When I was a kid, there was a guy called Bruce Hamlin - or ‘Beatles Bruce’ - who used to broadcast regularly on Radio Manly Warringah, a community radio station based in Narrabeen.
He used to produce a half-hour show each week, playing songs around specific themes.
One week he played flip sides of Beatles solo singles that hadn’t made it (at that stage) to albums.
That’s how I first got to hear ‘C Moon’, the dub reggae flip side of the Wings single ‘Hi, Hi, Hi’. (The a-side was included on the album Wings Greatest, but the flip side didn’t make it to an album until a decade later, when it appeared on the double album Paul McCartney: All The Best.)
Beatles Bruce was the guy who informed me of the existence Beatles’ Christmas records. Each year, from 1963 to 1969, the Beatles released a flexidisc (a flimsy plastic record) housed in a proper cover, to members of their official fan club, as a Christmas present. Initially, they were ‘thanks for the support’ messages. Later on they became surreal stream-of-conscious ‘sketches’. In the end they were separate messages from four estranged musicians, edited together by their mate and fellow Scouser, Kenny Everett. The ‘sketches’ were very Goon Showesque. At times a bit Pythonesque. But crazy.
And interestingly enough, their producer, George Martin, who was also boss of the Parlophone label when the Beatles signed to it, had actually pioneered producing excellent comedy records – by the Goons, Beyond the Fringe, and Flanders & Swann. Indeed, one of the reasons the Beatles were happy to be signed to Parlophone was because of their love of the Goons.
The most annoying aspect of the Beatles Christmas records is that they have never been made commercially available. Except for the musical theme – and extended excerpt, if you will – of the 1967 Christmas record, entitled ‘Christmas Time (Is Here Again)’. It finally appeared, officially, as the flip side of the Beatles ‘reunion single’ that kicked off the Anthology project, ‘Free As A Bird’.
The records were pressed by an independent operation called Lyntone. It wasn’t a label, but a manufacturer. Decades later, someone had the bright idea to check the warehouse. Turns out there was a storeroom that still had piles of each year’s record. It was a simple matter to purchase the excess stock. Oh, to have had that idea first and to own copies…
Instead, I have to be content with stumbling across the odd bootleg.
If this is all news to you, it gives me great pleasure to pass on the baton. Just as ‘Beatles Bruce’ introduced me to the Beatles Christmas records, I am doing the same for you. Tune in to ABC 702 (hopefully it'll be broadcast around Australia) at 11pm EST on Christmas Eve (tonight) to hear me discussing – and playing excerpts from – these records, as Rod Quinn’s guest. (I normally talk comedy with Rod once a month at 4am on the ABC Local Radio network; over the Christmas break, Rod’s hosting The Night Life.)
(PS – check out other upcoming gigs and broadcasts on my homepage. And PPS, Bruce Hamlin is still alive and well and keeping his mail list informed about releases and events in the Beatle universe. Find him at all the major Sydney record fairs.)