Wednesday, 16 September 2009

1988 Cliff Richard: Mistletoe And Wine

Cliff's Christmas singles have become something of a comic cause celebre of late with many viewing them as little more than seven inch clay pigeons targets that appear once a year and exist only to take pot shots at. And again, from the outset, I'll hold my hands up and confess that I absolutely loathe this song, so don't expect too much objectivity here. Why do I loathe it? Well I think my hatred can be broadly split into three separate headings, starting with the lyrics.

"Christmas time, mistletoe and wine"

Mistletoe and wine? What kind of odd pairing is that? I've answered my own question really because that's what it is, an odd, meaningless pairing that exists solely to throw together some Christmas clich├ęs in order to make the internal rhyme meter fit. 'Mistletoe' is needed because there aren't too many other festive three syllable words to make the line scan properly (go on, try and think of one), and the 'wine' is needed to link to the next line.

And even after crowbarring that lot together, the best they can come up with to follow is "Children singing Christian rhyme". You can almost see the stress fractures as Cliff tries to force 'rhyme' and 'wine' to rhyme when they clearly don't - if you mean 'carols' then frikking say it. One hopes that whatever 'rhymes' the children are singing do a better job.

I doubt they could do a worse one in terms of music in any case (my second heading of hatred) - 'Mistletoe And Wine' minces along on a sing song, nursery rhyme of a tune with a single line of one key melody idiocy that Richard and his backing follow with no deviation (hence creating the need for the strait jacket rhyming). Simplistic and childish, it makes Slade's 'Merry Christmas Everybody' sound like the 'Brandenburg Concerto' and it bores where it should uplift.

But I think what I hate most about this is the faux ideal, almost Dickensian imagery of 'Christmas' that Cliff forces upon us. 'Mistletoe', 'wine', 'logs on the fire', 'Christian rhymes' - this may well be what goes down in chez Richards in late December, but it's not the norm among the general populace and it's the preachy, over earnest tone of the humourless, joyless vocal that presents all this as an ideal to aspire to that grates. One look at the picture on the cover shows Cliff is not larking around here.

And more than that, the usual 'goodwill to all men' message that's usually enough to make any Christmas song work isn't enough here it seems. There are material factors to consider too with it being 'A time for giving, a time for getting'. So, by getting a five year old to knock together the lyrics for him, Cliff manages to somehow subvert the very message he's meant to be preaching. And he's so wrapped up in it all that he doesn't even notice. Incredible.

So, there are three things I hate about this song then - music, lyrics and message. Not bad. I would have sworn before I started I'd have at least hit double figures. But it's an apt end to a year of number ones that have been mostly number twos. God bless them, one and all.


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  2. Thanks for the comment, they're always welcome.