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When The Beatles Gave Fans A 'Crimble' Present


Christmas is the time of year for carols, presents, festive cheer, and if you were a member of The Beatles Fan Club back in the 1960s, it was the season for a special edition flexi-disc from John, Paul, George and Ringo.


THE BEATLES: (Singing) Everywhere it's Christmas. Everywhere it's song. London, Paris, Rome and New York and Tokyo, Hong Kong.

MARTIN: With us to talk about this rather odd collection of recordings is Colin Fleming. He writes about a whole lot of things including the Beatles. So Colin, tell me more about these recordings.

COLIN FLEMING: Well, it's awfully strange what's selling, you might say. Every year the Beatles would take a break from whatever they were working on in the fall, and they would assemble at Abbey Road. And they would cut what was called a Christmas flexi. Basically it's a cheap single, you know, plastic, bendy. And it would go out only to members of their fan clubs. Their PR guy, Tony Barrow, wrote a script which they would break from almost immediately, like bad schoolboys at the end of term. And they also absolutely excelled at good natured knavery.


THE BEATLES: (Singing) Good King Wenceslas last looked out on the feast of Stephen. As the slow ray round about, deep and crisp and crispy.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Did these musical messages change as the years passed because they did these for a while?

FLEMING: Yeah. They definitely did change. As their music got more out there, so did the Christmas flexis. John Lennon is just relentlessly doing his Joycean puns. They sound sometimes like they had been a bit at the cider, you might say, and maybe something a touch stronger than cider. And Lennon, you know, on the '65 one, which is, you know, when they were recording "Rubber Soul." So they stop, like, what is probably the greatest album in rock history up until that point for Lennon to do his absolutely crazy sort of Irish Heat Miser bit.


JOHN LENNON: (Singing) Happy Christmas to you listeners where in e ye crae no voo. We belong to edinbody. Don't you make it new. Oh, we titother Jack MacGregor pon his bonnie ho, Hock yer punny Christmas with a pound of Irish stew.

MARTIN: Oh, man. So am I right that these are the recordings that were happening as these Christmas holiday presents to their fans before they even really got into their actual psychedelic years as a band. What happened then?

FLEMING: The '66 flexi has aspects of it where Lennon, McCartney are doing a short story together that's, like, something out of, like, Pinter. And also portions sound like "Tomorrow Never Knows" goes to, like, Christmas town.

And then in '67 there's a full on song which is very simple, very tuneful, has all of McCartney's hallmarks. But interestingly it has some melodic devices that he would later use in a song called "Come And Get It" which they gave away to "Badfinger," which was one of the very best songs they ever wrote that they did not do themselves.


THE BEATLES: (Singing) Ain't been round since you know when - Christmas time is here again.

MARTIN: So what about at the end of their career, you know, the Yoko years when things are getting a little tense?

FLEMING: Yeah. The last two were '68 and '69. And they are - yup - they're grim. They're recording them separately. And so you're going to want to stick to the ones from the first few years. I always like the notion that, you know, Santa would directly chart a course to your individual chimney. And I feel like with the directness of approach with the flexis, The Beatles were doing this exact same thing for their fans.

MARTIN: Colin Fleming whose "The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories From The Abyss" comes out in August. Hey, Colin, thanks so much.

FLEMING: All right. Thank you, Rachel.


PAUL MCCARTNEY: This is Paul McCartney here. I'd just like to wish you everything you wish yourselves for Christmas.

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Christmas time is here again.

GEORGE HARRISON: George Harrison speaking. I'd like to take this opportunity of wishing you a very Merry Christmas, listeners everywhere.

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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