Paul McCartney's Christmas song is a seasonal object of derision, but in the hands of The Shins, it rules the malls.

paul mccartney wonderful christmastime cover

Pummelling Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" has become a holiday tradition, and USA Today's Chris Chase sums up the case for the prosecution when he writes: 

Worst lyric in Wonderful Christmastime: “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time” (x14)

The whole song is Paul repeating this, non-stop. Could he not think of anything else? He’s like the writer of an Adam Sandler movie — he can’t think of anything better, so he has all the guys just make fun of Kevin James the whole time. Oh, there may be other lyrics in the song (“oh and don’t look down” shows Macca’s great wit) but that’s negated by the endless repetition of the six-song [sic] chorus.

I'd connect more to his and others' hostility to the song if their wisecracks were funnier and "Louis Louis" wasn't one of the best rock 'n' roll songs ever written, and if "Wonderful Christmastime" wasn't the top song in malls this Christmas season. Recently, The A.V. Club's William Hughes reported that PlayNetwork--the organization that helps more than 400 companies program their in-store music--recently declared The Shins' cover of "Wonderful Christmastime" to be this year's top song. 

The Shins recorded the song in 2012 for the Holidays Rule compilation, which also includes Irma Thomas backed by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band on "May Ev'ry Day be Christmas." Although McCartney couldn't be accused of overwriting the song, my suspicion is that his recording is damaged by technology-in-transition--namely, the weak, squiggly synth sound that was cool for about 15 minutes in 1979. In The Shins' version, James Mercer dials down the synth and remakes the intro in faux Phil Spector style, and earlier this year, Tuxedo translates the song into a funky, mid-tempo R&B jam that plays up the groove. The synth is closer to a Bernie Worrell-like Moog freak out, making the track more playful. A jazz version of John Pizzarelli dispenses with the part entirely and treats the song as a frisky bossa nova.

R&B singer Rahsaan Patterson keeps the synth part but matches it with AutoTuned vocals that better contextualize it, and Dweezil Zappa moves that part to a guitar synthesizer that deadens its brightness.

It's also worth noticing that "Wonderful Christmastime" is one of two songs that appear twice in the Mall Top 20, with McCartney also appearing at number 17 ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Ella Fitzgerald and Sam Smith is the other). That said, if you want insight into why people hate Christmas music, look at that joylessly middle-of-the-road list. Every track with the exception of the McCartney song and Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings' undeniable "White Christmas" is a "good" one, which translates to songs that don't take any risks or reflect much individual taste. The idiosyncracy that makes for great music at any time is missing from many of these grim markers of middling taste at odds with the excess that's at the heart of Christmas.

1) The Shins -  “Wonderful Christmastime”
2) Mariah Carey - “All I Want For Christmas Is You”
3) Christina Aguilera - “Christmas Time”
4) The Waitresses - “Christmas Wrapping”
5) Jack Johnson - “Someday At Christmas”
6) Kelly Clarkson - “Underneath The Tree”
7) Michael Buble - “A Holly Jolly Christmas”
8) Bing Crosby - “White Christmas”
9) Train - “What Christmas Means To Me”
10) Ella Fitzgerald - “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
11) Coldplay - “Christmas Lights”
12) Jose Feliciano - “Feliz Navidad”
13) Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - “White Christmas”
14) Vince Guaraldi Trio - “Christmas Time Is Here”
15) Sam Smith - “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
16) Pentatonix - “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”
17) Paul McCartney -  “Wonderful Christmastime”
18) She & Him - “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
19) Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas”
20) Darlene Love - “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”

If you're thinking of buying Holidays Rule or Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' It's a Holiday Soul Party, consider doing so through the links on this page. If you do, My Spilt Milk will get a piece of the action. Thanks.