Now I know many of you are probably jingle-exhausted after months of a festive sounds dogging you every time you ventured out in public. But I can’t help bringing together two of my favourite things on this special day: the Beatles and holiday music. Only certified Beatlemaniacs could come up with something as kooky as this and make it work. Today’s bands fit the diagnosis and then some. Here’s what they do: they mash together a holiday standard with some classic from the Beatles catalogue. The point is meld the two as seamlessly as possible, typically maintaining the tune of the holiday song while putting it to a Beatles beat or adorning it with recognizable Beatles riffs. It’s easy to do but hard to do well, as our three fab yulesters musically demonstrate.
First up, The Butties from Syracuse, New York. Starting out in college in the 1980s they just kept getting together yearly, playing gigs and eventually recording some holiday tunes in a Beatles style. In 2005 they released an album of them entitled 12 Greatest Carols (the cover riffs on The Beatles 20 Greatest Hits). Our featured choice from the LP is their take on “Joy to the World” which incorporates “Please Please Me” in various ways. There’s the distinctive “Please Please Me” harmonica and rhythm guitar end-of-verse turnarounds. The vocal harmonies on this track are super and the harmonica runs are so Beatles but in other ways the synthesis doesn’t quite gel for me.
Number two on our docket is Danish Beatles cover band Rubber Band. Their 1994 album Xmas! The Beatmas also offers 12 Beatles-re-engineered Christmas songs. A lot of review attention at the time focused on the band’s reworking of “Last Christmas” to sound a bit like “Please Mister Postman.” The Wham!/Marvelettes mash-up didn’t grab me but there are other examples here where the synthesis works better. Like the creative combining of “Feliz Navidad” with “No Reply.” The latter adds some drama that the former sorely lacks. And then the decision to mix “Ticket to Ride” into “White Christmas was sheer brilliance. The distinctive guitar hook wraps around the tune like a warm blanket. The middle-eight break out to Lennon’s “Happy Xmas” was a nice touch too.
All this is well and Beatlesy good but you haven’t heard anything till you hear the masters of this particular arcane genre, The Fab Four. They’ve got the accents and vocal tics down, the guitar sounds are spot on, and their ability to seamlessly stitch holiday song and Beatles classic together is unparalleled. Just listen to how they lay an “I Saw Her Standing There” backbeat onto “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” It’s like they were made for each other. Or putting “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” together with “Help.” Once you hear it there’s a ’duh’ moment that immediately follows. And for Beatles geeks check out how they combine “Good King Wenceslas” with Help! album deep cut “Tell Me What You See.” Genius! I first enjoyed these tracks on the band’s 2002 10-song collection A Fab Four Christmas but eight more were added for a revamped 2012 re-release now entitled Hark!
Wrapping things up (pun intended), we turn to the actual Fabs themselves from their 1967 fanclub-only 45 release “Christmastime (Is Here Again).” Too bad they didn’t work this up into a fully proper song as there are some great melodic elements here.
Well there you have it, two great tastes that sound great together – traditional holiday tunes done Beatles-style. From everyone here at Poprock Record, here’s hoping you’ve had the fab-est ‘whatever-you’re-celebrating’ holiday season ever!