Dec 14

CLIFF RICHARD – “The Millennium Prayer”

Popular60 comments • 7,038 views

#843, 4th December 1999

cliffprayer How do you mark a millennium? British pop culture has its rituals to accompany a change of the date: fireworks, lists, and Jools Holland feature prominently. They’re geared for a shift in year. They can be scaled up, just about, to a decade. But a century? A millennium? We were, with hindsight, hopelessly and inevitably unequal to the event, however arbitrary it was. Schedulers flailed, putting together “best of the millennium” shows in which – and how could it have been otherwise? – 900 years went begging. In a milieu where “of all time” means a lifetime at best, a millennium is a preposterous span. Imagining people could think about it seriously was always folly. But in the gap between people’s sense of what the occasion ought to merit, and what was actually on offer, strange things could thrive. This is one of them.

Describing “The Millennium Prayer” is a lot easier than listening to it. Originally conceived for an evangelical musical, it’s a high concept record – the words of the Lord’s Prayer draped awkwardly on the music of “Auld Lang Syne”, a spoonful of castor oil holiness as the millennium party got underway. People have rightly pointed out that the record is a mash-up – anticipating an early 00s craze for song-splicings. Nothing could be more suitable – the millennium itself was a mash-up, an ill-synced bootleg of the annual, the familiar and the cosy with a once-in-twenty-lifetimes opportunity for who even knew what. And “The Millennium Prayer” reflects that perfectly, since – as a minute’s listen reveals – the words of the Lord’s Prayer and the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” appear to hate each other quite a lot.

And when you look a little more closely at the record, this constant mismatching starts to become a trope, repeating at every level. It’s mash-ups all the way down. Take the Lord’s Prayer itself, which comes in several different versions. Cliff starts with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer text (you can tell from all the “thys”) but then jumps to the English Language Liturgical Consultation version (which is where all the stuff about “the time of trial” rather than “temptation” comes from). Whether the arrangers are trying to broaden the song’s appeal, or salvage its capsized scansion, I’m not sure: it means what you get is a version of the Lord’s Prayer that his public will be almost, but not quite, familiar with.

But cutting and rearranging the text doesn’t solve Sir Cliff’s main problem: the Lord’s Prayer is a seventy-word spoken passage generally run through in twenty seconds or so. He is trying to make a four-minute pop record. Even torturing it to fit another song and running through it twice leaves him two minutes to fill. The solution – pragmatic in one light, audacious in another – is simply to write an extra bit.

Writing a second verse for the Lord’s Prayer is a tricky assignment on the face of it, but as a pop legend Sir Cliff had access to the highest drawer of talent. Naturally, he turned to Nigel Wright, formerly of megamixers Mirage. The crafter of Jack Mix ’86 – also the record’s producer – helps turn in a suitably high-flown verse – “Let every hope and dream / Be born in love again” – to turn listeners’ thoughts to the future. (Said future, represented by the Artful Dodger’s “Re-Rewind”, kicked its heels unhappily at number two.)

But how much future would there even be? One line of the new material stands out as authentically Biblical sounding – “every tribe and tongue”, a phrase popular with evangelical churches, if Google is any judge – and indeed it is Biblical, but it’s not from Matthew or Luke. In one last mash-up, it’s from Revelation, where it describes those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb – and, a bit later, those who worship the Beast. Let’s assume Cliff means the former.

So in “The Millennium Prayer” it works as a basic statement of inclusiveness, a dog-whistle for evangelicals that the record is on their wavelength, and even carries a faint hint of the apocalyptic, one strengthened by references to the kingdom come. This, after all, is what sets the millennium apart from simple ends of decades or even centuries – it’s a celebration that could also be doomsday: party over, oops, out of time. History had snatched away that promise, pushing signs of the apocalypse to the geekier margins of culture: TV serials, cultists, comic books. Replacing it was a wan corporate rebrand of the Festival of Britain, a doom that could be averted not by redemption but by sound information technology practise, and the National Lottery Big Draw 2000 with Dale Winton.

It’s no wonder some people wanted something more – something, however cack-handed (and “The Millennium Prayer” is a woeful, clunky, tedious record) that at least gestured towards the enormous. Sir Cliff saw the opportunity, and all the better that radio wouldn’t touch it – it created a narrative he loved, the aging national fixture against the hip young establishment. That sense of comradeship in the face of a fallen world is something the highly religious and the fans of unfashionable pop stars share – it paid off perfectly. The day of judgement arrived, stuck around for three weeks, and played out exactly as prophesied. Rapture for the believers; for the rest of us, purgatory.



  1. 1
    katstevens on 28 Dec 2014 #

    and the National Lottery Big Draw 2000 with Dale Winton.

    Or sitting through The Corrs in a freezing tent in North Greenwich with a half-sized bottle of Tesco fizz then being booted out at quarter past midnight.

  2. 2
    stevene on 28 Dec 2014 #

    I watched a live clip of this last night. Cliff’s face when the platform and all the kids start spinning round, he’s having the time of his life – which I can’t begrudge at all.

    I’m 22 so my generation know Cliff from this and Mistletoe and Wine, exclusively. I cba with his rocknroll years (there’s better out there) but I love his run of psuedo-new wave singles – especially Wired For Sound, Carrie, Some People. The stuff that sounds like a cheerier Padgham-era Genesis, basically.

    Cliff actually has loads of top-tier Now-comp style songs, and there’s loads of stuff that I think you could qualify as overlooked. I’d actually count myself as a bit of a Cliff fan, though there’s no escaping the fact that 90%, and maybe a fair bit more, of his output is almost unbearable, or only bearable as camp.

    Wired For Sound has an amazing video too.

  3. 3
    enitharmon on 28 Dec 2014 #

    Did you mean to say “gestured towards enormity” Tom? I mean, “enormity” is a good word to describe this but I have a feeling you intended to say something else.

  4. 4
    Tom on 28 Dec 2014 #

    You’re right of course, I’ve misused it. I agree it ended up at enormity.

  5. 5
    23 Daves on 28 Dec 2014 #

    Cliff discussed this track on a clip show about Christmas songs a few days ago (it may have been a repeat, actually) and I saw a new side to him. Normally Cliff is calm, considered, matey and jocular with his interviewee, but on this occasion his eyes blazed as he talked about radio “BANNING” this record. You could see he was struggling to control his temper. Now, it’s possible I’m not remembering things correctly, but did anyone actually ban this track outright? Because my take was always that BBC Radio One heard it at the playlist meeting, thought “Good God, not only is Cliff not really suitable for our target audience, but that song is truly abysmal”, and that was the end of the matter. If that constitutes a banning, then all manner of showbiz veterans can join Frankie Goes To Hollywood at the top of the outrage tree. I don’t recall Jimmy Tarbuck’s Christmas singles getting a lot of airtime either. Or Jimmy Cricket’s Christmas charity record.

    But from a PR perspective, a victim narrative is preferable to a “legendary pop star releases dire single” one, and when you tack on the Christian faith to give the whole thing a “PC gone mad” angle, hundreds of thousands of people can be motivated into buying something they probably wouldn’t have done under ordinary circumstances. I’m wondering if the “Millennium Prayer” is an earlier example of the British public being UKIPped. “This is awful, it’s poorly considered, it doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny, but still, it was meant for YOU and these evil do-ers ARE CRITICISING YOU AND YOUR LIFE, they’re LAUGHING IN YOUR FACE. Show ‘them’ what you think of that!” Plus, of course, “Millennium Prayer” had the weight of charity behind it. Who would be so beastly as to ignore a single created to help good causes?

    Towards the end of the interview, Cliff concluded that these “music critics” (not just music critics, Cliff – EMI hated the record and refused to release it as well) who think they’re “so cool” are wrong. Getting a single to number one without mainstream support is actually “cool”. I wouldn’t want to take anything away from that achievement, because it is breath-taking, really. To walk away from a mess like “The Millennium Prayer” utterly unscathed and seem like a hero is a feat I really can’t recall anyone else achieving in pop music. Tom’s skewering of the track above is absolutely spot-on – it’s so riddled with mis-steps and faults that my first reaction on hearing it was pure bewilderment. It sounds like the terrible aftermath of a school Music project. I thought he’d had some sort of breakdown. And yet he walked away unscathed and with a smile on his face, possibly seeming like the bigger man. It’s not quite Lou Reed circa “Metal Machine Music”, but it’s… it’s… *something*. My brain hits a brick wall while I try to get my head around this one.

    I bet he was bloody unbearable to live and work with for the few months after this hit number one, though.

  6. 6
    Tom on 28 Dec 2014 #

    ISTR he played the victim of radio prejudice card a few times after this, to less success – the noble cause then not being Children’s Promise but the belief (passionately held by his fans) that CR deserved a number one hit in every decade.

  7. 7
    JLucas on 28 Dec 2014 #

    I was 13 in December 1999, and I remember being completely bewildered by this. It was as though the top of the charts had been temporarily invaded by this strange blast from the past who bore no relation to anything surrounding him (That Artful Dodger were at #2 is just *perfect*).

    I knew Cliff of course, as somebody very famous but very much of the past. I would have been familiar with the Christmas songs and probably Wired for Sound given I was raised on VH1 Classic. I was raised Catholic too, so I understood where the song was coming from and probably chalked it up to the general sense of the Millennium being a big deal and possibly (but probably not) the end of the world. I remember hearing something about Radio supposedly banning him, but the Radio stations I listened to never played Cliff Richard anyway so the supposed significance was lost on me – it wasn’t like they’d banned Robbie Williams.

    Christmas has always been chart silly season too, but I actually got quite lucky with my formative years – the seasonal #1s of the mid-late 90s were all legit hits from the major artists of the day, most of which would have been huge hits at any time of the year. There were The Teletubbies and Mr Blobby, but they were cultural touchstones that were contemporary to me, so I understood where they were coming from.

    Although this *spoiler alert* wasn’t actually #1 on Christmas Day, it does feel like the beginning of the millenial craze for ‘statement’ Christmas #1s. It’s almost all reality TV, charity records and protest records after this.

    As for the song – the funny thing is I barely remember hearing it. It certainly hasn’t endured as a standard the way Mistletoe & Wine and Savior’s Day have. I can’t remember the last time I came across it – probably on one of those ‘worst songs of all time’ countdowns. Listening now it’s a joyless drag. I’m not averse to a bit of spirituality in seasonal music, but there’s no sense of awe and wonder in this, if it encapsulates any feeling for me, it’s that of squirming awkwardly in my seat during a particularly dull Christmas mass.

    Not for the last time, this is a song that I suspect far more people bought to prove a point than to actually listen to.


  8. 8
    thefatgit on 28 Dec 2014 #

    Here we are, at the point where the 1 score truly earns its keep. I’ve had mixed feelings about #1 records that deal with religion. Not being at all religious, I have no real means to quantify my preferences, other than they work for me in their own right, or don’t. So “The Power Of Love” and “Like A Prayer” are the finest examples we’ve seen on Popular IMO, and this…well it’s pretty wretched isn’t it?

    It feels like he’s browbeating the listener with his message until it’s heeded. He is mad as hell and he’s not gonna take our apathy any more. I’ve never seen him so angry. That video backdrop of mass suffering paints Sir Cliff as Angel Of Death. It so does not chime with the season to be jolly or ushering in the year 2000. I guess that must have been his point. The other message; this was a charity record after all, was lost in all the controversy over lack of airplay. But that worked in his favour, as a tide of sympathy sent the crowds to the shops and Sir Cliff to the top. A more undeserving #1, I could not hope to find…until the next one (1).

  9. 9
    Rory on 28 Dec 2014 #

    Thank you, Tom and commenters above, you’ve captured perfectly my own bafflement on hearing this for the first time last week. The first mashup? More like a serious-minded attempt at “One Song to the Tune of Another“, but without the comedic benefit of Tim’s or Barry’s dulcet tones.

    Even for an atheist like me, the Lord’s Prayer is deeply ingrained, with an undeniable power and poetry, but Cliff here has done everything in his own power to deny them. If I were a believer I might feel offended at what his performance does to the prayer itself, but as an unbeliever I’m more concerned for poor auld “Auld Lang Syne”; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear it the same way again (or at least won’t next Wednesday; hopefully, time will heal these wounds).

    One, one, a thousand times, one.

  10. 10
    AMZ1981 on 28 Dec 2014 #

    The years between Saviour’s Day and this had not been years of plenty for Cliff Richard, at least not in chart terms. His Christmas singles for 1991 and 1992 had made the lower half of the top ten but in Spring 1993 Peace In Our Time would prove to be his last top ten hit for five years. To be fair, during that time he released two albums (one a musical soundtrack) and mined them for singles and his one standalone release within that time was a recording dating back over a decade so the downturn in his chart fortunes was relatively unsurprising.

    Unfortunately something else changed around that time. Up until the early nineties Cliff Richard owed a lot of his appeal to the fact that – somehow – he was still defying the odds and racking up the hit singles while seeming slightly modest and bashful about the whole thing. However in the nineties you got the impression he’d started to believe his own hype about being the Peter Pan of pop, impervious to change and the greatest British pop star of them all when (not his fault) popular culture had shifted yet again.

    In 1998 he seemed to wake up to the fact that Radio 1 weren’t playing his records (because both they and their audience had changed) and set about standing up for his rights. He scored a neat trick, releasing a white label single where he made a reasonable stab of going RnB (it sounded like a Gary Barlow B side but at least he tried) and that song, Can’t Keep This Feeling In, broke his top ten drought. A minor hit followed, then this.

    Love him or hate him, you had to admit that Sir Cliff Richard had earned the right to be indulged, but even his own people told him he couldn’t release this. Unable to find a mainstream backer he was forced to go independent. The media wouldn’t touch it and arguably played into Cliff’s hands; awful as it was it did the unthinkable and turned him into an anti establishment figure.

  11. 11
    AMZ1981 on 28 Dec 2014 #

    Sorry to add to an already lengthy post but Tom has highlighted the song stuck at number two behind this, Re-Rewind The Crowd Say Bo Selecta by Artful Dodger. While it’s true that this was quite a ground breaking and influental slice of sound; there is some irony in that (like a lot of dance tracks) it proved more of a launch pad for the vocalist who we will meet in due course but whose promising career floundered following a parody more vicious than anything Cliff Richard ever received.

  12. 12
    Chelovek na lune on 28 Dec 2014 #

    It is a terrible record (from an artist who made several damn good singles, spread over several decades, too) – yes, Rory’s reference to “One song to the tune of another” is spot on -probably one that Samantha tossed off really quickly, in fact.

    I’d not noticed that it was a mixture of different translations of the Lord’s Prayer (even putting aside the unforgivable chutzpah of attempting to write a second verse – couldn’t he have done the Hail Mary or something?) , – but, geez, if that what’s you’re doing there are established ways of doing this in Gregorian Chant, in English as well as in Latin, that actually fit the words to the melody and scansion.

    Talk about how to kill an Auld Lang Syne arms-interlinking session.


  13. 13
    iconoclast on 28 Dec 2014 #

    Sir Cliff’s near-Godlike status within British popular music cannot be overstated: he has, after all, had more hit singles in this country, and over a longer period of time, than anyone else. So, naturally, when he turns up at the end of the millennium with a specially-written record, people *pay attention*. Ever the innovator, here he even prototypes the mash-up, years before it became trendy: it is, of course, a rousing rendition of the Lord’s Prayer set to the entirely appropriate tune of “Auld Lang Syne”, offered up as a hymn of hope, peace, and… and… ah, scrub that. There’s no doubting that it’s earnest, passionate, sincere, and well-meaning; but, as so often with religiously-oriented music which tries to sound “popular”, it’s also clunky, entirely predictable, and really rather superfluous. It’s very far from the worst horror that we Iconoclasts have had to endure during our time here on Popular, but it’s really not something any of us would want to have to listen to ever again. And that seems about as good a place as any to finish. FOUR.

  14. 14
    Mark G on 28 Dec 2014 #

    I would certainly prefer to play ‘Auld Lang Syne’ by The Beatles (lots of gibberish and shouting ‘China’) than this.

    Would this be a good place to mention ‘What Car?’ where cliff nicks and joyrides his dads car, crashes and writes it off and pretends nothing happens? Probably his first decent single for a very long time, and certainly his last.

  15. 15
    will on 28 Dec 2014 #

    Correct me if I’m wrong but it wasn’t just Radio 1, but 2 as well that rejected this. That doesn’t really constitute a ‘ban’, merely that certain gatekeepers thought it wasn’t up to much. They were right too – this probably did Cliff more harm than good in the long run. In the popular mind it pretty much sealed him as that old bloke who bothers us with religion at Christmas time.

    For all that I can’t bring myself to hate it – for me it’s a neat idea that doesn’t quite come off. 4

  16. 16
    23 Daves on 28 Dec 2014 #

    #14 I just listened to that again to remind myself, and yes, it’s not bad – but as with a lot of Cliff’s material, there’s an understated politeness to his vocal delivery that pulls everything much closer to mediocrity than it should be.

    Forgive me if I’ve mentioned this on “Popular” before, but there was a homebrew compilation doing the rounds online around 2003/4 which consisted of vaguely psychedelic or hippyish tracks from unexpected sources (Gene Vincent, Hank Marvin, The Four Seasons among them). Cliff was on there with “The Joy Of Living”, an environmental protest song about cars and pollution from 1970 which was a minor top thirty hit. There’s a faint whiff of patchouli oil about the whole thing, but once again Cliff’s voice is too understated, too matter-of-fact to carry the weight of the idea. For me, his style of singing occasionally works brilliantly with heavily produced upbeat MOR pop, songs that have the right kind of softness and bounce to them, but outside of that I have enormous trouble getting past it. Before now, I’ve spent a long time on Spotify trying to cherry-pick from Cliff’s catalogue and it’s horribly hard work. I’ve always worked on the assumption that his longevity must mean something, and that if I can’t recognise some kind of brilliance it’s probably me who is at fault, but obvious tracks (such as “We Don’t Talk Anymore”) aside, I’m stuck.

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 28 Dec 2014 #

    at the start of the 1980s I went along to cheer on some friends of mine who were low down on the bill at the Greenbelt (Christian music) festival and Cliff was top of the bill. He was very entertaining and left me with a positive disposition towards him which had lingered until I listened to ‘The Millennium Prayer’ recently. Bowie reciting The Lord’s Prayer at the Freddie Mercury Memorial Gig was far more transgressive and bewildering – maybe if Cliff had done something along the lines of ‘Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet’ it might have been more interesting but this is so relentlessly cheesy.
    The abiding memory I have of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ from this time was of The Queen wearing a look of terror as she was obliged to cross arms and link hands with Blair and others at the Millennium Dome on New Years Eve.

  18. 18
    AMZ1981 on 28 Dec 2014 #

    This is the last time (as of the end of 2014) that we meet him and it’s worth noting that he had a few near misses, partly because he (finally) recognised how the charts had changed and reinvented himself as a fanbase artist, entering high and crashing out of the top ten the following week. It was the collapse of the physical singles market that finally marked the end of his singles chart career as his core fanbase aren’t – on the whole – going to be tuned to Itunes. There is this feeling that if he could find the right occasion and get something on the supermarket shelves he could add to his tally of chart toppers.

  19. 19
    Billy Hicks on 28 Dec 2014 #

    He very, very almost did it with ’21st Century Christmas’ in 2006 which got to #2, releasing it a week before The X Factor winner so in theory it had a major chance. Unfortunately another legacy act had also made a surprise return that winter which ended up holding at #1.

    An effort outside of Christmas with ‘Thank You for a Lifetime’ in September 2008 – released to coincide 50 years of his career and with a big campaign to get him his first noughties #1 – got him even closer, the top-selling physical single that week but downloads only got him as far as #3 in the full chart. That’s the last near miss since although unfortunate events in August this year had one of his older songs chart at #57 on downloads.

  20. 20
    katstevens on 28 Dec 2014 #

    #17 they were sat a few rows up behind us so we got a good view of it! We were wondering if Cherie had partaken of any of the Tesco bubbly (she was up the duff but looked far more cheerful than QE2 or Tony) but maybe she just really, really liked The Corrs.

  21. 21
    JoeWiz on 28 Dec 2014 #

    This, of course, utterly dreadful.
    It’s a shame Cliff doesn’t do original material on his albums anymore. The last one appears to be 2004’s ‘Something Going On’. Now it’s love songs, soul songs, duets etc. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve got a morbid fascination with what an original 2015 Cliff Richard song would sound like…

  22. 22
    mapman132 on 29 Dec 2014 #

    As a not particularly religious person who often finds the antics of the religious right downright offensive, I feel like I should be piling on this single with the majority here, but for some reason I can’t. I actually find this somewhat moving and appreciate the effort to try something different, although not enough that I would ever want to own it. I’d certainly rather listen to it before garbage like the Teletubbies, Spacedust, or almost anything I’ve heard by Westlife so far, so 5/10 from me.

  23. 23
    weej on 29 Dec 2014 #

    The Lord’s Prayer + Auld Lang Syne… Cliff’s pop scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should. Cutting up different versions of the prayer (presumably to avoid attempting to fit “trespasses” into a single syllable) doesn’t help. Nothing helps. There is nothing here that can be saved. Cliff’s churlishness at his “banning” reveals an unwarranted sense of entitlement – just because he’s been doing this successfully for so long, it doesn’t mean that he can shit gold.

    A friend was working at HMV in Southampton when this was out and I asked him who the hell was buying it. “They look just you and me,” he said. “They walk among us.”

  24. 24
    swanstep on 29 Dec 2014 #

    TMP was held off the Xmas #1 in NZ by S Club 7’s ‘S Club Party’ which, as a pretty chipper way to ring in the new millennium in the middle of summer, hung on at #1 until the last week of January.

    The massed big-ness of TMP in this context is unfortunate; it reminds one of how powerful and suffocating and oppressive religion was in western countries for most of the last millennium (until after a century or two of the scientific revolution being bedded in). TMP feels like a taste of what a big comeback for organized, even state-sanctioned Christianity would be like. So, thanks Cliff for reminding us that, like monarchy, it’s only once it’s been stripped of almost all power that religion’s bearable.

    The thwacking drum hits that surface in the mix around the 4m 15s mark are somewhat interesting: they sound like someone stamping down on an industrial-strength stapler. Appropriate if so.

  25. 25
    Jimmy the Swede on 29 Dec 2014 #

    Quoth Tom: “Rapture for the believers; for the rest of us, Purgatory.”

    Not so. I’m a believer (at least nominally) and I find this record particularly repugnant. Rory outlines the point perfectly at #9.

  26. 26
    Chelovek na lune on 29 Dec 2014 #

    #25 ditto, on all points.

    But I’d taken Tom’s reference to “believers” to be rather fluid and metaphorical, ie to believers in the cult of Cliff, broadly defined – I think there is a clue in the wording: those who adhere to the concept of “Rapture” would generally firmly reject that of “Purgatory” (and indeed, vice versa)…

  27. 27
    Tom on 29 Dec 2014 #

    Yes, “believers” is meant to mainly mean the “fans of unfashionable pop stars”, after I set up the comparison the sentence before. It’s not meant to mean religious people – just believers in Sir Cliff (who may well have included a fair few non-believers in the general sense).

  28. 28
    Jimmy the Swede on 29 Dec 2014 #

    Thanks for the clarification, Tom. It is a God-awful record, isn’t it?

  29. 29
    Andrew Farrell on 29 Dec 2014 #

    #26 – That would be news to a lot of people I know!

    #5 – three things about the putative playlist meeting: Firstly I get the impression that Cliff thought it was stated exactly like that (“Cliff isn’t”) and that this was play(list)ing the man rather than the ball. Secondly Jimmies Tarbuck and Cricket have a lot less hits between them than Cliff. And thirdly their Christmas singles didn’t become hits – which is my way of asking whether the playlist council ever change their mind?

  30. 30
    23 Daves on 29 Dec 2014 #

    #29 Now I’ve had time to think about it, a more relevant example might have been The Beatles “Real Love” which wasn’t playlisted by Radio One either, or indeed any number of Paul McCartney singles which failed to get given preferential treatment. The case of “Real Love” – while not a Christmas single – predated “Millennium Prayer”, so it wasn’t as if Cliff’s case was unique or even as if he’s the highest profile performer to suffer this indignity (though given his spurned ravings on the topic, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise). Status Quo had their little fanbase versus Radio One playlist meeting battles too.

    But it’s a good question. I don’t recall hearing “The Millennium Prayer” much on the radio at all even after it broke big, but I may be mistaken. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that Radio Two may have weakened and put it on light rotation, probably to stop his fans jamming the switchboard as much as anything else. I was back living with my parents again at this point due to financial problems, and I heard Radio Two a hell of a lot – but I don’t recall this single getting hammered much.

    Somebody else may have a better memory than me.

  31. 31
    mapman132 on 29 Dec 2014 #

    The talk about airplay brings up something I’ve been wondering about the UK chart: How often does a UK #1 receive very little to no radio play? Any stats on the least-played UK #1’s, or are they still bunnied? On the Billboard Hot 100 it’s very rare for a song to get to number one with little airplay – of course, the fact that airplay is a significant part of the chart formula makes it so. Although I don’t know for certain, I strongly suspect “Harlem Shake” to be the least played #1 in Hot 100 history. The American Idol “coronation” #1’s also tended to get very little radio exposure, and consequently disappeared from the chart very quickly.

  32. 32
    AMZ1981 on 29 Dec 2014 #

    In the nineties, if you wanted a hit record, the surest way was still to get plenty of exposure on Radio 1. Not everybody had MTV and there were few other outlets at the time. On the one hand Radio 1 were trying to keep up with the times, having ended up looking hopelessly out of date in the early nineties. At the same time you could understand certain acts getting a bit peeved that they were being denied a platform. Their argument was that a lot of young music fans, as well as existing ones, would enjoy their music if they were only given a chance to hear it. This was Cliff Richard’s argument and unfortunately the success of this and, to a lesser extent, Can’t Keep This Feeling In did support his argument.

    Obviously with hindsight we were in a period of transition as Radio 2 would reinvent themselves as the station catering to the more mature pop fan and would gain a bigger audience than Radio 1 while Youtube would eventually change the relationship between artist and audience, but that was a few years off yet.

  33. 33
    Mark G on 30 Dec 2014 #

    Yeah, but Cliff *likes* being banned.. What country is it where he was banned from, thanks to certain scenes in ‘Summer Holiday’? I’m sure he still has it framed on his wall next to his ‘corrupting influence’ f
    review from the NME ..

  34. 34
    Nixon on 30 Dec 2014 #

    I heard this, for the only time, on the radio during a very long* taxi journey – I was a student and I remember having a real “look back and cringe” discussion with the driver about it (I still agree with our eventual consensus: nice idea, interesting move to make a religious connection to the thus far explicitly secular New Year/Millennium hype, appalling execution, laugh out loud bad scansion). I don’t know what station we were listening to though.

    #29 not to take this in a tedious theological direction (and it’s moot anyway as Tom wasn’t talking about religion and said rapture not Rapture) but I think I’m right in saying it’s mainly us Catholics who believe in purgatory, whereas the notion of the Rapture, in the “left behind” sense most American evangelicals espouse it, came from a virulently anti-Catholic huckster named Cyrus Scofield whose 1900s annotated edition of the King James Bible was unbelievably popular and influential before WW2 (and is still in print by OUP today, selling in healthy numbers, complete with footnotes describing the Pope as the Wh0re of Babylon. Nice guy.) It’s kind of an esoteric distinction from the outside, especially to atheists I guess, but the evangelical Rapture is directly contradictory to the Catholic Church’s teaching on Revelation. So, yeah, they’re probably not the same people.

    *(Most people’s part time jobs while at uni, at least the people I knew, were stuff like bartending, table service, cleaning. I worked for an engineering company who sent me to conferences in Japan, Singapore, London and, um, Cowbridge. The latter was a 45 minute taxi ride from my house, where I first (and last) heard this. Oh, as a card-carrying God-botherer, I think the end result is a clumsy, hectoring pile of toss. 1.)

  35. 35
    23 Daves on 30 Dec 2014 #

    #32 I’m in danger of veering completely off the point, but there were loads of playlist battles at Radio 1 in the eighties. I distinctly remember writing a huffy letter to the station as a teen because they hadn’t playlisted a Depeche Mode track I was certain would have been a huge hit otherwise (I can’t remember which one, but while I wouldn’t be driven to such fanatical extremes now, I suspect I’d still agree with whatever argument I was trying to make. The mid-80s Radio 1 playlists were often tediously middle of the road, favouring polished MOR, AOR and soul over anything with any kind of slight edge at all -and it was that or local radio, where you got more of the same). I got a fairly tedious, noncommittal reply back starting with the lines “Thanks for getting in touch, it’s always great to hear from our listeners!” which you can almost imagine being said in a mid-Atlantic Cliff voice, strangely.

    In even indier spheres, Fire Records went berserk in the press when Radio 1 refused to playlist The Parachute Men’s “Leeds Station”, arguing that the only reason they’d been neglected was because they weren’t a major label. I found that case baffling then and now – “Leeds Station” is a charming enough single, but there’s nothing special about it at all. It’s no masterpiece.

    The last time I remember anyone whining about not being Radio 1 playlisted it was, oddly (or perhaps not) Depeche Mode again when the station neglected the completely mediocre “Dream On”. That would have been 2001 at a Wembley gig – and I remember at the time it already felt like a really peculiar thing for a band to be whinging about live on stage, perhaps due to the way that Radio 2 was already shifting and cable/ satellite TV and the accompanying music channels were much more commonly found in British homes. So within the space of a couple of decades I’d gone from scribbling green ink letters to the BBC on their behalf to thinking “Oh, shut up about that lads, it’s a dreary single compared to your usual standards and a top ten hit anyway”.

    Somebody else will know better than me, but I’m pretty sure that in the last two decades we’ve had singles which were ignored by Radio 1 but playlisted by Radio 2, which slowly sent them up the charts. I think there are a few bunnyables coming up this may apply to.

  36. 36
    Andrew Farrell on 30 Dec 2014 #

    #34 – there is no formal defense against “let’s not get into this” followed by getting into this, so I’ll just suggest you go look it up.

  37. 37
    Mark G on 30 Dec 2014 #

    Number ones that hit despite not being playlisted by Radio 1, but Radio 2?

    Well, there’s (bunny), and (bunny), and lets not forget (bunny) but R1 climbed down and added it later. Well, that’s showbusiness.

  38. 38
    Cumbrian on 30 Dec 2014 #

    I couldn’t stand this then, I can’t stand it now. Better expounded upon by others but broadly in agreement with much of what the nay-sayers have put forth on this.

    I have to say though, I really did LOL when I got to this bit:

    Writing a second verse for the Lord’s Prayer is a tricky assignment on the face of it, but as a pop legend Sir Cliff had access to the highest drawer of talent. Naturally, he turned to Nigel Wright, formerly of megamixers Mirage.

    I knew very little about this record, so the first sentence set me up for “Cliff got in Rowan Williams” or “Cliff talked to Basil Hume” or even “Cliff talked to the Vatican” – the punchline, as a result, really tickled me. The old ones are still the best.

    Mirage might even have been good!

  39. 39

    Not sure I know enough about which wing of the xtian church CR declares actual allegiance to, but — at least at the dog-whistle level — it’s not impossible that he’s using variant word-choice subtly to poke another establishment in the eye: the O/G Establishment that all the others derive this name from by analogy or proxy, viz the Established Church in England, CofE the mother of all the world’s Anglicans etc. After 1534, it’s schisms all way the down, d00ds…

  40. 40
    ciaran on 30 Dec 2014 #

    I’ve found myself at odds with about 80% of Tom marks for 1999.The likes of ‘I want it that way’ being a bit too high and sunscreen being hard done by.Even recent other ‘1’ records have been a bit divisive. Not the case here.

    TMP is just horrendous. I said before that Blobby was the worst of the 90s but in my defence I forgot all about Sir Cliff. This is the worst of the decade, not just Number 1’s and for me this is the worst we have encountered so far. Liverpool and Grandma are the yardstick for awful but they’ve got nothing on The Millennium Prayer. Bad and all as they are at least they have a cheerful nature about them. This is one of the most joyless things to ever grace popular and much much worse. A zero wouldn’t have been cruel.

    Here we have the chosen one in all his finery to deliver the gospel according to cliff,telling the world to bow down to the almighty set to images of hardship building and building before it just falls apart on an avalanche of shouting and hand clapping while the sky seems to be falling in. A deluge of bombast and inpappropriate moralising.The sort of thing you would laugh at if you saw a man with a microphone on the street preaching to others. Here Cliff was indulged by his disciples who really should know better.

    Similar to Belfast Child this did lasting damage to Cliff.It was nearly impossible to take him seriously afterwards.

    The stuff of bad dreams. The lowest of the low. A 1 for all eternity.

  41. 41
    StringBeanJohn82 on 30 Dec 2014 #

    Surely the worst single in the history of this blog. At least the kiddies can dance to Mr Blobby at the school disco. Or you can get trashed on Smirnoff Ice to the Vengaboys. You could make an ashtray out of ‘Grandad’. The Outhere Brothers evoke the inevitable decline of all dominant cultures and civilisations.

    What can you do with this?

  42. 42
    Lazarus on 30 Dec 2014 #

    #31 – from the Nineties, fanbase hits like ‘Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter’ and ‘Innuendo’ are the first to spring to mind. Also I don’t recall hearing ‘Mr Blobby’ on the radio at any stage, aside from chart rundowns. Having a #1 with little or no airplay must be more common here than in the US, because of the smaller number of units that need to be shifted, but in the download age I wonder if that’s not so much the case as it was 15 years ago?

  43. 43
    enitharmon on 30 Dec 2014 #

    There are/have been performers whose art is at least partly driven by their faith that I have a lot of time for. Johnny Cash springs immediately to mind. Sufjan Stevens is a more recent example. Neither of them rubs your nose in it like Cliff does, and never more sanctimoniously than he does it here.

    I’m sure I can’t be – no, I know I’m not – the only one of my generation who lost it with Cliff when he got involved with the Festival of Light along with Mary Whitehouse, Frank Pakenham and Malcolm Muggeridge in 1971.

  44. 44
    anto on 30 Dec 2014 #

    The repeats of 70s-80s ‘Top of the Pops’ in recent years actually suggest that Cliff benefitted from a certain Radio 1 bias at one point – David Hamilton wearing a t-shirt promoting Cliff’s latest album in
    ’76 (presumably with a refreshing can of Splunt on hand – hot summer that year) or the utterly forgettable Christmas 1982 single by pop’s first knight being chosen to climax the festive show that year over much more deserving candidates. Indeed, a lot of those old-school DJs look visibly relaxed when introducing a fine entertainer like good old Cliff, not like these awful punk bands with their shocking grammar and anti-social haircuts – Basically, Cliff’s disgruntlement at no longer being play listed from the mid-nineties onwards seems especially petulant when one considers how much, and for how long he was favoured (and quite literally from the beginning as he was one of the first 10 artists to be played on Radio 1 in 1967).
    As an aside, I recall one John Peel show around this time where he played ‘We Say Yeah!’ (‘Mamma says yeah/Daddy says yeah/Brother says yeah/Maybe they’re not so square’) from ‘The Young Ones’ soundtrack which could possibly have been a sly comment on play listing or even ageism from a Broadcaster who was a year older than Cliff.

    A fine review of ‘Millennium Prayer’ from Tom – Cliff seemed to be of the view that the idea for this batty single was something that seemed so obvious that it’s a wonder no one else had thought of it, apparently missing the other side of this positive reflection, that it’s an idea so gormless anyone else would have thought better of it – Combining the Lord’s own expression of the divine message and a seasoned melody that continues to ring in the new many many years after it was written , taking two great things of wonder and turning them into one clunky folly.

  45. 45
    Chelovek na lune on 31 Dec 2014 #

    #44 I have to agree – Cliff was so very much of the (publicly) prissy, repressed, Smashie-and-Nicey you-can’t-say-that-mate part of the (pre-Bannister) Radio 1. To be fair, this worked well from around 1979-82 and then again in 1987, when Cliff made a string of more or less consistently good pop records that nodded gently in the direction of contemporary modernity (or in the case of the best of them, “Wired For Sound”, even viewing the avant garde distantly on the horizon). Then….the old guard went. And, as it happened, the quality of Cliff’s singles more more or less regressed, and, (that rather fabulous SAW collaboration aside) they were more and more middle-of-the-road (and, increasingly, dull cover versions). It was a parting of the ways for sure, but both parties took different directions when the road forked.

  46. 46
    Mark G on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Thing is, I distinctly remember Cliff’ defence being ‘I’m not saying its the best record ever made, but …’ which is a virtual admission of its failings and yet he still feels that being playlisted is something he has earned no matter what he does.

    Either way, my reaction is ‘You think its not the best record ever made? Well go away and try harder! Don’t waste these nice people’s time’

  47. 47
    weej on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Reading this thread has led me down the odd rabbit hole of watching Cliff interview clips on Youtube (not how I imagined I’d be spending my Christmas break) and I keep coming back to this one. Supposedly it involves him defending his right to privacy against press speculation about his sexuality (surely an open goal for eliciting sympathy), but he comes across as shockingly petulant, arrogant and entitled.

  48. 48
    Erithian on 31 Dec 2014 #

    I don’t have any axe to grind in favour of Sir Cliff – he’s not the most modest of people, and I remember a Q Who The Hell piece by Tom Hibbert in which he seemed to claim the Beatles’ move to Hamburg as a personal triumph for himself in that he and the Shadows had the music scene sewn up (!) – but I do have to defend this, at least up to a point. Which seems iconoclastic in itself.

    Back on the “Mistletoe and Wine” thread someone said: “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”. It’s interesting to see that even those on here who profess religious faith themselves, including JTS, are sticking the boot in on Cliff – although Mapman132, from a territory where Cliff is, though not unknown, nothing like the cultural fixture he is here, is able to find it moving despite not being particularly religious himself. I’m pretty agnostic, and any interest I have in religion is historic and sociological as opposed to a matter of faith: so I’m looking at this in much the same way as I’d consider a profession of Muslim or Jewish faith getting to number one.

    As I see it, it’s strong on production values, the marriage of the Lord’s Prayer and Auld Lang Syne isn’t entirely happy but playing fast and loose with Lord’s Prayer texts does help mesh the two (after all it’s not billed as the Lord’s Prayer, so he’s free to introduce whatever extra text he wants) – and overall it comes across as a bold, even courageous performance in a context where Christianity was much more marginal in the UK than it had been even thirty years previously. It might well come across differently, even as nauseating, in the hands of an American televangelist where Christianity has a powerful political influence – but here I’m getting an individual trying to tell us what he believes in and encouraging us to share it as opposed to shoving it down our throats. Like all songs with a message, you don’t have to agree with the message to appreciate the delivery: and although I’m far from Cliff’s biggest fan, I find myself admiring this. Maybe not to the extent of voting for it in the year-end poll, but I’m not going to join in the kicking.

  49. 49
    Lazarus on 31 Dec 2014 #

    George Harrison wrote about his 1971 chart-topper: “I thought a lot about whether to do ‘My Sweet Lord’ or not, because I would be committing myself publicly and I anticipated that a lot of people might get weird about it. Many people fear the words ‘Lord’ and ‘God’ – makes them angry for some strange reason.”

    There was, of course, a lot of goodwill towards the Quiet One and a recognition that ‘My Sweet Lord’ was a cracking tune – even if it wasn’t exactly his – and the record became his best-known song, still regularly aired on oldies stations. At the other end of the Seventies we had mumsy Lena Martell imploring ‘Sweet Jesus’ to help her through life’s trials. But the opprobrium that received was slight compared to that heaped on ‘The Millennium Prayer.’ I was expecting this to get a good kicking, but for its sincerity alone I can go to a 2. Bold and courageous is right; Cliff must have known it would have little or no airplay and it would come down to him and his fans against the rest of the world. Perhaps he just wanted to remind us all why the millennium was fast approaching.

    (Odd that as I’m writing this the radio is playing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ by the way, a bit of an old Dan Fogelberg song, getting its annual play from Ken Bruce. That wasn’t a hit here though, sadly. Too tasteful by far)

  50. 50
    Shiny Dave on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Taking an existing song and completely repackaging it with new text… depending on what definition you take, you could argue it’s the second filk number one.

    It might be even worse than the first, but I’m not listening to either of “Star Trekkin'” and this to check, much less both. Suffice to say that this is the sound of Cliff Richard boldly going in reverse because he can’t find forward.

  51. 51
    Jimmy the Swede on 2 Jan 2015 #

    #48 – A nice and sincere post, mate. I think it might be worth reiterating that my target was more the song itself rather than Cliff, although I would be less than honest if I didn’t add that Cliff singing it didn’t help. It’s just a dreadful, cringe-inducing train wreck of a record and nobody could have carried it off.

  52. 52
    Alex on 14 Jan 2015 #

    You know, you’re really earning it with this one…

  53. 53
    punctum on 2 Feb 2015 #

    The logic was easy to understand. At a time when a decade, nay a century, double or quits nay a millennium, was nearing what nearly everyone anxiously assumed was going to be an apocalyptic end, what better way to soothe and comfort their fears and uncertainties on the eve of reconstruction than to set the words of “The Lord’s Prayer” to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” with a rousing, thrice nay stirring, arrangement; and who better to sing it than the man who started it all – though the nature of that “it” has never quite been defined – the evergreen, the perennial who had been here almost from the beginning? Actually, if they’d wanted, they could have had Vera Lynn or Max Bygraves, both of whom were in that first Top Twelve chart back in November 1952, and both of whom were still available in 1999, but either might have confused The Kids.

    EMI, however, were by this point wondering whether Cliff himself wasn’t beginning to confuse The Kids. Although he had continued to be a chart regular throughout the nineties – even walking through the pain barrier that was Heathcliff: The Musical – none of his nineties hits really defined him in terms of that decade in the way that, say, “Devil Woman” or “We Don’t Talk Anymore” did in the seventies or “Wired For Sound” in the eighties. Worse, despite the occasional very good single (“I Still Believe In You,” “Can’t Keep This Feeling In”), Cliff’s records were becoming increasingly sententious and portentous – see 1993’s “Peace In Our Time” for a particularly acrid example of this tendency – and rather than cantering cheerfully through the decade as he had done with the previous three-and-a-bit ones, there seemed to be a return of the early seventies Festival Of Light air of pomposity and self-righteous arrogance about him.

    Perhaps he was feeling a little insecure; EMI were extremely dubious about the merits of “The Millennium Prayer” and he quietly severed his connections with the label in 1999, after forty-one years, releasing the single on the independent Papillon imprint. Furthermore, Radio 1, desperate to hold onto their 15-24 year old core audience and not wanting to be sold off to the highest commercial bidder, were more than lukewarm about playing the record, although Radio 2 stood firmly behind it (in the hope that no one might see them). Nonetheless his fans rallied round, as they have always done in times of crisis – and it became the year’s third biggest selling single (Britney was rightly top, Eiffel 65 a somewhat surprising second).

    There really isn’t much to say about “Prayer” except that it does indeed come over as rather pompous, with its skirling pipes, Highland strings, massed tribal drumbeats, sweeping viaducts of choirs; over it Cliff intones the familiar words, though he prays to be led not to “the time of trial” rather than temptation, and asks that we forgive our sins rather than our debts or our trespass (maybe he’d just received a tax bill) before launching into the somewhat less poetic diving board strains of “Let all the people say Amen!/In every tribe and tongue” and similar well meaning homilies. Beneath the surface of goodwill appears to lurk a grey gavel of mirthless authority. “The Millennium Prayer” was hugely, and perhaps defiantly, popular but it is difficult for the non-doctrinaire Cliff devotee to approach or admire. And it didn’t fulfill his ambition to have the last number one single of the millennium; The Man (using The Kids as a tool) decided to show him who was boss.

  54. 54
    DanH on 26 Feb 2015 #

    I think the US equivalent of this was Kenny G’s cover of Auld Lang Syne, with snippets of news events and other soundbites of the 20th century. Main memory was the juxtaposition of the Clinton scandal and the “watch me pull a rabbit out my hat!’ sketch from Rocky & Bullwinkle. Made #7 for about a minute at the turn of the millennium.

  55. 55
    David Canterbury on 19 Sep 2017 #

    Can neither get too upset, nor too excited by this one. Not one of Cliff’s best for sure, but I’m leaning towards 4 or 5/10.

  56. 56
    dingdongtogel on 25 Jan 2021 #

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thanks, However I am encountering issues with your RSS.
    I don’t understand why I am unable to subscribe to
    it. Is there anybody else having similar RSS issues? Anyone
    who knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

  57. 57
    Andrew F on 25 Jan 2021 #

    The two RSS feeds linked in the menu above (beside ‘Posts’ and ‘Comments’) work well for me – which is how I saw your comment :)

  58. 58
    Gareth Parker on 20 May 2021 #

    I’m actually OK with this one. I find it a lot more tolerable than Tom and many of the other commenters do. 4/10 for me.

  59. 59
    TheGerkuman on 19 Oct 2021 #

    Clearly not the best version of The Lord’s Prayer (which would be Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin from the Civilization V soundtrack), but not even a terribly good version of Auld Lang Syne either.

    Might as well have released a song with the WWI lyrics.
    ‘We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here’. That fits the Millenium pretty well, in hindsight.

  60. 60
    Gareth Parker on 26 Oct 2021 #

    Didn’t mind the Artful Dodger’s Rewind (as mentioned, stuck behind Sir Clifford of Richard). Probably the only thing that Craig David’s been involved with that I’ve moderately enjoyed. Just not my cup of tea, having never really taken to him in general.

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