Jul 10

CLIFF RICHARD – “Mistletoe And Wine”

Popular65 comments • 5,830 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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  1. 1
    weej on 26 Jul 2010 #

    Or as we used to sing “gifts on the fire and logs on the tree, the worst Christmas that there’ll ever be.”
    This is the first pop song I can remember hating, and my feelings haven’t really changed. A 3 seems generous.

  2. 2
    flahr on 26 Jul 2010 #

    A very obvious song in many ways, with an especially monotonous drum track – which makes it a bit odd that sometimes a second beat gets thrown in (so it goes “dum dum-dum” instead of “dum dum”) – perhaps it is the drummer letting us know they’re not dead. Also far too long, which is probably why it keeps trying to build more and more (the final straw of course being the kid’s bit). A 2. Grubby.

    Love the YouTube video description – “This one was released in 1988 and reached #1 on the UK secular charts.” Is there a seperate subchart for Christians?

    EDIT: Oh dear, apparently so.
    Also be aware that any length could be considered “too long”.

    EDIT 2: Straight in at fifth-worst on the FT Bottom 100!

    EDIT 3: Green text on blue! Whose idea was that?

  3. 3
    Tom on 26 Jul 2010 #

    #1 It does! I thought I’d given it a 2, obviously not. I will honour my mistake as a hidden intention though (and it’s still just about better than Shakey).

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    lockedintheattic on 26 Jul 2010 #

    Ugh. 3 is way to high for this, even looking at the other songs you’ve given a 3 to, I’d rather hear Boney M or Johnny Mathis’s Christmas songs than this one (or even Shakey’s which got a 2), or Cliff’s Living Doll. This is an easy 1 for me, no redeeming features whatsoever

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    lonepilgrim on 26 Jul 2010 #

    this seems an appropriate end for what has been a mostly dreary and backward looking year for number 1s.

    re #3 and hidden intentions – what irritates me (amongst pretty much everything else about the record) is that for all Cliff’s pantomimed sincerity you know what really motivates him is getting the Christmas Number One

    The video is bizarre – why is the little girl’s window open in freezing winter and why is Cliff leering in at her? What’s the deal with Cliff kneeling down in front of the gushing pump and then getting his mallet out to bang the gong? Such are the grinch like sentiments this song provokes.

    Gimme ‘Christmas in the Heart’ over this any day.

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    katstevens on 26 Jul 2010 #

    Hahaha I have a fond affection for this – mainly the dreadful cgi snow in the video (fake snow not actually that hard to do, dudes!) and Cliff’s super OTT confirm/deny hand gestures. And when it slows down for “The TYEEME for FYEEEGHTING and HAYYYTING to CEEEEASE…” I always let out a hearty laugh and a cheer, and happily sink into the mindless sherry-doused seasonal lobotomised stupor I am now allowed to enjoy as a grown-up, mouth agape and eyes glassy as I hurtle helplessly towards the end of another year. 7/10 from me!

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    Billy Smart on 26 Jul 2010 #

    Ahem, I always derive great pleasure from this one. Its the bizzare top-heavy accretion of every imaginable lyrical and musical signifier of Christmas that makes it quite an intense thing to listen to, and that you don’t get bored by half way through. Its fascinating to read about the musical theatre satirical source of the song, and it kind of supports the way that I’ve always heard it. Bearing this in mind, Sir Cliff’s ‘Silent Night’ interpolations add a tension to the single – Can it support the added churchy ingredient?

    Of course, this contradiction between a secular tune and Christian lyrics had the potential to be further explored by Sir Cliff…

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    Billy Smart on 26 Jul 2010 #

    And who couldn’t be nonplussed by that baffling vocoder bit that comes in half way through?

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    Billy Smart on 26 Jul 2010 #

    “Logs on the fire and gifts on the tree” though, surely that should be UNDER the tree? I always imagine a bent tree bearing the weight of an Xbox at that point.

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    Billy Smart on 26 Jul 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Cliff Richard performed Mistletoe & Wine on the edition of Top Of The Pops transmitted on 8 December 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Status Quo and Angry Anderson. Nicky Campbell & Caron Keating were the hosts.

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    katstevens on 26 Jul 2010 #

    Xbox? I can confirm that 1988 was all about i) My Little Pony Dream Castle (which included a HORSE THRONE for Majesty to stand on) ii) She-Ra Princess Of Power, whose flimsy sword I managed to break within about 5 minutes.

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    Tom on 26 Jul 2010 #

    #9 in the BBC adaptation of “The Box Of Delights”, shown a few years before this, there’s a depiction of a posh 30s Xmas party at a Bishop’s house where the presents (for the village children) are almost all hanging from the branches of an enormous tree. That’s the kind of thing he’s reaching back to I think.

    (i.e. yes it’s possible if you have a big enough tree!)

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    Steve Mannion on 26 Jul 2010 #

    The way Cliff sings “FIGHding” here really is something only he can do.

    Funny, The Box Of Delights did come to my mind before this entry was written wrt the kind of spirit being tapped into (tho badly).

    There was a funny festive CassetteBoy mash-up years ago ft this (“Christians on the fire”).

    #2 watch: the next number 1, but below that Erasure’s CRACKERS International EP, NOT officially a Christmas song but does have that title plus the synth bells halfway thru ‘Stop’ and “together again” references v appropriate for that time of year.

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    thefatgit on 26 Jul 2010 #

    Christmas 88. Cliff Richard’s “Mistletoe And Wine”. The title suggests if anything a supremely secular Office Piss-up and all the workplace cliches that bubble up to the surface like the bubbles of the supermarket champagne, Mr Boss Man has provided. But wait! This is Cliff! God-Botherer-in-chief (well after The Pope and The Archbishop Of Canterbury…and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. And some notable becollared and bepurpled others). OK, the PEOPLE’S God-Botherer-in-chief, would not sing of office piss-ups or photocopied arses. And here, he does (not) disappoint, depending on which side of the secular fence you stand. To many, there’s something extremely comforting about latter-day Cliff. There’s that safe, dependable aura about him. The whole world could be going to hell in a handcart* and there would be Cliff. Wholesome Cliff. Devout christian Cliff. Charitable Cliff. The often quoted cliche was that Tom Jones would have knickers thrown at him on stage, Cliff got incontinence pants, reflecting the age of his audience. He’s the poster boy for middle-class Middle England.

    So who better to deliver unto us, a Christmas #1?

    The problem with this song is all in the preachiness of the whole exercise. We’re being chided here. We’ve lost touch with the true meaning of Christmas, like so many vicars from their pulpits had been telling their dwindling congregations for years. Cliff wades with his reimagining of Pete Seeger’s funereal folk “Turn! Turn! Turn” (a time for…) and transforms it into festive wonder and innocence. Adorned with all the sickly sweet festive memes, it’s positively laden down with Message. If we don’t start doing it properly, then all we’ll have is Xmas. That commercial imposter that empties our bank balances in the name of greed and excess. An angry and frustrated Cliff would return another day with a more visual and less palatable seasonal Message, that elevates this example somewhat. A generous 4.

    *Richard Littlejohn, another Middle England favourite.

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    MikeMCSG on 26 Jul 2010 #

    I felt a bit sorry for one of his backing singers Michael Mullins who did a few TOTP’s himself as lead singer of Modern Romance on their later hits but now reduced to umming and aaahing behind the Great Man.

    As trad RC myself I’ve always found Cliff’s evangelic fervour unappetising and the fact that he’s pretty thick, often missing the entire point of the question in interviews, makes it difficult for me to understand how he’s been so effective (in the UK at least the rest of the world being largely indifferent to him).

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    anto on 26 Jul 2010 #

    All the same it must be nice to be able to say “my 99th single just went to number one “.

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    MBI on 26 Jul 2010 #

    I’m two and a half minutes through this song for the first time right now and it feels like it’s been going on for hours. Dear God this is shit.

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    Tom on 26 Jul 2010 #

    The front page cut-off made your comment excitingly ambiguous MBI: “I’m two and a half minutes through this song for the first time right now and… I AM READY TO ACCEPT JESUS INTO MY LIFE”

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    swanstep on 26 Jul 2010 #

    Bloody hell. What a chart year, eh? I momentarily perked up when I thought Cliff was saying ‘loves on the fire’, but no, it’s bloody ‘logs’. Bloody. Bloody. Not even a naff final key-change to keep us awake, I was thinking Gremlins and Steeple Spire Impalements by the end:

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    Rory on 26 Jul 2010 #

    Come now, swanstep, this is a time for hating and fighting to cease. (Wait, hang on – this is July. As you were.)

    My first time hearing this all the way through too. Once again I’m grateful that Christmas-themed number ones aren’t really something that the Australian charts do. 2.

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    flahr on 26 Jul 2010 #

    ” “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. ”

    What was the house-style Christmas single of 1988? There must have been one.

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    will on 26 Jul 2010 #

    By 87/88 Cliff was enjoying another of his periodic commercial upswings, but unlike his turn of the decade purple patch this one didn’t seem to be the result of making decent records as much as blind loyalty on behalf of his middle aged following. I believe I’m right in saying that this was the 1988’s biggest selling single. Looking back, this seems incredible.

    And yes, I know it’s an obvious target, but really.. ‘children singing Christian rhyme’. ‘Christian rhyme’?? Whoever allowed that line to pass as finished work should have been taken outside and shot, Christmas or no Christmas.

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    Steve Mannion on 27 Jul 2010 #

    #21 possibly Star Turn On 45 Pints, at it again with ‘Christmas Party’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlAewWu5VHE (not really worth clicking that tbh).

    #20 that said this was really the last truly Christmas-themed (certainly in terms of going into evocative detail about the day and its unique associations) #1 in the UK. obv there have been many near-misses since but MAW marks the end of these overtly celebratory festive pop statements at #1 and it doesn’t look like one will ever reclaim the position.

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    MBI on 27 Jul 2010 #

    No, seriously, I couldn’t even make it past five seconds of a second listen. This is abysmal. This is 6 million times worse than any other Number One of 1988 (except for Glenn Medeiros, for which it is about 1.5 times worse).

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    weej on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Re #2 – What qualifies for the Christian chart? Would Johnny Cash? Late 70s Bob Dylan? Judee Sill? It’s a minefield. Though in reality I’m sure they just count music on Christian record labels. Anyway, I hope something like this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-NOZU2iPA8 – would be up there.
    #22 – Yes, the ‘Christian rhymes’ bit sounds to me like “an unmissable opportunity to indoctrinate children through song”

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    LondonLee on 27 Jul 2010 #

    No wonder I can’t remember any of the 1988 chart toppers, they were all rubbish. I must have spent the year in a nightclub or something.

    Is this Cliff’s first obvious stab at a Xmas #1? It seems desperately cynical. Well, more than most yuletide chart toppers because it’s so dreadful.

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    Billy Smart on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Of course, the bona fide house-style hit single of December 1988 was ‘Good Life’ by Inner City, getting as high as number 4 by the end of the year. That would have been a good Christmas number one.

    Other great hit singles in the same chart; ‘Buffalo Stance’- Nenah Cherry, ‘Fine Time’ – New Order, ‘Stakker Humanoid’ – Humanoid, ‘Left To My Own Devices’ – Pet Shop Boys.

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    Billy Smart on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Re: 22. ‘My Pretty One’ is great! The arrangement really captures the sensation of an upswing of fragile romantic optimism.

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    wichita lineman on 27 Jul 2010 #

    Likewise, Some People, but otherwise it was a shortlived last hurrah. Of course there’s at least one more Xmas #1. Shouldn’t have to think too hard about the artist…

    Cliff had never had a Xmas #1 about Dec 25 before. Little Town in the early 80s was too clever and pleased with itself to connect, bad jazz even. With The Eyes Of A Child in the late sixties was way gloopier than MAW, quite horrid. Either way, MAW can’t have been a cynical stab at yet anutha Cliffmas #1. Before this it would only have felt like a guranteed #19 smash.

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    DietMondrian on 27 Jul 2010 #

    An easy 1 out of 10 for the song.

    The video gets 2 out of 10, the extra point for Cliff crouching next to a pissing horse from 0:47 onwards.

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