The Beatles are probably the most famous band in music history but its members were awful at making Christmas songs. If there’s one thing I can stress to you this holiday season, it would be that. Put on any radio station that dedicates its Decembers to holiday music. Within one hour you’ll hear both “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney and “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, and you’ll be forced to agree. They are not good songs. It’s okay, you can admit it. I know there’s a little voice inside your head saying “But… the Beatles… people like them… maybe these songs are good?” Nope. They are not. Say it out loud. It’s liberating.
The real question here isn’t even so much “Are the songs bad?” as it is “They are bad but which one is worse?” And so, let’s ask that question. Below, I’ll lay out the case against each song and pick a winner (loser?). Feel free to chime in with your pick. There’s no wrong answer here. Unless you like one of them. Then you are wrong.
OPTION #1: “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney
Let me begin by saying that Paul McCartney seems like a perfectly nice man who would probably have encouraging words for you if you were down in the dumps over an unfortunate event in your career or personal life. That said, this song is traaaaassssshhhhh. Everyone knows it, too. Google “Wonderful Christmastime.” You don’t even get through the first page of results before you get to articles about how awful it is, and by the end of the second page of results there are already two or three contrarian “In Defense Of…” pieces about the song, which is the surest sign of all that something is unspeakably bad.
Honestly, we could do a sub-showdown with this larger showdown titled “Which Is Your Least Favorite Part Of ‘Wonderful Christmastime,’ The Repeating Chorus Or All Those Friggin Electric Sproinging Sounds?” See, you think it’s the chorus because that’s the part that moves into your head and refuses to leave like people in those nightmare AirBNB stories, but listen again and ask yourself this: Would that bother you that much if not for all the sproings? I bet it wouldn’t! In fact, I bet you started getting angry as soon as you heard the first sproing at the beginning of the song, which I am sorry I made you listen to again, but science required it.
The near-universal agreement on this song’s lack of a redeeming trait (and the thing where, again, Paul seems very sweet and I kinda don’t want him to be sad) almost makes me feel bad about piling on like this. I’m not exactly breaking new ground here. And I think I might feel full-on bad about this if not for two additional factors.
Factor #1: Do you know how many covers of this song there are? Wikipedia lists 22. Twenty-two covers of “Wonderful Christmastime,” a song that no radio station in America would play if it had been recorded by someone even 60 percent as famous as Paul McCartney. There’s even one by Jimmy Buffett, and if you’re wondering if a cover of “Wonderful Christmastime” by Jimmy Buffett is even worse than the original somehow, then I have some news for you: Yuuuuuup.
Stop encouraging people, Paul.
Factor #2: Guess how much money Paul McCartney has made off this song. Guess.
Another industry source puts the number in the $400,000-$600,000 range annually. By way of a back-of-the-envelope calculation, that means McCartney has seen about $15 million from the song since its release. That’s a bit less than what McCartney earns in an entire year these days from royalties on songs recorded by himself and with Wings and The Beatles.
And those figures come from a Forbes post from 2010. That means he has six more years of $500k checks to add to that figure. Paul McCartney has made almost $20 million off of “Wonderful Christmastime.”
OPTION #2: “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon
“So this is Christmas, and what have you done?”
Well, for starters, John Lennon, I didn’t write and perform a Christmas song with a condescending opening line that bums everyone out if they think about for two seconds. So that’s one point for me.
The thing with this song isn’t so much that it’s “bad.” It’s fine-ish, sonically, give or take what sounds like a choir of ghost children backing him, which never fails to weird me out. There’s no sproinging or earworm-y thing that will put you on the brink of veering your car into a Christmas tree farm at a high rate of speed. It’s more that we should really have tighter controls on who is and is not allowed to make original Christmas songs.
Basically, the single qualification should be this: People who can nail the peppy vibe of a short upbeat holiday tune. We already have plenty of slow Christmas songs you can choose from, like “White Christmas” or “The Christmas Song” or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” We are now only accepting bouncy ones. So, like, Mariah Carey? Sure. A bubble gum pop group like N Sync or whoever the future equivalent of N Sync is? Yes, fine. Paul McCartney? You would think. But the Lennons and the Bonos and Stings and Sinead O’Connors of the world must be headed off at the pass, because that’s how you get people singing about war and shouting “Thank God it’s them instead of you!” during Christmas-themed songs about poverty. These kinds of songs have their place, please don’t mistake me. They speak to important issues and getting people to focus on those issues is a good thing, in general. But man, it is one heck of a comedown to roll into a reminder that you’re not doing enough to spread peace right after a short song about rocking around a Christmas tree, you know?
I’m doing the best I can, John Lennon. Jeez.
Verdict: “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney
I want to stress here that this was closer than you’d think. I was really going back and forth on it until I heard “Wonderful Christmastime” again and my eye started twitching. The sproinging. I blame it all on the sproinging.