Beatle Battle: Who Wrote a Better Christmas Song?

John Lennon and Paul McCartney had one of the most successful song-writing partnerships of all time.  They both wrote lyrics and music, and in the early days of their partnership and of the Beatles, they collaborated extensively, but as time went on, more and more they each wrote their own songs with only limited input from the other.  Based on an agreement made when Lennon and McCartney first began working together, most songs written by either Beatle were attributed to both, until Lennon announced that he was leaving the Beatles in 1969.

In the ’70s, both McCartney and Lennon had success as solo artists or with other bands (Wings and the Plastic Ono Band, respectively).  And of course, each of them wrote their own original Christmas song.

Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” was released in November 1979.  It was written and recorded entirely by McCartney, and peaked at no. 6 on the UK singles chart, but never charted on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.  It has been covered by various artists over the years, including Kylie Minogue, Jars of Clay, the Shins, and Jimmy Buffet.  Including royalties from covers, it’s been estimated that this song earns McCartney ~$400,00/year.

John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” was released in 1971 in the US, and in 1972 in the UK.  It peaked at no. 4 in the UK Singles Chart initially, and re-emerged following Lennon’s death in 1980, when it hit no. 2.  The song was recorded with the help of Phil Spector as a producer, and featured Yoko Ono and the Harlem Community Choir on background vocals.  It has also been covered by a variety of artists, including The Fray, Andy Williams, the Polyphonic Spree, and most famously Sarah McLachlan.  If the title didn’t clue you in, the song was not just a holiday song, but also a protest song against the Vietnam War.

Both of these songs have been inescapable during the month of December for my entire lifetime, played in heavy rotation once the local soft rock radio station switches over to holiday mode the day after Thanksgiving.  Neither song is really very good.  McCartney’s is repetitive, heavy on the synth, and the lyrics leave something to be desired.  Lennon’s is sort of dour and pretentiously moralizing, features Yoko Ono, and also has some questionable lyrics (“Let’s stop all the fight”).

In an interview in 1980 Lennon said this regarding his and Paul’s songwriting:  “[Paul] provided a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes.”  I think these 2 songs really exemplify that difference between them.  Personally, I prefer the lightness and optimism of “Wonderful Christmas Time.”  Christmas, I think, should be a time for optimism, for getting together with your family and friends just to enjoy some time with one another.  No, the problems of the world won’t just go away on their own, but I think it’s important to continue to enjoy the little things.  “We’re here tonight, and that’s enough.”

So, which song do you think is better?