Why do people hate Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas”?

When the docuseries The Beatles: Come Back premiered last month, the internet came with a host of great memes about toast, Ringo Starr’s gas, and George Harrison’s decision to quit the band. But the the funniest of the group, created by writer Ben Rosen, pokes fun at Paul McCartney and his 1979 holiday staple, “Wonderful Christmastime.”

In the first of four meme panels, McCartney asks the other Beatles if they can try his song about “Just Having a Wonderful Christmas.” When they tell him no, Paul thinks to himself, “I have to break the Beatles. “

The meme works because “Wonderful Christmastime,” which McCartney wrote and recorded about a decade after the events described in To recover, is a song that people love to hate. It’s also a song that people love to love. In 2011, Rolling stone readers voted it the ninth best Christmas song of all time. (Number 1 was “Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon).”) More recently, publications like Squire and Slant said that Macca’s synthesized Christmas song was one of the worst Christmas songs of all time.

Why does the song elicit such strong reactions? It may have something to do with the structure, or the lack of it. According to musicologist and performer Nate Sloan, co-host of the acclaimed podcast Pop enabled, “Wonderful Christmastime” is “simple to fault,” as it consists only of verse and chorus sections.

“It moves through the verse section of the song faster than a sled without brakes,” Sloan told Mental Floss. “Before you know it, ‘that’s enough’ and we get into the titular chorus. It’s like you’ve barely finished your eggnog before someone shoves a plate of ham in your face.

“The only variation comes with the bridge section, ‘the children’s choir sings their song’,” Sloan continues. “Is their song ‘ding dong?’ Or are the bells ringing at the same time? Either way, this is not the most inventive passage.

While the melody and structure are basic, Sloan says, the song’s harmonic patterns are “devilishly complex.” Take the chorus. “These chords are deep and jazzy, drawing on the rich harmonic vocabulary of pop music from the 1940s and 1950s, when most of today’s holiday canons were composed,” Sloan said.

Part of people’s aversion to the song could also stem from the instrumentation. McCartney recorded “Wonderful Christmastime” on his own using the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer, a new device that would later be used on hits like “I Can’t Go For That” by Hall and Oates. As Sloan points out, it’s quite unusual to hear synths in holiday songs.

“Usually the timbre palette leans towards acoustic and, by extension, nostalgic sounds, ‘real instruments’,” Sloan says. “When you come across synthesizers in a Christmas song, like in Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, they tend to be lush and sustained which lends an almost orchestral sensibility to the song. On ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, the Prophet-5 by contrast is staccato, hard and metallic – it’s a bold choice by McCartney, and a testament to his experimentation with an instrument that would soon become an industry standard, but which had less than a year when he recorded “Wonderful Christmastime”.

Composition and sound texture are important, but with a song like “Wonderful Christmastime” the lyrics are also crucial. Compared to something like Lennon’s “Happy Xmas”, “Wonderful Christmastime” feels light and unimportant. Instead of asking a deep question like, “So it’s Christmas, and what have you done?” McCartney looks around the Christmas party and decides, “We’re here tonight, and that’s enough.” “

“The lyrics are straightforward, simple and universal, all the key qualities of a good pop song, and equally true of a good Christmas song,” says Sloan. “Repetition is also essential here. Over the course of the song, you hear the title line 17 times, so by the time you finish listening, those lyrics are etched into your synaptic pathways for all future Christmases.

“Wonderful Christmastime” is certainly anchored in the collective memory. In 2010, Forbes reported that the song earns McCartney between $ 400,000 and $ 600,000 a year. When asked to explain the song’s enduring popularity, Sloan cites McCartney’s ability to “channel a sense of childish wonder into his music.” And for the record, Sloan is a member of the pro “Christmas” camp.

“In the increasingly rigid annual rotation of holiday songs, ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ stands out with its palette of timbre and inventive chord structure,” he says. “And for that reason, I find it a welcome relief from the familiar strains of Mariah and Bing.”

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