Holiday Horrors: “Wonderful Christmastime”

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I like Paul McCartney a lot. He’s my favorite Beatle. I think he gets a bad rap merely for outliving John Lennon (who drives me up the wall, as we shall get into in a future post), but I think his solo stuff is much, much better than John’s (if you’re willing to ignore some of Paul’s most glaring clunkers, which I admit is hard to do at times). He’s still out there doing it, and whatever criticisms you can make of his newer material, you can’t say
he’s coasting and putting out lazy retreads.

Notwithstanding George Harrison picking up the sitar and Lennon enabling Yoko’s screeching, Paul has always been the most musically adventurous of the Fab Four. Sometimes musical adventurousness leads to brilliance like side 2 of Abbey Road. But sometimes it leads to early adoption of questionable new technology, as Sir Paul did in his 1979 holiday tune “Wonderful Christmas Time”. Back then, polyphonic synthesizers were in their infancy, and Macca decided he needed to get in on the ground floor of the impending beep-boop revolution.

So he performed most of the song on a (then) brand new keyboard, the Prophet-5. In 1979, it must have seemed very futuristic, since it had a lot of knobs and dials and allowed you to play five whole notes at once. But then again, so did the original Battlestar Galactica and Space Invaders. With the Beatles, McCartney made timeless music, but this song is definitely the product of a very specific timeframe–and should have stayed there.

Unfortunately, this tune has received an undeserved revival in the past few years. I never heard this song as a kid, and then all of a sudden it reemerged from the depths of Moog-ville five or six years ago. I think much of its renewed appreciation is ironic, from a generation that thinks huge cell phones and dial-up modems are hysterical.

Truth be told, this song is not that bad at its core. From a pure musical standpoint, it’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. It’s cute, inoffensive, even fun at times. Unfortunately, to get to this core you have to wave through a chorus of toy laser guns. If Nerf made instruments, this is what they would sound like.

Some people dig vintage synthesizers. These people are insane. Maybe nostalgia gives you a soft spot for Atari, but deep in your heart you know it pales in comparison to the PS3. Preferring the synthesizers of 1979 to today’s models is like preferring an outhouse to indoor plumbing.

I hope someday McCartney decides to re-record this with a real band. Or at least with instruments that don’t sound like miked styrofoam.