26
Jul 10

CLIFF RICHARD – “Mistletoe And Wine”

Popular64 comments • 4,043 views

#620, 10th December 1988, video

Squeaking into the Christmas canon just as the gates were closing, “Mistletoe And Wine” is a hard song to listen to charitably in late July. Mind you, it was a hard song to listen to charitably in late December 1988. Good Christmas songs since Slade’s 1973 breakthrough have been an extension of pop – aimed at the same buyers, performed in the same style, with only the seasonal trimmings and sleigh bell presets to mark them out from what else was going on. “Mistletoe And Wine”, on the other hand, is in the tradition of “When A Child Is Born” – it has nothing to do with any of the currents of pop in 1988. It’s the first Christmas hit since “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” to be aimed squarely at people who only buy singles at this time of year.

Unlike “Grandma” at least it isn’t setting itself up as a present for an old lady who deserves better. But I still don’t like it: the twinkly arrangements and choirs are dressing for a sanctimonious centre, like a lecture on the “true meaning of Christmas” in school Assembly. The religious bits felt shoehorned in to me at the time – as indeed they were: the song was originally a satirical one from a musical based on The Little Match Girl, and was meant to prod at the self-satisfaction of the middle classes who feasted and made merry while the poor starved. Cliff thoroughly repurposed the tune: self-satisfaction is now A-OK as long as you remember the Baby Jesus.

If the 15 year old me, secure in my teenage atheism, had known about that I’d have taken great delight in pointing it out before going home to my own very securely off Christmas feastings. As it was I just grumbled about what an incredibly clumsy line “children singing Christian rhymes” is (and I was right). But really what hobbles “Mistletoe And Wine” isn’t even the sanctimony, it’s that there’s no sense of wonder backing it up. The best secular Christmas songs get at something true and thrilling about Christmas, even if it’s the bug-eyed greediness of a happy child. But the best Christmas carols have some kind of awe at their centre – they’re songs about an event so impossible and vital it split time in two, and even if I still don’t believe in that event I can be moved by others’ belief in it as filtered through art. We’ll have a couple more chances to see if Cliff Richard could rise to that challenge – “Mistletoe” is memorable but too pat, and the overall impression is of a sugared pill.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Caledonianne on 30 Jul 2010 #

    Rory – observation re the arm-waving dance and The Wicker Man. Spot on!

    It has always baffled me that throughout his television career no one ever succeeded in getting His Rockface to do anything approaching a credible dance. Surely given his substantial Light Ents carrer efforts must have been made to get him to essay moves that are even remotely sympatico to the music?

    This is particularly egregious.

  2. 52
    Jimmy the Swede on 30 Jul 2010 #

    Anne (#51) – I’m assuming you remember Cliff’s puzzling jerking movements at Eurovision 1973 when dilivering “Power To All Our Friends”. What the devil was he up to, there? I personally couldn’t have cared less at the time as he was beaten in any case by the gorgeous Anne-Marie David with a song which wasn’t that bad actually.

  3. 53
    Dave the Hungarian on 30 Jul 2010 #

    A lot of the dissing that Cliff gets seems to be from people who have a latent fear, or at least suspicion, of the expression of genuine religious faith, and criticize the music on the basis of the religion rather than its quality (although I’m pleased to see there’s not MUCH of that in this thread).

    I’m pretty agnostic myself but appreciate the message and the sincerity being conveyed here – it’s not the type of religious song that’s saying “you’re all going to hell unless you believe in this” or even “you’re going to hell if you’re gay”; more like “it’s Christmas; it’s brilliant; in my belief system the reason we have fun at this time of year is Jesus; let’s have a good time and remember he’s the reason why we’re having it”. It’s seeking to include rather than hector, and I feel well-disposed to it as a result. Not most people’s idea of a classic song, or indeed mine, but that religious faith and undeniably fine voice sell it for all it’s worth. It doesn’t convert me, but it’s always welcome on 4 Music, at least until you hear it every few bloody hours from December 1st to Christmas Eve…

    I think we need to give him a bit of a free pass about “Christian rhyme” as I think it’s used as a stock phrase in those circles (by no means sure about that though!) And “gifts on the tree”? Certainly – the little presents where the tree can bear their weight, why not?

    Wichita #29 – I thought “Little Town” was a neat, warm-hearted reworking of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and would have made a far better Christmas number one than the one we got that year…

  4. 54
    Errol the Slovakian on 30 Jul 2010 #

    Bugger. I’m on the wrong site!

  5. 55
    Jimmy the Swede on 30 Jul 2010 #

    That’ll learn you, Errol!

  6. 56
    Vom on 10 Aug 2010 #

    Cliff’s arm-waving dance has my sister in absolute hysterics every Christmas, and for that alone I have to have at least a little affection for this song. And it’s definitely not the worst #1 of the year for me, as Groovy Kind of Love makes me feel physically sick. Still pretty hard to defend on a musical level though, I’d agree with the score of 3.

  7. 57
    Dominic on 6 Sep 2010 #

    “Saviour’s Day” was immeasurably better than this dross…

  8. 58
    Jeanie on 1 Dec 2010 #

    I get the “children singing Christian rhyme” and yes, I am middle aged as are a hell of a lot of other fans of Cliff’s who continue to buy his CD’s and DVD’s (however, he does also have many younger fans). Don’t deny us our enjoyment of Cliff singing Christian songs – let’s not forget the real meaning of Christmas and put the CHRIST back into Christmas.

  9. 59
    punctum on 1 Dec 2010 #

    Alternatively we could take the CASH out of Christmas. That would leave us with trims.

  10. 60
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 1 Dec 2010 #

    hence the phrase “turkey with all the TRIMmingS”

  11. 61
    wichita lineman on 3 Dec 2010 #

    Or we could take the boring old MASS out of Christmas and be left with a delicious RICH T, vicar.

  12. 62
    heather on 19 Feb 2011 #

    “A time for giving. A time for getting. A time for forgiving. And forgetting”.

    I have to put up with this versifying every Christmas. He deserves a shoeing.

  13. 63
    wichitalineman on 15 Dec 2013 #

    I had no idea about the origins of this song. No “Christian rhymes” at all! Apologies if someone posted this before:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-25333691

  14. 64
    Mark G on 16 Dec 2013 #

    That’s good information everybody!

    (Sorry to come on like a random google post, oh btw would anyone like some cheap (redacted after thinking about it) but I’m mindful of posting things that ‘take over’ the front-page ‘latest comments in popular’ window)

    I’ve often alluded to writing songs in yearsgoneby, the one thing about not having any actual records done back then is on the good side not being tied down to one massive ‘known’ song, on the other the chance that Madonna or Cliff might pick one and make it his own for a consideration..

    Then again, that page mentions “it’s a yearly holiday, it’s not a house” with regards to the royalty statement. Which leads me to wonder if someone’s not getting what they should here. OK, so Cliff added lines and eschewed adding his name to the credit. But one wonders what the ‘final settlement’ was…

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