Monday, December 23, 2013

In Defense of: Questionable Christmas Songs: Part III

For some reason, Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" is reviled by many, even those who otherwise like Sir Paul and that Beatles group he was part of. We've never understood the hate.

If we were to level any criticism at "Wonderful ..." it would be that it's a two-minute idea stretched out to a more radio friendly four minutes. So it repeats itself for the back half, but that's a complaint easily leveled at many pop standards that get much more love.

Surely the Cute One tossed off this charming, inoffensive ditty while plinking around with his fancy new synthesizer. [It was a Prophet 5 -- ed.] Even his futzing around is radio-worthy. Is the distaste born of anger and frustration?

Musically, it's has that kind of "hey, did I mention I can play the piano?" feel -- with McCartney as the cool, maybe tipsy, uncle who has traveled the globe but set down tonight at your parents house to say hi and tell stories that you may or may not believe and dang it he's so much fun.

The lyrics are inconsequential to say the least, and that's for the best. No nonsense about trees, holly or presents, just a "hey, we're here, let's drink and sing." Aside from the chorus, it could easily be a summoning to the local for a pint and a few jokes.
And this is where the real defense comes in. It's nearly impossible to talk about Paul McCartney without talking about John Lennon. And what did Lennon give us for Christmas? "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)."

There's nothing wrong with Lennon's solemn, introspective tune. Arguably, he's more in line with the tone of classic English Christmas music. And yes, Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote and recorded the song in 1971, when Vietnam was still in full swing and the collective hangover from the '60s was just setting in, while McCartney recorded "Wonderful ..." in 1979 on the cusp of the go-go '80s.

But these two songs best illustrate the differences between McCartney and Lennon. The former is pure happiness and love, to the point of tooth-ache sweetness. The latter is a somber inventory that puts all the work on the listener: "What have you done?" "War is over, if you want it." John, if we wanted a lecture we'd go to church.

Need more proof? Watch the official video released for "Happy Xmas" and then try to swallow another mug of nog. It's the Christmas song equivalent of reminding everyone at the table about how poorly cranberry bog workers are treated.

It's not that Lennon's song is bad, it's just a bummer. And any sensible person has plenty of winter weltschmerz stocked up by the time Santa comes sliding down the drainpipe. Baby Jesus, that's why we all just want to drink and sing:

[courtesy of Holiday Favorites]

If we have not convinced you, nothing will. But we dare you to listen -- really listen -- to "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and then tell us how much you dislike "Wonderful Christmastime." Or, if all else fails, you can just listen to this.