with mixed results…

But this causes jaded critics like myself to wonder, if there’s so many of these Christmas albums floating around out there, which one is the best for me? I mean you can only listen to those “Aimee Mann doesn’t really like Christmas” Christmas songs so many times.

Well if you want to get snobby and elitist about it you musical scrooge you, many people would cite John Fahey’s The New Possibility as a worthwhile album in its own right, not even mentioning that it’s a Christmas record. But it was even by his own admission a blatant cash grab and his follow up Christmas with John Fahey Vol. II is a lot less sloppy and more interesting.

And the Vince Guraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas manages to be liked by people who don’t even like jazz, or in my case, people who have never seen a single Peanuts holiday special. But when I look for something special to add to the holiday section of my record collection I look for something that pushes boundaries, something that shatters the mold, something that barely even qualifies as music. Well, if your opinion is in any way similar to mine, well have I got a treat for you!

Who would have guessed that the fab four (why am I even typing that, I hate that term) would be the ones to deliver a Christmas album to cure you of your holiday blues? Actually, maybe not. Some of you delightful contrarians out there may, in fact, actively loathe the Beatles. Well FUCK YOU! You’re not fooling anyone you know. I’d go as far as to say that if your rock/pop canon doesn’t have the Beatles at its epicenter, all of your viewpoints are horribly skewed and invalid. All I know is that if it wasn’t for the Beatles, I wouldn’t be the classically trained sitar player I am today (and I would like to take a quick moment to explicitly state that this is not a joke).

If you go looking for a copy of this bad boy in your local used bin, you may be in for a disappointment, as it’s a bit tricky to find (in fact I once saw a store trying to charge a whopping eight dollars for just the album art) but not impossible, I found my copy during a good week at Discogs (the least exciting and most expensive way of finding anything on the rare side) but there are bootleg CD’s of this floating around out there as well.

So what is it? Surely if the Beatles put out an honest to God Christmas album surely it would be an annoying staple throughout all of America’s shopping malls.

It is in fact, not an honest to God Christmas album, but a compilation of all of the Beatles’ flexi disc Christmas messages originally mailed out to fan club members. So is it a proper album at all? Not in the least. Could you put the needle on this thing as your stringing up lights and hanging stockings? Only in your sick, twisted mind.

Actually, listening to the album all the way through is kind of difficult and a little jarring. But in a way, each year’s message was in its own way a little piece of art. And it’s not as if the whole thing doesn’t have music. Some people actually consider 1967’s “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)” a proper Beatles song. And if you were going to listen to it, why not bother doing it in its proper context? And where else would you hear “Rudolph the Red Nosed Ringo” and John’s “Merry Crimble” song and other favorites that the four drunkenly made up on the spot.

The odd thing is that the messages get a little more dull with each year as they basically devolve into loose, half-baked skits and plugs for other projects, but in the midst of watching the Yule log and passing presents around I’m sure no one would notice.

Is it worth owning? Hardly. Unless you’re part of the obsessive fans that cause the seeming correlation between Beatles super fandom and mental illness (this exists, Sean Penn’s I Am Sam is a shockingly accurate depiction)

I guess if you really want to ring in the holiday properly, just watch the first two Home Alone movies, listen to Bing Crosby and get drunk off bad wine. And leave your Beatles holidays listening to absurdly overpriced reissues and box sets.

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