In Random Tracks, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
Paul McCartney- “Wonderful Christmastime”
PEAK: #45 on December 19, 2020
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
When it comes to Christmas songs, Paul McCartney’s 1979 track “Wonderful Christmastime” often tops lists and discussions as the worst Christmas song ever. Like many of these rankings, it’s the kind of thing we’re supposed to accept. A part of life. No questioning it. Even in a genre that’s often derided for its overplay and sappiness, “Wonderful Christmastime” has hit a certain kind of nerve with listeners.
For me, “Wonderful Christmastime” isn’t the worst song ever. It’s not even the worst Christmas song ever not when “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” exists. But don’t get me wrong, it still sucks ass and is still an annoying presence every Christmas. It’s not hard to see why most would take a heavy dislike towards it.
There’s no grand origin story to “Wonderful Christmastime.” McCarney wrote and recorded the song during the summer of 1979 on his farm in Scotland. This was during the sessions for what would be his second solo album McCartney II after spending much of the ‘70s releasing music with his wife Linda and his band Wings. Released in May 1980, much of McCartney II showcased McCartney playing around with the then-emerging new wave and synth-pop sounds and synthesizers. That best explains why “Wonderful Christmastime” sounds like it does, a world-famous rock star fucking around in the studio with the latest music technology and making a Christmas song out of it.
Like McCartney II, Paul plays all the instruments on “Wonderful Christmastime” which includes synthesizers, keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums. But the song is mainly driven by what might be the ugliest sounding synth I’ve ever heard in a song. It has this blocky sound quality that makes for an unpleasant listening experience as it dominates the entire song to where not even the decent sleigh bells and guitar sound in the middle can make it better. Even for the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, this sounds incredibly dated and bad.
And it’s not like the lyrics and singing do much to raise it. Despite the synth production, the lyrics are pure McCartney in that they aren’t really much of anything. It largely consists of a vague optimism about Christmas arriving referencing all the simple fun time holiday activities like a children’s choir singing carols, partying, and the fact that we’re together. The whole performance radiates this chipper style of happiness that can make it annoying if you’re not in the mood to celebrate Christmas. Plus, McCartney himself doesn’t sound all that invested in the song phoning in his performance throughout.
Released in November 1979, “Wonderful Christmastime” was a standalone single meaning it wasn’t included on any of McCartney’s albums. In 1993, the song was put onto the bonus edition of Back To The Egg, the 1979 Wings album that also happened to be the band’s final album. (Wings aren’t involved with the song but do appear in its official video.) And in 2011, “Wonderful Christmastime” was included on the deluxe edition of McCartney II. Chart-wise, the song was an immediate hit in his native UK where it peaked at #6 on their charts in January 1980 a couple of months after its release. But it took longer to break onto the Hot 100 only making its debut a couple of years ago at #47 before reaching a new peak of #45 this week.
For 2020, it looks like McCartney will be having a wonderful Christmastime as he gets ready to release his third self-titled album McCartney III, 40 years after his last one and 50 years after his first. Like the other two self-titled albums, McCartney III features Paul playing most of the instruments outside of a few guests with the songs being recorded amid the pandemic induced lockdown. Who knows maybe McCartney will use this opportunity to release an updated “Wonderful Christmastime” with trap production because we’re all clamoring for that.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s De La Soul sampling the synths and interpolating the chorus melody from “Wonderful Christmastime” on their 2001 track “Simply:”
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the 2012 Saturday Night Live sketch where McCartney and Martin Short appear as a singing duo auditioning for a singing pageant where after Martin storms off McCartney performs “Wonderful Christmastime:”
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Harry Styles performing “Wonderful Christmastime” during a 2019 performance on the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge:
(As a member of One Direction, Styles peaked at #2 with 2013’s “Best Song Ever.” It’s a 5. As a solo artist, he’ll eventually appear on this site.)