26
Jul 10

CLIFF RICHARD – “Mistletoe And Wine”

Popular64 comments • 4,431 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. 31
    Jimmy the Swede on 27 Jul 2010 #

    # 17 – “Dear God this is shit”. What a wonderful line this is when talking about this record. Bravo!

    # 14 – Nice piece, fats, and I agree entirely that “Mistletoe and Wine” does indeed smack of the office party, an event at which the Christ Child is about as significant as the Easter Bunny (or even our very own darling Spoiler Bunny). The “Mistletoe” sees any number of blokes hanging around trying to snog Sarah, the beautiful doe-eyed young temp, having first been emboldened by the “Wine”. And, yes, along then comes Mr Boss Man with his bottles of piss for the prolls. Sarah, meanwhile, has escaped and is hiding in the messengers’ lobby with “Old Fred”, whose pin-up was Margaret Lockwood and is thus far too past it to trouble the traumatised young lovely. More “Wine” and suddenly Marjorie, office manager and Peggy Mount-lookalike is dragged over to the “Mistletoe” and set upon by men mistaking her for Sarah. Mr Boss Man sees the flashing lights and departs, organising a cab for the still trembling temp as he leaves. More “Wine” and then the fights start, precipitating the arrival of “Security”, paid thugs, who have also been bevvying away themselves and wondering why Sarah is not around anywhere. Punch-up. Throw-up. Clean-up. Cover-up. Happy New Year.

    Why would Cliff want to befoul Christmas with a song like this. What an ungodly tosser!

  2. 32
    Matthew H on 27 Jul 2010 #

    #15 I can’t believe I never realised it was the Modern Romance chap. I can picture the backing singer now – so obvious; that auburn flick from 1982, now accompanied by a bounteous mullet.

    Of course this song is dreadful tosh. So even, so one-paced, so mawkishly fake. As mentioned upthread, that festive season was all about ‘Stop!’, ‘Left To My Own Devices’, ‘Buffalo Stance’, ‘Good Life’; they formed the spine of a terrific tape I made for Nicola Graves’ Christmas shindig. Yes, I was the overbearing sort who commandeered the tape deck. I bet you lot were as well.

  3. 33
    vinylscot on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Would it not have been a travesty if, in the post-Slade era of Christmas number ones actually mattering, good old Cliffbert never had one?

    If you accept that he was due one on account of his longevity, then why not this one? I don’t like it; you don’t like it; most people we know don’t like it; but it’s not for us. It’s one of those moments where you just stand back and let someone else have a go… and you hope, having done it once, that he’ll at least have the good grace not to do it again!

  4. 34
    punctum on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Mindful of the decreasing popularity of his Godfearing run of Billy Graham Army recruitment singles in the early seventies, Cliff the Christian now opted for the pipe-and-slippers approach, or at least would have done had he resisted the increasing tendency towards pomp and bombast. “Mistletoe And Wine” is a simple enough, workaday 3/4 singalong about the “time to rejoice in the good that we see” taking in everything from singing “carolers” to “logs on the fire and gifts on the tree” and not forgetting the syntactically awkward “a time for forgiving and for forgetting” and the inevitable “silent night, holy night.”

    But the line “Ours for the taking – just follow The Master” signals the pulling out of stops as symphony orchestras, tubular bells, tympani and choirboys all join in as though climaxing a substandard Mike Batt musical. In approach and execution, though its production is firmly “modern,” the record is rooted in the pre-rock age, and perhaps for that reason (as well as a “30 Years In Showbiz” give-him-a-number-one campaign) it was an easy Christmas number one. Not my cup of chimera (“Chrissss-tmas tieeemme/Mistletoe and wieeennne/Chilllll-dren siiii-nging Chrissss-tian rhy-ieeeemes”), and not the most representative record in a chart which also included Neneh’s “Buffalo Stance,” Inner City’s “Good Life,” New Order’s “Fine Time” and Stakker’s “Humanoid” – i.e. the nineties start here. But to discover the secret of its success, you only have to go as far as my mum, watching the Christmas Day TOTP as, over the final tympani roll before the final climax, Cliff called out “Merry Christmas everyone!” and my mum instinctively and immediately beamed back “Merry Christmas Cliff!” Bless her!

  5. 35
    Rory on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Even worse, it’s an over-enunciated “Chrisss-teee-ann rhymes”, which sounds like the name of a country and western singer.

  6. 36
    Rory on 27 Jul 2010 #

    @34 – the line “Ours for the taking – just follow The Master”

    Here come the drums, here come the drums…

  7. 37
    punctum on 27 Jul 2010 #

    A vaguely popular variant was noted by myself in “the street” that Christmas, namely: “Christmas time/Drink driving fine/Children singing/Gies five Woodbine.”

  8. 38
    pink champale on 27 Jul 2010 #

    my word there were some good records in this chart weren’t there? ‘mistletoe and wine’ isn’t quite one of them, but i’m a bit more fondly disposed than most here. if anything my atheism has hardened since the time i hated this with teenage fury, but i’ve softened considerably on sentiment and (not unrelated) on cliff. it probably helps that the bar is set shockingly low for me and xmas songs – basically, as long as they don’t feature bo selecta i’m sold, but also the great welling crescendo djp identifies really does have a certain grandeur and, struggling now, cliff’s arm waving ‘dance’ invents the bandstand finale of each episode of ‘in the night garden’, so points for that. hmm, that’s not a great deal. to summarise, i like xmas songs and this is an xmas song so i like it (a bit).

  9. 39
    Rory on 27 Jul 2010 #

    @38 Cliff’s arm-waving dance reminds me of the closing scenes of The Wicker Man.

  10. 40
    lonepilgrim on 27 Jul 2010 #

    re 39 ‘logs on the fire’

  11. 41
    thefatgit on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Hmm…burning bandstands :-)

  12. 42
    Jimmy the Swede on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Ah, “The Wicker Man”. What a heart-warming wee film!

    (See what I did there?)

    Yeah, I know. Coat.

  13. 43
    alephnaughtpix on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Wow, “Good Life” was the top 5? I forgotten about that.

  14. 44
    Old Fart!!!!!!! on 27 Jul 2010 #

    I’ve always viewed this gramophone as Cliff’s “Frog Chorus”, in that every few seconds brings a new level of ridiculousness until there’s a singular moment of ridiculousness that’s effectively the Ridiculous Christmas Fairy atop a Christmas Tree of Ridiculousness, and any further ridiculous moments after that are merely ridiculous tinsel trimmings!!!!!!

    … And for me the Ridiculous Christmas Fairy was when that inexplicable warbly harmonica assaulted my earholes from underneath a sea of treacle at the end of the instrumental break, only to be immediately followed by a totally unfathomable fretless bass jazz-solo odyssey at the start of verse three, apparently oblivious to Cliff’s vocals, which then disappeared in a crap multi-tracked keyboard glissando splurge!!!! As those notes hit the ground, so did any respect I had left for Cliff, who to be fair was enjoying a late rally with “My Pretty One” and in particular “Some People”, before this behemoth of bilge!!!!!! “Logs on the fire”, indeed!!!!!!!!!

    Incidentally, this might have also been the “Frog’s Chorus” for Xmas pop records in general!!!! Is anyone aware of any proper Xmas pop records (ie not parody) post MAW?!???!?!?

  15. 45
    punctum on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Yes, but the bunny (not to mention the Bunny) would be annoyed.

  16. 46
    Elsa on 27 Jul 2010 #

    ‘Tis that time of the year when you might want to reflect upon #1s from other territories. In the US, Will to Power were enjoying one week at the top with their sublime “Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley”

  17. 47
    Elsa on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Oh, that was also the week that Christie Ann Rhymes won the grand prize on Star Search, which led of course to her chart-topping duet with Billy Ray Cyrus, “I Forgive You For Forgettin'”

  18. 48
    23 Daves on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Perhaps I was a bit harsh singling out Robin Beck’s single as a rare example of an elongated advertising jingle which barely feels like a proper single. Cliff’s effort here feels like more of the same, except the marketing on this occasion is focussed on Christianity rather than Coca Cola.

    Hmmm… Jesus invented Christmas… but Coke invented Santa Claus… but which is the most festive? There’s only one way to find out….

  19. 49
    Chris Gilmour on 28 Jul 2010 #

    @34 When Cliff calls out ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ the whole studio audience also replies ‘THANK YOU!’ like obedient school kids, which I thought was very funny and quite charming.
    As everyone else has mentioned, so many brilliant records around at the time, such a shame this is what has to represent such an exciting period. As a mass appeal pop record that’s pretty decent, I think ‘Stop’ would have made a great Xmas number one (even if ‘Good Life’ or ‘Buffalo Stance’ would have been more thrilling).
    A great Xmas school disco this year, and quite a happy period for me, though 1989 would be quite a bit tougher…
    This gets a one from me, sorry Clifford.

  20. 50
    rosie on 28 Jul 2010 #

    I missed out on this at the time.

    Instead I was having a whale of a time in Upstate New York. Never mind the wall-to-wall Tin Pan Alley standards that issued from Momma B’s kitchen radio. I could never understand why Judy Garland singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas fell into this category, Surely just because it’s got the word ‘Christmas’ in the first line doesn’t make that miserable and slightly bitter song seasonably appropriate. But then I’m not American and I can’t fathom these things.

    Christmas in Verona meant proper snow, up to my knees in the street, with snowmen to build (a carrot from Momma B’s shed to establish gender), and my glasses freezing opaquely on entering the house, and if I played my cards right a Ski-Doo to ride manically around the yard (a ‘yard’ being a very different beast from the small concrete-floored enclosures of Barrow)

    And no Cliff Richard in sight. Bliss!

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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…

  24. 54
    Errol the Slovakian on 30 Jul 2010 #

    Bugger. I’m on the wrong site!

  25. 55
    Jimmy the Swede on 30 Jul 2010 #

    That’ll learn you, Errol!

  26. 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.

  27. 57
    Dominic on 6 Sep 2010 #

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

  28. 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.

  29. 59
    punctum on 1 Dec 2010 #

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

  30. 60
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 1 Dec 2010 #

    hence the phrase “turkey with all the TRIMmingS”

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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

  34. 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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