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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wonderful Christmastime

I can't believe that it's only two more days until Christmas! Where the heck did the month of December disappear to? Before you know it, 2012 will be another year in history!

But, at least we'll always have The Pop Culture Addict's Advent Calendar as a visual record of the entire month of December 2012 to look back upon.

It's Day #23, and the last Sunday Jukebox entry of the advent calendar. Before I continue on with this, I just wanted to thank all of you for following this blog for not only the month of December, but since this blog began back in May 2011. I always have said that I would not have continued on with this blog if it weren't for all of you showing interest in it. The comments (even those that offer constructive criticism) are very much welcomed, and I really do appreciate the support that you have given me.

I think part of the reason behind the advent calendar is a way to thank all of you for that support.

Now, let's get on with today's subject.

If you remember back a couple of weeks ago, I did a little bit of a tribute to John Lennon, who was killed outside of his apartment building on December 8, 1980. As a part of that tribute, I did a feature on John Lennon's 1971 Christmas classic “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”.

But, did you know that John Lennon wasn't the only Beatle to release holiday themed songs? At some point, all four Beatles released a holiday song.

Let's take a look at Ringo Starr, for example. In October 1999, Starr released a Christmas album entitled “I Wanna Be Santa Claus”. Although the album was critically praised, and featured such classics as “Winter Wonderland”, “The Little Drummer Boy”, and “White Christmas”, commercially, it didn't do so hot, and none of the album's twelve tracks ended up making a dent on the charts.

The late George Harrison also had a holiday release, the 1974 single “Ding Dong, Ding Dong”. The song also wasn't a huge success on the charts, though it did peak at #36 on the Billboard Charts.

And then there's the offering that was released by Paul McCartney. And Sir Paul's song is one that can be quite polarizing. For every person who claims that the holiday song is one of their most favourite Christmas songs ever, there are others who find it cheesy, annoying, and classify it as one of the worst Christmas songs ever recorded.

I will tell you that I definitely fall in one of these camps. But, before I share my opinion, we need to listen to this song and watch the video for said song.

ARTIST: Paul McCartney
SONG: Wonderful Christmastime
ALBUM: N/A (was a single release)
DATE RELEASED: November 16, 1979

There's a couple of things that I think that I should make clear before I go ahead with the history behind this release. First, although the song never did crack the Billboard Hot 100, it DID manage to reach the Top 10 for the designated Christmas Singles chart in December 1984 – five years after it was originally released.

And, secondly...I know that the video has Paul and Linda McCartney in it, but man, oh, man is that video ever a bad way. I mean, I know it was 1979 and that the video pre-dated MTV, but wow...I don't think that I can ever un-see that.

This single was recorded right around the same time that Paul McCartney was working on tracks for his 1980 album “McCartney II” (the same album that included the #1 song “Coming Up”). It was also one of the last singles that featured the members of the band, Wings – the band that Paul and Linda McCartney began in 1971.

And, when I say “featured”, I mean that the band members appeared in the music video. The members of Wings did not sing on the recording of “Wonderful Christmastime”.

Well, aside from Paul McCartney, that is.

The single was recorded during the summer of 1979, and the music video was filmed at the Fountain Inn in Ashurst, West Sussex.

This single proved to be a huge success for McCartney. Not only did it perform well on the UK Charts, but financially, it's a little bit of a gold mine for McCartney. The song has consistently played on radio stations every Christmas season since 1979, and ranks near the top of the most requested Christmas songs of all time. So, as far as actual airplay goes, McCartney nets millions of pretty pennies alone.

And, then there are all the cover versions of this song. Did you know that there are no less than twenty-six different versions of “Wonderful Christmastime” that have been released since 1979? Some of the artists who have re-recorded the song include Amy Grant, Hilary Duff, Demi Lovato, Jars of Clay, Kelly Rowland, and believe it or not, the trio of Martin Sheen, John Spencer, and Stockard Channing from “The West Wing”!

(Although it makes sense when you consider that the last one was released as part of a celebrity Christmas album released by NBC twelve years ago.)

The point is that with the airplay that McCartney's original song receives, plus the royalties that he gets when someone else records the song, it is estimated that McCartney makes an additional $400,000 from the song's royalties alone! This adds up to approximately $15 million generated income for McCartney since this song's 1979 release! Now, that is absolutely impressive.

Not bad, considering that these days McCartney seems a little bit embarrassed by the song and its success. Of course, McCartney also seemed to realize not to look a gift horse in the mouth, as “Wonderful Christmastime” is literally his gift that kept on giving! And over the years, that initial embarrassment seems to have melted away, as he performed the song on Saturday Night Live on December 15, 2012.

So, that's all that I have to say about “Wonderful Christmastime”.

It's fascinating though...whenever the song “Wonderful Christmastime” comes on the radio, people seem to have very strong opinions. Some people love it, others can't stand it.

My take? Unfortunately, I'm not all that wowed by it. To me, “Wonderful Christmastime” isn't all that wonderful.

But the reason why has nothing to do with who sings it. I think that had McCartney taken on a different arrangement with different musical instruments, and performed it more softly, it could have been a beautiful song, well deserving of its wonderful description.

And, I get that when the song was released, synthesizer music was huge. After all, late 1979 was the time when the music scene was shifting from disco to New Wave, and McCartney was just following suit. I suppose I can't fault him for that.

But listening to “Wonderful Christmastime” now, I can't help but grimace over how incredibly dated it sounds. Even some of the synthesizer heavy tracks from the middle of the 1980s don't sound as old-fashioned as “Wonderful Christmastime”.

I suppose that my final opinion about “Wonderful Christmastime” is that it was an okay song with good lyrics...but its presentation sounds extremely dated. It was good, but not nearly as wonderful as it could have been.

But, least I tried to be diplomatic about it. There are some people who hate this song with the fire of an erupting volcano. But they're entitled to their opinions.

After all, McCartney has sung his way to the bank with this song. What does he care anyway?

And, that wraps up Day #23.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and for our twenty-fourth day of the advent calendar, I've selected a holiday classic for your viewing pleasure...a holiday classic that has spawned at least four remakes. Which version will we feature? You'll see on Christmas Eve!

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