Saving “Wonderful Christmas Time” from itself

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Last year, you may remember that I deconstructed John Lennon’s holiday chestnut “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” in an effort to reclaim it from the scores of self-absorbed, cheesy cover versions out in the world. This year, I attempted to achieve the opposite effect — I took a super cheesy Christmas song written by one of my favorite musicians and tried to restore it to coolness.

In 1979, Paul McCartney bought himself a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 synthesizer and decided to christen it, apparently by challenging himself to write the corniest holiday song he could come up with. And thus, “Wonderful Christmas Time” was born. There literally isn’t a single feature in the song that I could describe as appealling.  The Prophet 5 synth is a magnificent instrument capable of producing gorgeous sounds — and also grotesque, flatulent sounds not fit for listening. The whole situation is heartbreaking, really, because Mr. McCartney has one of the strongest bodies of pop songwriting in history. Surely, there must be SOMETHING of quality somewhere in “Wonderful Christmas Time.”

With that assumption in mind, I set forth to defend the musical legacy of Sir Paul by retooling the song in a more appealing package. One of the things I liked least about the original is its insipid and almost inhuman chipperness. Listening to it is almost like being stuck in an elevator with an extremely chirpy cheerleader that just downed 5 Full Throttle energy drinks. To combat that, I decided to give the song a somewhat more subdued approach. At the time, I was listening to a lot of Iron and Wine and Elliott Smith (still a staple of my listening diet). That “shoegazer” style strongly informed my approach to the song – acoustic guitars, hushed vocals, and a set of bells for extra delicacy.

At a point during the recording, I started to add bass. But like Prince in the song “When Doves Cry,” I decided that it was getting in the way of the record and left it out. Really good listeners may notice a little “secret sauce” in the first verse — a little vacuum cleaner noise leaked into the recording and just happened to blend well with the rest of the instruments.  When it was done, I felt like I had achieved my goal. The finished product reminded me of still winter nights of icicles hanging from Christmas lights. There WAS something good inside that song.

Released under the appropriately indie moniker “DistantRadioBand,” I hope that you find something good inside this effort.

And Sir Paul, if you’re listening, you’re welcome.

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About Gretchen Voyle 51 Articles
Gretchen Voyle is the MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator. She can be reached at (517) 546-3950.