If you think critics aren’t keen on the Cats movie (and you’d be right), try asking rock critics of a certain vintage what they think of Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime. The case for the prosecution might begin with the evidence that the original B-side was Rudolph the Red-nosed Reggae. (Yes, it was a dub version of the standard, played on violin. No, King Tubby was not looking over his shoulder as a result).

Matt Springer of Ultimate Classic Rock site called the A-side “lazy, passionless and trite” and suggested it would be playing on a loop in hell . This was not an implication that the Devil has all the best tunes. As recently as 2014, USA Today wrote that McCartney’s efforts on this song were akin to “the writer of an Adam Sandler movie”. As if this could be confused with praise, the writer added its creation was “like if Irving Berlin wrote the Thong Song.”

Defending Sisqo’s breakthrough hit is for another article, and another time of year.

Google “Worst Christmas songs” and Esquire, The Independent and the seers at 96.3 JACK FM all have it listed.

Wonderful Christmastime was recorded two months after Wings’ final album, Back to the Egg, emerged in June 1979 and preceded McCartney II, out the following summer. Of that album, Danny Baker wrote in the NME: “McCartney II isn’t worth the plastic it’s printed on. Neither is Paul, but he’ll go on doodling and fooling his public because they’re too frightened to ditch him and his past and he’s too rich to be stopped.”

They are all wrong with a capital “R”.

Wonderful Christmastime belongs in the pantheon of truly great Christmas pop songs, along with Chris Rea (both songs celebrate festive get togethers), Wizzard (each uses a children’s choir) and Slade (recorded in the height of summer, Slade’s was laid down in July).

What makes it live up to its name?

McCartney understood that cheese is a perfectly acceptable part of any pop songwriter’s palate. No other Beatle would have the smarts to sail so close to naff to write such an effective ear-worm. While Lennon was making grand statements about war and peace in his Christmas song with Yoko – Macca’s is very much a solo effort – John starts with a sneering “So this is Christmas? And what have you done?”

By contrast, his old mucker Paul is wearing a party hat and handing out the Selection Box.

The message of his song couldn’t be more simple: “We’re here tonight/And that’s enough.”

That should be enough. It is after all Christmas.

Four decades after its release, Harry Styles, MF Doom, The Monkees and Kylie Minogue featuring Mika have all covered it. Jimmy Fallon and The Roots did a passable version in 2016. Of the McCartney hits that don’t involve Lennon, his festive hit is top of the tree in terms of PRS earnings, surpassing all others by coining more than £300,000 annually.

If you thought Stevie Wonder playing the Clavinet, Moog synthesiser bass and drums on Superstition, or Prince taking on 27 instruments on his debut album was impressive, check out the credits on this song. “Paul McCartney: vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, bass, drums, percussion, production.” They forgot engineer. He also, according to Beatlesologist Keith Badman in his Beatles: After the Break Up tome, balanced a drum on top of his farm toilet to get the sound just right.

In many respects, the Fabs were having a dog of a year. Wings were about to tour but had released their last album, John, Paul, George and Ringo had to sue organisers of the Beatlemania stage show, in an interview John called Paul “a company man”, the house in the Hollywood Hills Ringo rented from Harry Nilsson burnt down and the band were still trying to extricate themselves from any association with Robert Stigwood and the Bee Gees’ 1978 Sergeant Pepper film.

No wonder Paul retreated to his farm in Sussex to take a break from the Hofner bass and muck about on synthesisers. Coming Up from the same session as Wonderful Christmastime was believed to be the song which motivated John Lennon to return to the recording studio after hearing it on holiday in Bermuda.

In a 2011 interview with music site The Quietus, McCartney was asked about that period. “I really just was fascinated with these things called synthesizers which had appeared on the scene” and cited [Radiophonic Workshop’s] Delia Derbyshire, John Cage and “certainly Talking Heads. I love David Byrne’s eccentricity” as influences.

There is even debate among the synth geek community over which instrument Paul uses on the record. As SCI-Prophet 5 appears on the video but most believe it was made on a Yamaha CS-80, the same bit of kit Vangelis would use for the Blade Runner soundtrack and now beloved by bands including Phoenix and Empire of the Sun.

Mull of Kintyre may have been Christmas No 1, and this wasn’t, but it’s a Macca song of staying power, charm and even innovation. Only one section of society is reasonably entitled to despise this record. Those who work in retail.