Sampling and Replaying "Wonderful Christmastime"

A brief history of Sir Paul McCartney's holiday classic, songs that covered and sampled it, and how people are reimagining it for the #ChristmasFlipChallenge.

In 1979 Sir Paul McCartney produced, sang, and wrote “Wonderful Christmastime” while working on his second solo album. Wedged in between the release of Wings’ final record Back to the Egg and McCartney II, the single was a global hit thanks to a catchy chorus and distinctive synth part provided by either a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 or a Yamaha CS-80. The music video features the Prophet-5, but some articles cite the CS-80—which was a go-to instrument for McCartney at the time—as the synth he used.

“Wonderful Christmastime” has since become an enduring part of his catalog despite some critics panning it. The single is also a major revenue generator for McCartney: one industry source cited in a 2010 Forbes article by Zack O'Malley Greenburg estimated “Wonderful Christmastime” pulls in $400,000 to $600,000 per year.

Whether people love it, hate it, or love to hate it, the song generally evokes strong holiday nostalgia and remains a radio constant in November and December.

In addition to its standalone success, an increasing number of artists have tried their hand at covering the McCartney original over the past decade. The Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One project Tuxedo may be responsible the best cover yet. Their funky, upbeat 2014 rendition makes for a refreshing change of pace from traditional Christmas music.

Different producers have also found McCartney’s jingle to be a nice sample source. As the first person to chop it, frequent De La Soul collaborator and Queens native Supa Dave West used a stuttery, slightly hectic arrangement of the sampled synths to create the bouncy, enjoyable album cut “Simply” from the group’s 2001 AOI: Bionix album.

A decade later Detroit native Black Milk flipped the hell out “Wonderful Christmas,” added a bubbling bassline and smacking drums, and teamed up with vocalist Melanie Rutherford for the extra funky “Simply Having.”

Seven years after Milk and Rutherford’s impressive collaboration, La Habra, California’s Jonwayne used a clever sample reversal, crisp drums, and some vocal hits to compose the head-nodding Yuletide Bangerz selection “Eggknock.”

And right now a number of producers are finding inspiration in the song for the Micro-Chop #ChristmasFlipChallenge. Here are a few of my favorites so far.

First up we have London-based producer @M3llows. As one person on Twitter noted, he turned this #ChristmasFlipChallenge track into something that sounds like a lost Neptunes cut.

Boston’s Bob Gnarly went another route by taking a cover version, looping a guitar section with the Koala app, adding inventive drums and filters, and further enhancing his beat with some subtle sleigh bells underneath.

Adding another level of creativity to the #ChristmasFlipChallenge, @mardutapes used dialogue from George Bailey’s “my mouth’s bleeding” and “Zuzu’s petals” rant towards the end of It’s a Wonderful Life and paired it with some nice synth chops—perfectly capturing the manic energy of the holiday season.

Los Angeles’ Duke Westlake continued his sample challenge hot streak by making Sir Paul slap something fierce with nice crunchy drums and impressive vocal sampling, giving McCartney’s 31-year-old Christmas original new life in the process.

And Massachusetts sample flipper DJ Manipulator successfully captured the song’s synth sounds and made them much darker by using his SP-404 and Maschine in tandem. The end result is a memorable instrumental that also incorporates richly textured vocals and effects.

Last but certainly not least Pittsburgh’s C.Scott crafted a gorgeous and melodic disco/funk cover of the song with a unique combo of gear. His version of “Wonderful Christmastime” is a valuable addition to the Christmas music canon that’s sure to win him new fans. Make sure to check out his Bandcamp page and pick it up.

If you’re inspired by these amazing songs and videos and want to participate in the #ChristmasFlipChallenge, you still have until 2 PM Eastern Standard Time on December 23rd to make a flip.

In the meantime, please stay healthy and safe as we gear up for the holiday season.

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