Not so wonderful
Being subjected to Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime, day after day after day, might even sap Santa of his holiday spirit.
By JAY CRIDLIN
Published December 19, 2006
You cannot escape it.
Shopping malls. Big box outlets. Pet shops. Bookstores. In your car. In your office. Even in your own home, you are not safe.
Wherever you go, you will hear it. You will instantly recognize the bouncy, spacey, atonal synthesizer chords. And the moment you hear the lyrics, you will cringe.
The mood is right . . .
The spirit's up . . .
We're here tonight . . .
And that's enough . . .
A wonderful Christmastime . . .
A wonderful Christmastime . . .
It is Paul McCartney's yuletide anticlassic, Wonderful Christmastime. And it may be the most unbearable holiday song ever recorded.
Originally released as a single in 1979, then included in a rerelease of Wings' 1979 album Back to the Egg - alongside another holiday track titled gulp Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reggae - Wonderful Christmastime eschews yuletide warmth in favor of a trippy, scattershot synth line and lyrics about a children's choir at a holiday party. In other words, it's vintage late-stage Wings.
Even the Macca-loving BBC describes the track as "one of those songs that divides a musical nation . . . one of those songs that is either loved or loathed, depending on how cheery you like your music."
Here's a sampling of not-so-Wonderful invective from the Web:
- "This song is so f------ annoying and bad that it is not only a disgrace to the musical legacy of the Beatles, it's even a disgrace to Wings." (The Phat Phree)
- "It manages to get in my head and stay there for days on end, pushing out any and all other thoughts until I feel like some robot (whose) only objective is to KILL PAUL MCCARTNEY." (Ornithopter)
- "Sweet Christ, if this (isn't) the worst song ever recorded, I'm not sure what is. . . . I fully expect that Wonderful Christmastime is what's piped through Hell's stereo system while Satan pierces your genitals with burning rods." (Best Week Ever comedian Christian Finnegan)
- "Despite being 27 years old, its bitter, premanufactured coldness has yet to be equaled in modern popular music. Whereas every other '70s novelty song has been put to rest, it marches onwards, impervious to criticism, unstoppable as the Nazi Blitzkrieg." (Epinions.com)
It's not just listeners. Musicians seem to agree. One of the few artists of any renown to release a cover of Wonderful Christmastime is British singer Tom McRae, who recorded a downbeat, melancholy version for the 2004 indie-rock collection Maybe This Christmas Tree.
McRae said he was offered a choice of holiday songs to cover, but other artists - Death Cab For Cutie, Ivy, the Polyphonic Spree - had already claimed the best ones. "With no disrespect to Mr. McCartney," he said in an e-mail, "I was left with the dregs.
"To me it seemed more fun to attempt a song that wasn't exactly a favorite. . . . To me the only way to go was in the opposite direction to the original, and make it ironic - perhaps the easiest escape route, but it seems so overly sweet in the first place you wonder if Macca even believed it."
In spite of all the criticism, the song refuses to go away. In 2005, Wonderful Christmastime came in at No. 25 on the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers' list of the most-played holiday songs.
St. Petersburg station Magic 94.9 WWRM-FM, which switched to an all-holiday format after Thanksgiving, lists each day's playlist on its Web site, allowing listeners to track the song's airplay.
12:33 p.m. Tuesday: Wonderful Christmastime. 5:25 p.m. Tuesday: Wonderful Christmastime. 9:43 a.m. Wednesday: Wonderful Christmastime. And so on.
"A lot of people call and they love the song," said 94.9 program director Tom Paleveda. "It's positive, it's uplifting, it's bouncy, it's fun. For Pete's sake, it's Paul McCartney. He's a very well-loved musician."
Paleveda's station will abandon its all-Christmas format on Christmas Day, which means shoppers have only about six more days before they're free of McCartney's evergreen anthem. For 11 more months, anyway.
That, they'll tell you, is the true definition of a wonderful Christmastime.
Jay Cridlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified December 19, 2006, 06:27:10]
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