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Celebrating Christmas with The Beatles

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Paul: "I just wanted to thank you fans. Don't know where we'd be without you."
John: "The army, probably."

George, speaking about their upcoming film: "This one will be in color."
John: "Green."
--1964 Beatles Christmas Record

So much of the career and lives of The Beatles has been documented in books, TV specials, movies, videos, magazine articles, and more. But one often ignored facet of their fascinating story is their annual Christmas records. The Christmas recordings, usually done after a regular recording session in the studio, give a unique perspective of the evolution of the most popular band in the world.


The original idea for an annual Beatles Christmas record came from the Beatles press officer, Tony Barrow (the originator of the group's most common nickname, "the Fab Four"), who was inspired by the Queen's annual Yuletide greetings on British radio. Barrow, whose office would be backed up for weeks with floods of fan letters for the group, thought a Christmas record might please their many fans. Thus, for the next seven years (from 1963 to 1969), the boys would record a 7-inch flexi-disc of them singing and talking, which would be mailed directly to their U.S. and U.K. fan club members.

The first few Christmas records were written as scripts, but it's the boys' ad-libs that make them so interesting. The records give a glimpse into the boys' Monty Python-esque humor, a humor which is, at it's best, hilarious and which was a key ingredient in the band's incredible success and popularity. A popular British radio show, "The Goon Show," featuring Peter Sellers, had a definite influence on the Beatles' Christmas recordings. John Lennon, especially, was a devoted, inveterate fan of the show.

1963

The first Christmas record shows the Beatles' early fresh-faced innocence as, one after the other, they thank their fans for a "gear year" and sing renditions of "Good King Wenceslas" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Ringo."

1964

The second record is actually much funnier, and more sarcastic, than the previous one. John speaks about his book, reading obviously scripted dialogue: "I write in my spare time, it says here." Paul asks if he wrote that himself, to which John replies, "No, it's somebody's bad handwroter."

1965

The 1965 Christmas record was not as scripted as its two predecessors, and it shows. The boys sing a deliberately off-key version of Paul McCartney's hit, "Yesterday," and seem a bit blasé and robotic as they give their fans their customary thanks. (It cannot be neglected that the Beatles were, at this time, having "marijuana for breakfast," according to John. They had also discovered LSD in '65.)

1966

The Beatles came back in 1966 with a full-fledged British pantomime called "Everywhere It's Christmas." During the last months of 1966, the boys had been apart for the first time in four years, and one can easily hear their pleasure at being together again. They obviously had a ball cutting up, making inside jokes, and assuming various roles.

1967

"Christmas Time is Here Again," the 1967 record, is probably the greatest Beatles Christmas record. The title tune is catchy, the sketches are great, and the jokes are sharp. John and Ringo even designed the cover. Sadly, this was to be the last Christmas record in which one can hear the boys enjoying each other's company.

1968

By the 1968 Christmas record, the first to be recorded individually instead of as a group, the disintegration of the Beatles had begun. Yoko Ono's presence was a necessity for John, and an onus to the other three. John recites two of his poems; one, called "Jock and Yono," was a thinly disguised mild attack telling of the "two balloons named Jock and Yono who were in love" and "had to overcome overwhelming oddities, including some of their beast friends." George sarcastically thanks the Beatles fans for "making [their] lives worth living," before having then-popular singer Tiny Tim give a horrible rendition of John's song "Nowhere Man" — quite possibly the single worst Beatles cover of all time.

1969

At the time of the 1969 Christmas recording, the Beatles had already split up, although it had not yet been publicly announced. George makes a token 16-second appearance, while Ringo gets in a brief plug for his new movie, "The Magic Christian." Paul ad-libs a pleasant song, but the majority of this dull final Christmas record is devoted to the obviously besotted John chattering with his beloved new bride, Yoko. (I love John Lennon, and he's definitely not a boring guy, but when he gets into the banter with Yoko, the "magic" seems to leave.)

In 1970, a compilation album of all seven Christmas records was released to the devoted fans.


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.


Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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technology
ABBA Is Going on Tour—As Holograms
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AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

Missed your chance to watch ABBA perform live at the peak of their popularity? You’re in luck: Fans will soon be able to see the group in concert in all their chart-topping, 1970s glory—or rather, they’ll be able to see their holograms. As Mashable reports, a virtual version of the Swedish pop band is getting ready to go on tour.

ABBA split up in 1982, and the band hasn't been on tour since. (Though they did get together for a surprise reunion performance in 2016.) All four members of ABBA are still alive, but apparently not up for reentering the concert circuit when they can earn money on a holographic tour from the comfort of their homes.

The musicians of ABBA have already had the necessary measurements taken to bring their digital selves to life. The final holograms will resemble the band in the late 1970s, with their images projected in front of physical performers. Part of the show will be played live, but the main vocals will be lifted from original ABBA records and recordings of their 1977 Australian tour.

ABBA won’t be the first musical act to perform via hologram. Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Dean Martin have all been revived using the technology, but this may be one of the first times computerized avatars are standing in for big-name performers who are still around. ABBA super-fans will find out if “SOS” still sounds as catchy from the mouths of holograms when the tour launches in 2019.

[h/t Mashable]

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6 Great (and Not-So-Great) Works of Art Made by Robots
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Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

Cold, calculating, unfeeling—none of the stereotypes associated with robots seem to describe makers of great art. But that hasn’t stopped roboticists from trying to engineer the next Picasso in a lab. Some machines and algorithms are capable of crafting works impressive enough to fool even the toughest critics. As for the rest of the robot artists and writers out there, let’s just say they won’t have creative types fearing for their jobs anytime soon. 

1. A BEATLES-ESQUE POP SONG

If you heard the song above at a party or in a crowded store, you might assume it’s just a generic pop tune. But if you listened closer, you’d hear the dissonant vocals and nonsense lyrics that place this number in the sonic equivalent of the uncanny valley. “Daddy’s Car” was composed by an artificial intelligence system from the Sony CSL Research Laboratory. After analyzing sheet music from a variety of artists and genres, the AI generated the words, harmony, and melody for the song. A human composer chose the style (1960s Beatles-style pop) and did the producing and mixing, but other than that the music is all machine. It may not have topped the pop charts, but the song did give us the genius lyric: “Down on the ground, the rainbow led me to the sun.”

2. A NOVEL THAT MADE IT PAST THE FIRST ROUND OF A FICTION CONTEST

Will the next War and Peace be written by a complex computer algorithm? Probably not, but that isn’t to say that AI can’t compose some serviceable fiction with help from human minds. In 2016, a team of Japanese researchers invented a program and fed it the plot, characters, and general structure of an original story. They also wrote sentences for the system to choose from, so the content of the novel relied heavily on humans. But the final product and the work required to string the components together was made possible by AI. The researchers submitted the story to Japan's Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Contest where it made it past the first round of judging. Though one notable Japanese author praised the novel for its structure, he also said there were some character description issues holding it back.

3. A 'NEW' REMBRANDT PAINTING

Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016, a 3D printer did something extraordinary: It produced a brand new painting in the spirit of a long-dead artist. The piece, titled “The Next Rembrandt,” would fit right in at an exhibition of art from the 17th-century Dutch painter. But this work is entirely modern. Bas Korsten, creative director at the Amsterdam-based advertising firm J. Walter Thompson, had a computer program analyze 346 Rembrandt paintings over 18 months. Every element of the final image, from the age of the subject and the color of his clothes to the physical brushstrokes, is reminiscent of the artist’s distinct style. But while it’s good enough to fool the amateur art fan, it failed to hold up under scruntiny from Rembrandt experts.

4. DREARY LOVE POETRY

What do you get when you dump thousands of unpublished romance novels into an AI system? Some incredibly bleak poetry, as Google discovered in 2016. The purpose of the neural network was to connect two separate sentences from a book into one whole thought. The result gave us such existential gems as this excerpt:

"there is no one else in the world.
there is no one else in sight.
they were the only ones who mattered.
they were the only ones left.
he had to be with me.
she had to be with him.
i had to do this.
i wanted to kill him.
i started to cry."

To be fair, the algorithm was designed to construct natural-sounding sentences rather than write great verse. But that doesn’t stop the passages from sounding oddly poetic.

5. A CREEPY CHRISTMAS SONG

Christmas songs rely heavily on formulas and cliches, aka ideal neural network fodder. So you’d think that an AI program would be capable of whipping up a fairly decent holiday tune, but a project from the University of Toronto proved this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Their algorithm was prompted to compose the song above based on a digital image of a Christmas tree. From there it somehow came up with trippy lyrics like, “I’ve always been there for the rest of our lives.”

6. A CROWDSOURCED ABSTRACT PAINTING

Art made by a robot.
Instapainter

The image above was painted by the mechanical arm of a robot, but naming the true artist of the piece gets complicated. That’s because the robotic painter was controlled by multiple users on the internet. In 2015, the commissioned art service Instapainting invited the online community at Twitch to crowdsource a painting. The robot, following script commands over a 36-hour period, produced what looks like graffiti-inspired abstract art. More impressive than the painting itself was the fact that the machine was able to paint it at all. Instapainting founder Chris Chen told artnet, “It was a $250 machine slapped together with quickly written software, so running it for that long was an endurance test.”

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