Boomer Christmas Songs Fifty Years Ago

When boomers were young, they listened to whatever holiday music their parents played on the family record player, or radio station to which they happened to be tuned. Consequently, for most boomers in the early days, holiday music was a steady diet of singers popular in the 1940s and early ’50s, like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Patti Page, Perry Como, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, to name a few. As boomers received their own transistor radios, they began to have some choice in their selection.

Unlike today, radio stations usually began playing holiday songs interspersed with their regular playlists on the day after Thanksgiving, starting with one song per hour and working in more each day until Christmas Eve. Boomers had the chance to hear music they claimed for their own, and not just their parents’ holiday music. There had been a tradition of Christmas songs by blues musicians for years, and rock ‘n roll musicians were beginning to add their own touch of modernity to the mix. Many are now classics in their own right, such as: Brenda Lee’s version of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1959); Chuck Berry’s Run, Run Rudolph (1958); Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas, Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me and Santa Claus is Back in Town (all from Elvis’ Christmas Album, 1957 — all of which were reissued as singles in 1964). Popular bands of the 1960s began releasing their own Christmas singles or albums: The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (1964) gave us Little Saint Nick; The Ventures’ Christmas Album (1965) echoed their surf-guitar sound; James Brown Sings Christmas Songs (1966) was truly like no other; and, what many people consider to be the quintessential Christmas album of the boomer era, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (1963). This album alone gave us the now classic versions of Frosty the Snowman by the Ronettes and the ever-popular, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love.

Nevertheless, most radio stations still played a healthy dose of the same music listened to by the parents of boomers, in all its sentimental, schmaltzy glory. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out that by 1968 — fifty years ago — a good portion of new holiday releases were by artists more in tune with our parents’ taste than our own. A case in point is Robert Goulet’s 1968 release, Hurry Home for Christmas.

Yet there were some touches of the rock and pop age to be had that year as well, though most are now all but forgotten. Among the highlights of holiday music released in 1968 that were more relevant to boomers were:

Back Door Santa by Clarence Carter (released as a single from the album, Soul Christmas, that same year)

Christmas Blues, an album by Canned Heat; that same year, the band released a Christmas boogie song with Alvin and the Chipmunks!

A Christmas Wish, an album by Bobby Goldsboro

My Favorite Things from the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album

Mister Boomer’s family was probably like most other boomer households in that his mother had her favorite Christmas albums, and dominated the holiday music playlist for the house. Brother Boomer, the primary buyer of rock ‘n roll in the household, didn’t pay much attention to holiday music. Mister B can’t think of a holiday single or album that he brought home. So, the annual tradition for Mister B and his sister — Brother Boomer being out and about by then — was his mom asking him to cue up her Christmas albums on the family record player in the living room. Her favorites included, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams and Barbra Streisand’s Christmas albums. Mister B’s sister added the single of Snoopy’s Christmas vs. the Red Baron (1967).

What holiday music was playing in your house, boomers? And what did you like best?

Some Boomers Got Christmas Greetings from the Beatles

Before the dawn of the internet and social media, celebrities relied on fan clubs as a more personal way to connect with fans. For publicity agents, they became an adjunct to the teen and celebrity magazines of the era and presented a steady audience that would be the first to buy whatever their client was selling. In return, the fan club members received autographed photos and often got first notice of upcoming film and music releases, public appearances, and sometimes, special visitations from the celebrities at annual meetings.

As soon as the Beatles became popular in England, their fan club cropped up. It was run out of the London offices of Brian Epstein’s company, NEMS Enterprises. NEMS managed the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and other bands at the time. Members of the Official Beatles Fan Club had access to publicity photos and info on the Fab Four that was unavailable elsewhere. In 1963, Tony Barrow, the press officer for NEMS, suggested the band record their thanks and holiday greetings on a flexi-disc that would be distributed to the fan club members. The idea was accepted with the intent that the recording pay for itself through fan club membership fees, though as part of the Beatles’ marketing, NEMS was prepared to accept the cost in exchange for fan goodwill.

Barrow wrote a script for each of the boys to read after the recording session that produced I Want to Hold Your Hand in October of 1963. It became obvious that the words read by John, Paul, George and Ringo were not their own as they fumbled through the script, ad-libbed and generally made fun of the whole process. Though the holiday message was intended to be a one-time release, it was a hit with fans, so NEMS continued to produce one every year through 1969.

1964 was the year the Beatles conquered America, but the Christmas message the band recorded in late October arrived too late to be distributed to the newly-minted U.S. Beatles Fan Club. Consequently, U.S. fans received the 1963 package that year as part of their $2.00 annual membership fee. The U.S. club members received soundcards instead of flexi-discs; boomers recall soundcards as the cardboard disc promotional items that were often adhered to the back of cereal boxes. Sound quality was hardly a concern with these items intended to be tossed after a single play.

By 1965, the band warmed up to the idea and gained control of the content. Their annual holiday messages got more elaborate, and some years featured new songs written for the occasion.

In 1966, the band recorded their message as a concept show that took its basis from the English pantomime musical comedy shows they saw at Christmastime when they were kids. Christmastime Is Here Again, was a new song recorded the day after the release of Magical Mystery Tour for the 1966 fan package. For the first time, some fans grumbled at the changes that were taking place in the bands’ sound, that culminated in the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band seven months later. While some girls didn’t like the new direction, more boys joined the club that year.

The band had officially broken up by Christmas of 1970, though the Fan Clubs remained in existence through 1972. Apple Records was looking for a way to thank loyal fans after the break up. Several ideas were put forth, but it was decided that fans would receive an LP as a parting gift that contained the Christmas messages recorded from 1963 to 1969.

In 2017, Apple released a CD box set of the Christmas messages, including reproductions of each year’s artwork, printed matter and remastered sound.

Mister Boomer and his siblings were never much for joining fan clubs. The only fan club Mister B belonged to was for Soupy Sales. His sister flirted with the idea of joining a Bobby Sherman fan club, but settled for a wall poster. Nonetheless, the Beatles had a big presence in the Boomer household. Brother Boomer brought home Beatles 45 RPMs and albums as soon as they were released. In fact, the first package of 45 RPMs the family bought had a Beatles record in it (I Feel Fine backed with She’s a Woman). It was the only record visible in the label-sized cellophane window of the 10-record package.

The first that Mister Boomer heard of the Beatles Christmas messages came from his transistor radio. One year, Mister B thinks it was 1965 or ’66, a local radio station played the fan club message on the air. After that point, he recalls hearing several stars of the time — including the Beach Boys — relaying Christmas greetings on radio bumpers, those short breaks between records and commercials.

How about it, boomers? Were you an official Beatles Fan Club member who received the annual holiday message package? Do you still have them now?