I am writing this post on January 25th, possibly the least Christmassy date in the entire calendar. The whole shebang just came and went a month ago, with any right-minded human needing a good long detox from festive music…
Mistletoe and Wine, by Cliff Richard (his 12th of fourteen #1s)
4 weeks, from 4th December 1988 – 1st January 1989
Though, let’s be honest, is there ever a good time for listening to ‘Mistletoe and Wine’? Even if this were Christmas Eve, it’s not a song I’d ever rush to write a glowing blog post about. Yet it crops up, year in, year out: in shops, on music channels, buried away on Christmas playlists.
Cliff is probably Britain’s best-known Christian, well him and the big Archbishop of C, so of course his Christmas songs have to go deeper than just singing about Santa, presents and snow falling all around us. (He does sing about those things in ‘Mistletoe and Wine’, presumably because he still wanted people to buy the record; he just mixes a bit of sermonising in with it.) A time for living, A time for believing, A time for trusting, Not for deceiving… Ours for the taking, Just follow the master… Meanwhile, the way he pronounces ‘Christian’ in the chorus, with that extra vowel, has always gotten on my nerves.
Watching the video for ‘Mistletoe and Wine’, which begins with Sir Cliff peeking into a sleeping child’s bedroom, you could be forgiven for thinking that he himself is the aforementioned ‘master’, not the man upstairs. The way he conducts his carollers, swaying around as if in raptures, arms outstretched in a messianic pose… It’s ridiculous. Not to mention ridiculously camp.
But… There is something cheesily charming buried within, especially the moment it swells towards the final chorus, and a choirboy comes in with snatches of ‘Silent Night’. There’s an ‘all together now’ music hall feel to it. Most Christmas music is ultimately quite naff, and yet we love it. This record is certainly one of the naffest, and yet it is well loved. And to give him his dues, Cliff was several decades ahead of Mariah and Bublé in setting himself up as a Christmas fixture when the regular hits began to dry up.
I think I’ve been pretty fair and open-minded when it came to Cliff’s eleven previous chart-toppers. Some I really enjoyed discovering (‘Please Don’t Tease’) while some are just undeniable milestones of British popular culture, deserving of our respect (‘Summer Holiday’ and ‘Congratulations’). Some I found dull as dishwater (‘The Next Time’) while at least one is a stone-cold classic (‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’).
As late as the early-eighties he was still scoring respectable pop hits, but this feels like the moment he lost his grip. He was, to be fair, almost fifty when it was released, and how many fifty years old pop stars are still able to have big hits? But from here on in, Cliff seems to have been playing to the gallery, giving the middle-aged ladies what they wanted, with no attempt to keep current. This would be a great place to sign off on Cliff, sending him to a well-earned retirement of gospel songs and old rock ‘n’ roll covers. But no… He still has two further festive #1s to come. And by the time we’re done with them, you’ll be begging for ‘Mistletoe and Wine’…