The Paul McCartney Song a Musicologist Said Is ‘Simple to a Fault’ Still Rakes in Money Every Year 


Since its release, Paul McCartney’s song “Wonderful Christmastime” has sharply divided fans. While some people see it as a holiday classic, others find it cloying and repetitive. When discussing the song, a musicologist said its flaw for many lies in its simplicity. Still, the holiday song is incredibly successful.

A musicologist broke down why a Paul McCartney song annoys fans

In 1979, McCartney released the song “Wonderful Christmastime.” In the decades since its release, people have struggled to decide whether it is a holiday classic or a song with no place in the Christmas canon. Musicologist Nate Sloan said one of the song’s biggest problems is that it is “simple to a fault.”

“It moves through the verse section of the song faster than a sleigh with no brakes,” Sloan told Mental Floss. “Before you know it, ‘that’s enough’ and we’re off to the titular chorus. It’s like you’ve barely finished your eggnog before someone shoves a plate of ham in your face. The only variation comes with the bridge section, ‘the choir of children sing their song.’ Is their song ‘ding dong?’ Or are bells ringing simultaneously? Either way it’s not the most inventive passage.”

Sloan said people may also have a problem with the song’s instrumentation. Because of its modern sound, it didn’t fit in with traditional holiday songs.

“On ‘Wonderful Christmastime,’ the Prophet-5 by contrast is staccato, harsh, and tinny — it’s a bold choice by McCartney, and a testament to his experimentation with an instrument that would soon become an industry standard but was less than a year old at the point when he recorded ‘Wonderful Christmastime.’”

Despite the reasons why people may hate the song, it’s clear that enough people are fans. In 2010, Forbes reported that McCartney rakes in between $400,000 and $600,000 on the song each year. This potentially puts his total earnings on the song over $20 million since its release.

Sloan said he still saw the song as a ‘welcome relief’

Though Sloan can understand why people dislike the song, he appreciates it. 

“The lyrics are direct, simple, and universal — all key qualities of a good pop song, and as true of a good Christmas song,” Sloan explained. “Repetition is key here, as well. Over the course of the song, you hear the title phrase 17 times, so by the time you’ve finished listening that lyric is burned into your synaptic pathways for all Christmas future.”

He feels that it breaks from tradition in an incredibly refreshing way.

“In the increasingly rigid annual rotation of holiday songs, ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ stands out for its timbral palette and inventive chord structure,” he said. “And for that reason, I find it a welcome relief from the familiar strains of Mariah [Carey] and Bing [Crosby].”

Paul McCartney did not take much time to write the song

Paul McCartney plays guitar and sings with Linda McCartney, who holds a microphone. Three bagpipers stand behind them amongst silver Christmas trees.
Paul and Linda McCartney | David Redfern/Redferns

“Wonderful Christmastime” continues to be a cash cow for McCartney. This is impressive, especially given the amount of time it took him to write it. Per The Sunday Post, McCartney cranked out the song in just ten minutes during the summer. Apparently, it doesn’t take all that much time to write one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time.

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