Celebrating Christmas with The Beatles

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.


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."


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."


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.)


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.


"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.


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.


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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One of Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' Gloves Can Be Yours (For the Right Price)
Samir Hussein, Getty Images
Samir Hussein, Getty Images

Three things usually come to mind when people recall Michael Jackson's stratospheric fame in the 1980s: His music videos were events unto themselves; he toted around a chimp named Bubbles (who once bit Quincy Jones's daughter Rashida); and Jackson was often seen wearing a single white sequined glove.

There's no official count on how many gloves Jackson owned and wore during his career, but one performance-used mitt is now up for sale via GWS Auctions and their Legends of Hollywood & Music Auction. Used by Jackson during his 1997 HIStory tour, the Swarovski crystal-covered glove is unique in that Jackson had it made for his left hand, as he wanted to keep the wedding ring—courtesy of his marriage to nurse Debbie Rowe—visible on his right. (Though wedding rings are traditionally worn on the left hand, Jackson was known to wear his on the right.)

A white glove worn by Michael Jackson during his 1997 HIStory tour
GWS Auctions

According to Jackson associate John Kehe, Jackson allegedly got the idea for the glove in 1980, when he was touring a production company and saw a film editor at a control panel wearing a white cotton glove. Jackson himself wrote in his autobiography, Moonwalk, that he had been wearing a single glove since the 1970s. Either way, it was Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean" during a television appearance for Motown's 25th anniversary in May 1983 that cemented the accessory in the eyes of the public. That particular glove sold for $350,000 in 2009.

The HIStory glove will be up for auction March 24; pre-bids currently have it in excess of $5000. The Legends of Music and Hollywood Auction is also set to feature a prescription pill bottle once owned by Frank Sinatra and a hairbrush used by Marilyn Monroe.

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The Stories Behind 10 Johnny Cash Songs
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Getty Images

Johnny Cash, who was born on this day in 1932, once wrote, “I love songs about horses, railroads, land, judgment day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother And God."

That sums the Cash discography up pretty well. He covers at least 20 of those themes in the 10 songs below. Here are the backstories behind some of the Man in Black's most famous songs—and maybe a little insight into why he loved those topics so much.


In the song, Cash explains that he always wears black to performances and public appearances because of social injustices, “just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back.” It’s a great story, but it’s not 100 percent true. In 2002, he told Larry King that black was his signature color simply because he felt most comfortable in it, although he preferred light blue in summer. “You walk into my clothes closet. It’s dark in there,” he said.

Rolling Stone wrote that the inky wardrobe was also helpful when it came to hiding dirt and dust in the early touring days.


Cash didn’t always wear black. In the video above, he’s dressed in bright yellow, accessorized with a powder blue cape.

Sound a little off-brand? It was. In the early ‘80s, Cash felt that Columbia, his record label, was ignoring him and failing to promote his music properly. He decided to record a song so awful that it would force Columbia to cut his contract early. The plan worked, but it came at a price. “He was kind of mocking and dismantling his own legacy,” daughter Rosanne later said. Here’s a sampling of the lyrics, in case the video is too painful to watch: “I put your brain in a chicken last Monday, he’s singing your songs and making lots of money, and I’ve got him signed to a 10-year recording contract.”


Written in just 20 minutes, Cash’s (arguably) greatest hit  was intended as a reminder to himself to stay faithful to his first wife, Vivian, while he was on the road opening for Elvis in the mid-1950s. "It was kind of a prodding to myself to 'Play it straight, Johnny,'" he once said. According to other interviews, that wasn’t the song’s only meaning: He also meant it as an oath to God. Although Sam Phillips from Sun Records said that he wasn’t interested in gospel songs, Johnny was able to sneak “I Walk the Line” past him with the story about being true to his wife.


In 1969, Johnny and June threw a party at their house in Hendersonville. As you might imagine, it was a veritable who’s-who of music: Bob Dylan, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, and Shel Silverstein. Everyone debuted a new song at the party—Dylan sang “Lay Lady Lay,” Nash did “Marrakkesh Express,” Kristofferson played “Me and Bobby McGee,” and Mitchell sang “Both Sides Now.” Silverstein, who was a songwriter in addition to an author of children’s books, debuted “A Boy Named Sue.”

When the party was over, June encouraged Johnny to take the lyrics to “Sue” on the plane the next day. They were headed to California to record the famous live At San Quentin album. Johnny wasn’t sure he could learn the lyrics fast enough, but he did—and the inmates went crazy for it. They weren’t the only ones: "A Boy Named Sue" quickly shot to the top of the charts. And not just the country charts—it held the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks.

The song was originally inspired by a male friend of Silverstein’s with a somewhat feminine name—Jean Shepherd, the author of A Christmas Story.


The story behind this one depends on who you believe. The Carter-Cash family has always maintained that June and guitar player Merle Kilgore co-wrote the song about June falling in love with Johnny despite being worried about his drug and alcohol problem.

But according to Johnny’s first wife, Vivian, June had nothing to do with “Ring of Fire.” “The truth is, Johnny wrote that song, while pilled up and drunk, about a certain private female body part,” Vivian wrote in her autobiography. She claims he gave June credit for writing the song because he thought she needed the money.

Either way, June’s sister Anita originally recorded the song. After Johnny had a dream that he was singing it with mariachi horns, he recorded it that way. 


“Ring of Fire” isn’t the only time Johnny had a dream that inspired a song. In his later years, Cash had a dream that he walked into Buckingham Palace and encountered Queen Elizabeth just sitting on the floor. When she saw him, the Queen said, “Johnny Cash, you’re like a thorn tree in a whirlwind!” Two or three years later, Cash remembered the dream, decided that the reference must be a biblical one, and wrote what he called “my song of the apocalypse”—“The Man Comes Around.”


This one is another early song inspired by Vivian. From the summer of 1951 through the summer of 1954, Cash was deployed in Germany with the Air Force. At the end of three years, he turned down the option to re-enlist, feeling homesick for his girl and his home. On the journey back from Germany, he penned “Hey Porter” about the excitement and relief he felt to finally be coming home.


After seeing Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, Cash was inspired to write a song about it. Too bad that song already existed as “Crescent City Blues,” written by Gordon Jenkins.

Jenkins sued for copyright infringement in 1969 and received $75,000. Cash later admitted that he heard the song when he was in the Air Force, but borrowing the tune and some of the lyrics was subconscious; he never meant to rip Jenkins off. Oh, but the famous “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” line—that was all Johnny.

9. "CRY! CRY! CRY!"

After Cash returned home from the Air Force and signed with Sun Records, he gave Sam Phillips “Hey Porter.” Phillips asked for a ballad for the B-side, so Cash went home and quickly wrote “Cry! Cry! Cry!” literally overnight. It became his first big hit—not bad for an afterthought.


Though “Get Rhythm” eventually became the B-side for “I Walk the Line,” Cash originally wrote it for Elvis. It might have been recorded by Presley, but when he went to RCA, Sam Phillips refused to let him take “Get Rhythm” with him.


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