16
Feb 11

CLIFF RICHARD – “Saviour’s Day”

Popular88 comments • 6,338 views

#655, 29th December 1990

There was a great deal of talk about entryism in the 1980s – it was said of many excellent bands, and Hue And Cry too, that pop hooks would be a Trojan Horse for subversive notions of situationism, socialism and continental philosophy to slip into the charts. But man, all those groups were amateurs next to Sir Cliff! Having established himself in 1988 as a man who could deliver some cosy Yuletide jumper pop, he turns round this year and unloads God on us, close range, both barrels.

This is not actually a Christmas record. It doesn’t mention Christmas once. It is a record about a holiday Cliff Richard has made up called Saviour’s Day in which people do things like praise God and give thanks for the birth of Jesus Christ – between you and me I don’t think it’ll catch on, but Cliff sounds even more enthusiastic about it than he was when he mixed it with booze and snogging two years before. There’s a suggestion that Saviour’s Day isn’t just how Cliff would like Christmas to be but also how it was long ago – there’s something very old-timey about its references to harvest time, long journeys from hills and valleys, raising glasses to the King (even if that’s Jesus again). The folksy rhythms and pipes underline this, though it’s a shame they couldn’t have found slightly more authentic-sounding presets – the whole record has the air of a somewhat cranky demo which Cliff decided to put out himself.

Which is quite an apt feel for it, really. This isn’t a particularly good record – those wretched pipes could sink it alone – but it’s honest and heartfelt in a way that most Christmas records since the 70s aren’t. I am not a Christian and so the religious side of Christmas feels very distant to me, far from the centre of a long co-opted and compromised (and all the more wonderful for that) festival. But even though “Saviour’s Day” sometimes drfts towards finger-wagging, I can feel the joy and sincerity in it – more so than in the sugared pill of “Mistletoe And Wine”, for certain – and I can’t begrudge its showing up here.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Hm, I don’t mind this one although I couldn’t quite stretch myself to describe it as actively good.

    It works best in the context of the video come across by chance at Christmas time – the coastline (Scottish?), Cliff’s power ballad miming, the tribes of Cliff’s bejumpered nice people gathering to celebrate (with) him. It always amuses me in an affectionate way, rather than a scornful one.

  2. 2
    Chelovek na lune on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Definitely – in fact *much* – better than “Mistletoe and Wine”, anyway. Also much better than both the following year’s “seasonal” offering by Cliff AND its EXCEEDINGLY rapid follow-up, “This New Year”, too.

    I must have missed Cliff promoting booze and snogging, even during his mini-SAW-fest of ’89. (And what of Whenever God Shines A Light, or From a Distance…) Oh his cover of “Silhouettes” I suppose almost fits that description, but that cover was so pointless I had almost forgotten it existed. I think there might even be a case that this record is less finger-wagging than some of his straightforwardly pop singles of the previous couple of years, actually (e.g. Lean On You, maybe The Best of Me).

    Anyway I like it. Not a lot, but I do.

  3. 3
    Tom on 16 Feb 2011 #

    I was surprised by how much I relatively liked this, just as I was surprised by how much I relatively didn’t like Ice Ice Baby. At the time, being 17, I thought all this nice-jumperishness was very silly.

    Also – this is important – you very rarely hear it compared to MAW.

  4. 4
    Tom on 16 Feb 2011 #

    #2 “booze and snogging” = wine and mistletoe! Nothing more.

  5. 5
    Chelovek na lune on 16 Feb 2011 #

    #4 I’m sure nothing like that was going on at Cliff’s Xmas parties! Perish the thought

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 16 Feb 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: Cliff Richard twice performed Saviour’s Day on Top Of The Pops;

    December 6 1990. Also in the studio that week were; Twenty 4 Seven featuring Captain Hollywood, The Farm and Vanilla Ice. Mark Goodier was the host. This was the 1400th edition, and Cliff marked the anniversary by wearing a gold bomber jacket.

    December 25 1990. Also in the studio that Christmas were; Beats International, The Beautiful South, Bomballurina, Elton John, Kylie Minogue, Adamski, Sinead O’Connor, Londonbeat and Status Quo. Anthea Turner and Mark Goodier were the hosts.

  7. 7
    Chelovek na lune on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Cliff was the best of the live acts on that 1400th edition by all accounts.

    Not necessarily the worst, but certainly the most embarrasing:

    “Twenty 4 Seven in full effect. Yo Jaxman What you dreaming of? Peace! for the east and west. Love! for the animals, Prayer! for all of us.”.

    (or something. I really haven’t heard that record since. I seem to recall they became quite big in post-Communist Eastern Europe and feel no desire to track it down, as it was absolute dross)

    That was a horribly self-righteous record.

  8. 8
    Tom on 16 Feb 2011 #

    I attempted to foist a Twenty 4 Seven revival on the world when I picked “Leave Them Alone” as the Dutch entry in the 2006 Pop World Cup. The world was not ready. :(

    I am – as we will all learn soon enough – very fond indeed of earnest 90s Eurodance.

  9. 9
    Billy Smart on 16 Feb 2011 #

    I’d certainly rather listen to Savior’s Day than All Together Now by The Farm, the ‘credible’ baggy Christmas hit amongst undemanding ‘proper geezer music’-types that year. What a plodding whine of a song.

  10. 10
    Tom on 16 Feb 2011 #

    #9 Cosign x 1 million. I had been a big baggy fan but that was the moment the scales fell from my eyes really.

  11. 11
    weej on 16 Feb 2011 #

    “Not as bad as ‘Mistletoe & Wine'” doesn’t exactly sound like an endorsement, but this was a genuinely relief in it’s inoffensiveness, apart from that horrible synth-pan-pipe solo of course. Still only gets a 3 from me though.

  12. 12
    Chelovek na lune on 16 Feb 2011 #

    #8 Erm, to avoid upsetting the SB, I guess I have to say the opposite of what I would really like to say…

    So, “Yes, yes…”

  13. 13
    punctum on 16 Feb 2011 #

    “Saviour’s Day” was the third consecutive Christmas number one to involve Cliff, and the fortuitous coincidence of its release coming in the same year as his 50th birthday ensured that he became the first artist to hit number one in all five decades of the singles chart’s existence, despite there being far worthier and more valuable contenders in 1990 – the Farm’s “All Together Now” with its mix of Scouse baggy, Pachelbel canon, WWI truces and Pete Wylie on backing vocals, and “Justify My Love,” one of Madonna’s greatest singles and certainly the best record in which Lenny Kravitz has ever been involved, being but two of them (they peaked at four and two respectively). But there was a cosy consensus on the comfortable hearth of Cliff At Christmas, and “Saviour’s Day” comes across as a more rockist variant on “Mistletoe And Wine,” another hearty waltz of blessings (“Raise your glasses and drink to the King!”) set against expensive, slightly portentous New Age synths, crashing drums and jaunty flute (the latter played by Jamie Talbot, the fine jazz saxophonist who once soloed on Scritti’s “A Slow Soul”), the whole sounding like a pre-emptive template for the Corrs, including the rather irritating military drum tattoo at the end. Once again, it’s not my world, but it’s not really possible to loathe.

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 16 Feb 2011 #

    This seems to have vanished from playlists – it’s not a song I can recall hearing since then. A friend of mine used to do the sound around this time for a Christian band called Iona that ploughed a similar Celtic-lite furrow. I find it bland and disappointing like most if not all ‘Contemporary Christian’ music.

    I reckon the scenery in the video is the Isle of Wight – it’s the white Cliff on the white cliffs!
    There are some inadvertently humorous moments in the video such as the old man guiding two boys towards the edge and Mrs Merton appears to be standing wearing a red shawl behind Cliff at one point.

  15. 15
    Billy Hicks on 16 Feb 2011 #

    The last Christmas #1 to date to actually have some kind of reference to the festive season, bar a charity release 14 years later that covered an old song. It also gives Cliff the rare honour of appearing on three consecutive Xmas #1s, including MAW and his guest vocal on Band Aid II.

    As ‘cool’ as it is these days to knock the guy, there’s something very nice and quaint about the basic production used, sounding like it was done on a Casio keyboard. There was a time when all television theme tunes and advert music used to sound like that. To go from Vanilla Ice to this is a pretty huge jump back, even the video seems to throw back to ‘Mull of Kintyre’ yet seems even more out of its time. And Cliff singing on the edge of a…yep, cliff, is a nice touch.

    So yeah, it’s ok, but again tells me nothing about 1990 and makes me wonder what’s happened to those exciting sounds of Adamski and Snap we had earlier in the year. Sick of the ballads, we need something upbeat at #1!

  16. 16
    flahr on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Looking very trendy-vicar on the sleeve isn’t he? 4

  17. 17
    thefatgit on 16 Feb 2011 #

    I have to cuncur with the rest and say it’s not bad if you like that sort of thing. There’s still a slight sense of Wicker Man-ness in the arrangement, but less so than MAW.

  18. 18
    Rory on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Those cliffs: Wikipedia says “The music video for “Saviour’s Day” was filmed in Dorset, in the town of Swanage and at Durdle Door.”

  19. 19
    MikeMCSG on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Despite DJP’s claims for The Farm and Madonna (people were buying the album instead) I think Cliff took this one by default, the competition being unusually weak for Christmas.

    I think “inoffensive” is the key word here. Being old school RC I’m not really in tune with Cliff’s evangelism but unlike that awful thing with Van Morrison it’s toned down here.

    Of course the most memorable thing about this chart-topper is what dethroned it ….

  20. 20
    punctum on 16 Feb 2011 #

    “Weak” in terms of comparative sales? Hardly likely – I’m writing about both the Madonna and Farm songs as they both came, or are to come, off number one albums – and qualitatively it certainly wasn’t the case.

  21. 21
    pink champale on 16 Feb 2011 #

    no way is this better than ‘ice ice baby’! that aside, i agree with the general mood of ‘not nearly as bad as you’d expect’. if i wasn’t such a cretin in technical matters i’d do some blue writing to link to something on the most glorious of all made-up celebrations – festivus.

  22. 22
    lonepilgrim on 16 Feb 2011 #

    I remembered that the Cliff pun had previously been referenced by David Hockney in one of his paintings from his time at the RCA in the early 60s – which included the text, taken from a newspaper, that read ‘two boys spent night clinging to cliff’

  23. 23
    thefatgit on 16 Feb 2011 #

    @21 KillWhitneyDead’s “Jingle Hell” uses some Festivus quotes among the Bad Santa, Home Alone and South Park samples.

  24. 24
    wichita lineman on 16 Feb 2011 #

    I particularly like the electronic cat noise at 3 mins 34.

    SD is quite pleasant, but not really that memorable, flute line aside; no “Christian rhyme”-style stick to beat Cliff with, either. He really had made much better records ten years earlier.

    Can I suggest his best Xmas single – which fell one place short of Popular – was in 2006?

  25. 25
    23 Daves on 16 Feb 2011 #

    @14 – There was, of course, a bit of a folk-Christian music crossover for some time (and it may still be going on for all I know – I don’t really get out much these days). Parchment were the absolute Gods of Christian folkiness in the seventies, and actually issued some very pleasant, Incredible String Band-esque tracks in their day, which all sound soothingly mystic and rustic if you ignore the fact that the contents of their lyrics are almost entirely Jesus propaganda (try “Love Is Come Again” for size if you can track it down). “Saviour’s Day” isn’t as authentic as that, but it does seem to be taking that kind of Christian music as the foundation for its sound.

    It does seem to me that however diverse his influences are or whatever Cliff tries, however, he always remains stuck within his general Cliffness. There are a few choice exceptions in his catalogue, but the thing which turns me off any single of his tends to be his voice first and foremost, which seems incapable of expressing joy, distress, love or hope in anything other than that half-arsed gentle tone with those exaggerated, highly rounded vowels. It seems hesitant, polite and considered. It’s the audio equivalent of being smothered by a hundred wool cardigans, or being forced to lick velvet.

    I know that people like Bob Stanley have tried to persuade us in recent years that Cliff has been unreasonably written off by critics, and I’d be inclined to agree that anyone who has had as long a career as him usually deserves to be given some kind of reassessment. However, whenever I do try and delve into his catalogue, I just can’t find a way to appreciate most of his output. There are eccentric oddities here and there (the environmental ditty “The Joy of Living” is an unlikely single) but his performance is always the same. It’s mostly for that reason alone that I can’t be bothered to give this more than a 3. Oh, that and the fact that those panpipe presets are a nastily bone idle piece of arrangement.

  26. 26
    MikeMCSG on 16 Feb 2011 #

    # 20 Weak as in, Madonna apart, no really big act of the time put out a single for the Christmas market.

  27. 27
    swanstep on 16 Feb 2011 #

    The Beast Within Mix for Xmas #1, what an opportunity missed…

  28. 28
    chelovek na lune on 16 Feb 2011 #

    @25 The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus (who were far less aggressive, and less evangelical, or at any rate less Evangelical, than their name might suggest) are the bees’ knees when it comes to folk-Christian crossover. I can’t recommend their music highly enough. (Yeah: statement of interest: I am a practising Catholic)

    “Mirror” and “The Gift of Tears”, both from round about late ’80s are both splendid, and occasionally deeply moving, albums. And quite like little from before or since. I think the group were from the Liverpool area, and enjoyed next to zero commercial success. Illegal mp3 downloads may be available with some careful searching – you’d be really lucky to find anything of theirs available legally anywhere, alas.

  29. 29
    anto on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Better than Mistletoe and Wine in almost every respect.
    The arrangement has some lift to it where Mistletoe.. just plods.
    The verses are inclusive rather than sanctimonious and the swaying chours is good-natured and catchy rather than just instilling itself through repetition. Only the production lets it down.
    The video is reminiscent of Highway the 1980s Sunday tv series where
    another 50s ” subversive ” turned cuddly family entertainer Mr. Harry Secombe would travel the UK looking for places of interest to sing hymns in front of.

    A lot of appreciation for Justify My Love in the last two threads.
    I’m gonna have to dissent I’m afraid. I find it as oily and flimsy as just about any other thing Lenny Kravitz has had a hand in.
    The exuberance of Lucky Star or Like a Virgin are a dozen times sexier.

  30. 30
    hardtogethits on 16 Feb 2011 #

    #15 I love that opening fact, thank you.

    Recalling the battle for the Christmas number one in 1990, there certainly was a perception at the time that the competition was weak. I knew we were in trouble when a TOTP presenter was inclined to make a lame pun about “The Farm” being number one at Christmas – clarifying that he meant Malandra Burrows from Emmerdale Farm, not ‘Altogether Now’ by the Farm. Ho Ho Ho. Malandra finished 14th, having peaked at 11. The big names went for it though with Christmas releases – New Kids On The Block, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Beautiful South, Snap!, Shakin’ Stevens, Jive Bunny. Hindsight tells us two things: 1. These lot really were in decline, and 2. They misjudged their Christmas singles. The two might be linked. I don’t know how I feel about Justify My Love, but I know it never had the widespread appeal to be a Christmas number one.

    When Cliff finally triumphed, with his strangely laboured climb of the charts (6-3-2-1), it was like watching the favourite win a horse race because most others fell. Worthy, admirable, but hollow – unedifying, even (which is ironic given the moral intent of the record).

    As for the record itself, I fall into line. Cliff has a song that perfectly suits him, and it sounds like he wants us to all have a good time on his terms. If you like That Time Of Year (and I do), it’s fairly likely that this song will make a connection with you. I can smell the pine needles when the music starts. Furthermore, it’s unlikely to have bored you through repetition; of all the really big festive pop songs, it may well be the least exposed. 5.

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