Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Beatles – The Christmas Records (Vinyl Review)

From 1963 to 1969, The Beatles recorded a yearly off-the-cuff Christmas offering, pressed it onto economical flexi-disc material, and mailed it out to their adoring fan club members. After the band’s tumultuous year in 1970, they compiled all of the previously released holiday-themed material into one single LP (From Then To You) and mailed that out to their UK fan club members, with a similar LP release (The Beatles’ Christmas Album) being shipped out to their US fan club members the following spring. While multiple bootlegs and trading tapes have surfaced over the years, there’s never been an official release of the complete Christmas recordings available for purchase until this year’s highly anticipated and incredibly stunning The Christmas Records vinyl box set.

First things first, let’s get the logistics out of the way. The Christmas Records vinyl box set features all seven Beatles Christmas fan club singles pressed onto vivid color vinyl, tucked into original artwork sleeves, and all housed together with an accompanying 16-page booklet in a sturdy lift-top box. Since the original yearly releases were sent out on flimsy flexi-discs (a material that was so unruly that one of the newsletters included instructions on how to keep your record needle from jumping all over the disc), these new durable 7” vinyl pressings allow for the best listening experience that this material has ever been offered on. Additionally, the combination of original artwork sleeves with playfully colored vinyl strikes an amazing aesthetic balance that feels both true to the original and also refreshingly updated for old and new fans alike. Looking over each aspect of the design and production, it’s easy to see and feel the care and attention to detail that went into creating and presenting this vinyl box set in a manner that reflects the uniquely special nature of the material inside.

Amazing logistics aside, what makes this retrospective release so interesting is the manner in which it functions as an unintentional time lapse of the unparalleled trajectory of the band – professionally and creatively – in such a short time. The 16-page booklet features reproductions of the five year-end newsletters (the last two years of Christmas records didn’t include a newsletter) and there are a lot of interesting nuggets that remind fans just how much transpired during the Beatles all-too-short whirlwind career. It’s incredibly quaint to read the first Christmas newsletter from 1963 and see: “We’re all tremendously pleased to see how successful our fabulous foursome have been with their latest single “I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND” and their second LP album “WITH THE BEATLES”. The next year, the holiday newsletter posits the question “How would you like to start up a pen-friendship with a Beatle Person in America?” and gives details on how UK fans can swap letters with US fans. The Beatles are top-tier pop music mythos now, so these reminders of their early days bring an extra level of humanity and significance to their seemingly otherworldy existence.

Even the cover art on the singles help track the arc of the band’s creative evolution. The first three covers (covering the era of Please Please Me to Rubber Soul) feature black and white promo shots of the fresh-faced lads with a single splash of color in either the background or line of text. The following three singles (covering the era of Revolver to The Beatles/”The White Album”) feature experimental psychedelic collage work. The final Christmas single from 1969 (the year that saw both Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road released) is just a single blurry photo with no text or discernable framework. The band was essentially no more at this point – even the material on the 1969 Christmas single was recorded separately and feels disjointed when listened to – so the cover photo of something colorful and vibrant that’s been blurred to the point of disorientation is quite fitting as commentary for where the band was at that point.

Overall, this box set is really stunning in all of its visual components (box, sleeves, booklet of newsletters, wax color choices) and reading through the accompanying annual newsletter is a really interesting experience. On its own merits, the individual collection is absolutely worth the purchase to have all of the Christmas singles in one place and presented in such a cool way. Additionally, it’s really impressive to see what it brings to the table as a larger statement by encapsulating some of the wildly dramatic moments of The Beatles career in whimsically unpolished year-end snippets. Whether you’re a Beatles fan or just a fan of pop culture musical milestones, this beautiful collection of Christmas singles is well worth checking out.