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Global Comment Advent Calendar 14: “Mistletoe & Wine” by Sir Cliff Richard

Written by Story of Song

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By Kate Lillie

Originally published on Global Comment

I am going to come right out with this – I love this song. I think it’s one of the best Christmas songs ever. However, I’m aware that it gets a massive bashing every year and is, for some reason, hated by lots of people. It was even banned from Costa Coffee stores in 2013 after being voted one of the most-hated Christmas songs, although the problem with polls of that sort is that the most-hated and the most-popular lists are often almost identical. I think Sir Cliff tends to inspire a bit of a Marmite reaction in some people – they almost dislike him on principle, completely unfairly – so consider today’s advent selection your chance to give him another go.

I must admit that with the video to this song, Sir Cliff isn’t doing himself any favours. The opening scene is of Cliff himself standing outside a small child’s bedroom window, staring in as she lies in bed. She seems to be sleeping until suddenly her eyes fly open (you might say in terror, as if she can feel someone staring at her through the window her parents have negligently left wide open to both strangers and the cold). Happily, however, we all know that Cliff is a good man and that we’re watching a Christmas music video and not a horror movie, and he walks away from the window as the first verse begins. After all, he’s needed – for singing!

The rest of the video is a little bit odd, although not as odd as some of the Christmas single videos we’ve seen in this year’s advent calendar. But why, for example (and indeed, how) does Sir Cliff pull a lighted candle from the village’s water butt as it’s being filled from the pump? Why do the village’s inhabitants look like a slightly motley 1980s-era Les Miserables Christmas cult, with their own triangle- and bugle-playing military band (who, incidentally, are most definitely not up to military marching standards)? Why did no one from the wardrobe department spot the fact that one character’s hunting hat has an earflap sticking up all the way through filming and fix it, for all our sakes? And as for the ‘magical’ computer-generated animation, I’m not even sure what to say to that, so let’s not even go there. I’m pretty sure that real-fake snow would have been both cheaper and more effective. I do like the giant gong though – I might add one of those to my Christmas list (after my Boney M carousel, of course). And Sir Cliff’s dancing just after he hits the gong is sheer genius – I cannot believe that this move didn’t become a dance floor staple like the Macarena; it would have been so much easier to learn, and everyone could have done it to this song at their Christmas parties. Maybe its time has finally come – I think we should call it the Sir Cliff Swing. Don’t forget to include that little kick, people.

Mistletoe and Wine was originally written for a 1976 musical called Scraps and was intended to be a satirical take on a Christmas carol for a scene when the little match girl is kicked out of a pub by the cruel middle classes. By the time the musical was adapted for television, the character of the match girl had become a prostitute and the song had evolved into more of a music hall number. However, Sir Cliff wanted to bring back some spirituality into the song, and rewrote the lyrics without taking any royalties to make them more Christian in theme, leaving us with the song we know and love today.

Mistletoe and Wine was Sir Cliff’s 99th – yes, actually his 99th – single. It was also his 12th number one and his first solo Christmas number one (but not his last).

Go on, I dare you to enjoy it:

Mistletoe & Wine by Sir Cliff Richard

Written by Story of Song

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