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Global Comment Advent Calendar 18: “Wonderful Christmastime/War Is Over” by McCartney/Lennon

Written by Story of Song

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By Kate Lillie

Originally published on Global Comment

Behind the door of today’s advent calendar lie two entries for the price of one, like when you open the door and get two chocolates, or bite into your KitKat and get solid chocolate with no wafer. And what’s more, they’re both former Beatles…

Wonderful Christmastime by Sir Paul McCartney is one of those Christmas songs which often tops the best and worst lists at this time of year, but I love it. Yes, it has a simple structure and a repetitive chorus, but I fail to see what’s wrong with that. One reviewer described it – accurately, I would say – as “musical snow” and I feel like this really captures the reason the song feels so Christmassy.

The video to the song seems to have been filmed at McCartney’s local pub and the local residents do in fact seem to be having a wonderful Christmastime. Sir Paul is sporting a rather festive scarf and there are a few questionable-looking percussion instruments in shot (including one which looks like it might have been purchased from Ann Summers rather than a musical instruments store) and a very dodgy Santa toy dancing across the piano, but judging from the dance floor action, Sir Paul’s local is the place to be at Christmas.

Outside the pub, Sir Paul has become an early adopter of Sir Cliff’s ‘magical’ computer-generated animation and has gone all-out on the effects, with fireworks, singing heads and what look like some diamonds in the sky (I will refrain from making the obvious connection here) being followed by, most weirdly of all, a giant horse. Is it a Christmas horse? I mean, it’s definitely not a reindeer.

This is closely followed by what looks like a gang of Santa-costumed burglars jumping out of their van to make a raid on the unsuspecting inhabitants of a local home and some footage of a village bonfire, intercut with some footage of Wings performing the song live in concert (accompanied by that Ann Summers instrument again). However, the high point of the video comes when the band are magically transported back to the front of the pub in an animated gift, which explodes to leave them there, full kits and all, playing the song in what must have been pretty chilly conditions.

Written and performed predominantly on a synth and recorded solely by McCartney, the single reached number 6 in the UK upon its release in 1979. Whatever you may think of the song itself, it’s turned out to be one of Sir Paul’s biggest earners, with an estimated income for him of over $400,000 per year in royalties. Yep, that’s right – that adds up to over $10 million so far, at a very conservative estimate. So he probably doesn’t really care too much what we all think.

Wonderful Christmastime/War Is Over” by McCartney/Lennon

Our second entry for today is by none other than John Lennon and is, of course, Happy Xmas (War Is Over). There is a great behind the scenes account of the making of the song here which is well worth a read but suffice it to say that it seems to receive better critical attention than Wonderful Christmastime even though they’re such different songs it’s really not comparing like with like and they were in fact made almost a decade apart, with War Is Over being released in 1971 and therefore preceding Wonderful Christmastime by eight years.

Originally conceived as a protest song about the Vietnam War, the wider message of War Is Over is still just as relevant as it was in 1971 and indeed the recut 2003 video includes video documentary footage from wars much more recent as well as from Vietnam, making it the single most depressing Christmas music video it’s possible to watch. The link below is to the original video which was still, strangely enough, only released in 1993.

Produced by none other than – yes you’ve guessed it! – Phil Spector, War Is Over nonetheless didn’t perform well upon initial release in the US although it did better in the UK where it was released the following year.

And just as an extra bonus, if you would like the full set of ex-Beatles Christmas songs you can find George Harrison’s Ding Dong (not a euphemism, I promise) here and Ringo Starr’s rather strange I Wanna Be Santa Claus here.

Written by Story of Song

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