This is a day late, because yesterday was the first day in a week which hadn’t had to be organised and executed with military levels of precision, and as a result I didn’t get anything done. But this exceptional instrumental version by Tony Evans And His Orchestra (who have previously worked with Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck AND Gilbert O’Sullivan, so you know you’re getting quality) of maybe the best Christmas song of all is worth the wait. It’s cruise ship music, in the best possible way. Look out, in particular, for the delightful piano run at 1:54.
Look out, this is a bit special. Did you know that Sir Cliffmas has just released his first festive album in nineteen years? I confess I once did, but had forgotten. And imagine if we’d all missed out on this excellent piece of Cliff Dancing™? The great man is eighty-two and still going as strong as ever, with a special coming up on the BBC this Christmas, which is very good of him considering how they treated him last time they had words.
You thought Mistletoe and Wine was going to make yet another appearance this year, didn’t you? And it will, but only in a supporting role, as for Cliffmas this year we are going back to the good end of the eighties, musically speaking, with the fabulous Little Town. If you’re my age this may not have the nostalgic heft of its more successful younger brother (which is here, if you’d like a go on it anyway, and I saved Cliff for Sunday to give you time to listen to them both), but it’s a gorgeous track in its own right and should have done better than peaking at number 11 in the UK chart, especially in a year when Renee and Renato were number one.
Of course this was always going to be today’s song, since it makes me happiest of all. I’m not even quite sure why, except I suppose that Cliff really means it and it shows, and it was Christmas number one the year I turned twelve, which was the year I listened to the most music of all, so it exerts a powerful nostalgic force on me whenever I hear it. But mostly it’s just the way he hits the gong and then launches into that extraordinary dance at 2.25. I’ve tried to emulate it, but it has a magic all of its own which can’t be replicated.
The last bit of good news for this year – from me, at least – is this story about the first commercial electrically-powered aircraft test flight in Canada. In among the doom and gloom of what we’re doing to the planet, there do seem to be people with real ideas about ways to stop it, which, at least, is a small piece of hope. And if we can’t have a small piece of hope at Christmas, when can we? Now, turn Cliff up nice and loud and let’s all dance.
Actually it wasn’t, because I only had the idea for a musical advent calendar on December 10th. But here we all are ten years and eleven musical advent calendars later, having enjoyed the highlights (Christmas songs from around the world, twenty-four versions of White Christmas, Christmas songs by Phenomenal Women) and, let’s be frank, lowlights (Christmas number ones from my lifetime, everything By Ringo Starr) together. So it’s only fitting, this year, to celebrate hitting double figures by enjoying twenty-four Christmas hits written (or in a couple of cases released) since December 2008: songs which I didn’t include first time round not because they weren’t any good, but because they didn’t exist yet. I made this list a month ago and I’ve been listening to it on rotation ever since so I can tell you with complete confidence that there are some crackers here.
In the meantime, to get you in the mood, here’s Cliff, whose last hit was in September 2008, meaning [spoilers] he WILL NOT FEATURE in this year’s line-up (except for now).
OK, not actually together, but – amazingly – spliced together by a dedicated fan, in possibly the best, and certainly the oddest, mash-up of all time. May your week be as much fun as this song is.
(Make sure to keep listening past two minutes in, where something exciting happens. And something else exciting, in a different way, happens at 3:53, and you know, you just really need to listen to the whole thing.)
For this year’s advent calendar we are stretching our wings and travelling around the world in search of Christmas songs from twenty-four different countries. Some you will know, some you will know by a different name, some you will be delighted to hear for the first time and some you might not be. Europe is over-represented, but I think we’ve got something from every continent.
But that’s for tomorrow. For today, here’s Cliff.
OK, there isn’t a winner, I just couldn’t resist the headline. As I said before, I didn’t really have a plan as to which song went where on the advent calendar this year, but I did promise myself that if anyone voted for my personal favourite, they’d get the Christmas Eve slot. So I was delighted when Donna plumped for Mistletoe and Wine, because Donna is completely lovely and utterly deserving of the final place.
Donna and I used to work together, in the first proper job I ever had. Well, second, if you count four months doing 20 hours a week in Streatham Under Fives Centre, which I’m not sure I do. This job was in a bookshop, and in the late nineties and early two thousands Donna and I had the most fun anyone has ever had at work, because she is the sweetest, silliest, most genuine, forthright and hilarious person in the world, and spending eight hours a day in her company was sheer out-and-out delight.
When good things happened to Donna she would fill the room with beams of joy so intense they felt tangible. When bad things happened to Donna she would cry, then find a way to feel better about them, usually with the accompaniment of a lot of laughter. If I was in a bad mood, I would sit and glower silently. If Donna was in a bad mood, she’d announce it, explain it and within a few minutes we’d have talked around it from every angle and both be feeling better.
Everyone should have a Donna, especially if they are occasionally inclined to unhealthy levels of cynicism and negativity. Donna was so open and so engaged that I couldn’t sustain my sneering teenage posture, and had no choice but to become nicer, and for that I will always be grateful to her.
Happy Christmas, Donna! And happy Christmas to everyone who has read any of this year’s advent calendar. It’s been a lot of fun to do, and I’m only sorry that there wasn’t room for all the songs people nominated. But, you know, there’s always room for Cliff.
I don’t think there’s anything to say about this song that I haven’t already said here: this is the third or fourth time I’ve posted it over the years, so if you’ve been paying close attention, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, you’ll already know that this is my favourite Christmas pop video EVER.
It occurs to me, incidentally, that when I said that the Spice Girls were one of two acts with more than one song in the top 24 I was thinking that Cliff also had two entries, with this and Saviour’s Day, whereas in actual fact he is the outright winner because he also appears, at some length, in Band Aid 2.
Anyway, this beats both of those into the dust. Go to fullscreen, turn up the volume, have a mince pie and a cup of tea (or a sherry, if you’re reading this after midday) and enjoy the wonder that is Mistletoe and Wine, Christmas number one from 1988. The whole video is superb, but everything from 2:25 onwards is pure Cliffmas gold.
I suspect that ardent scholars of chart history will already be able to work out what tomorrow’s song is. To make it even easier here are the ten I rejected, in chronological order:
Mr Blobby, Mr Blobby (1993) – Obviously not.
Michael Jackson, Earth Song (1995) – I love Michael Jackson, but Earth Song is truly terrible and I didn’t want to sully his memory with it.
Spice Girls, Too Much (1997) – It’s a good song, but it’s nowhere near as good as the two I chose, and you can have too much Spice Girls.
Westlife, I Have A Dream (1999) – An insipid cover by an insipid act of one of my least favourite Abba songs.
Bob The Builder, Can We Fix It? (2000) – Oh, come on.
Band Aid 20, Do They Know It’s Christmas? (2004) – This made the original cut over Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, but I couldn’t find a video for it that wasn’t awful, and anyway, two versions in the winning line-up is enough for any song.
Shayne Ward, That’s My Goal (2005) – Never heard of it.
Leona Lewis, A Moment Like This (2006) – I sort of remember this, but it didn’t do anything for me.
Leon Jackson, When You Believe (2007) – Who? Alright, I know who he is, but never was there a more anonymous X Factor winner.
Rage Against The Machine, Killing In The Name (2009) – SIGH. This record was bought by tedious fools the first time around, never mind last year. I admit that X Factor has spoiled the fun of finding out who will be Christmas number one, but this was the least imaginative, least joyous alternative possible.
Of course, since I started we have a thirty-fifth Christmas number one in Matt Cardle with, um, whatever his song is called. For the sake of completeness I can confirm that he would also have been rejected, squeaky-voiced borefest that he is.
Anyway, enough of that. Here’s Cliff:
Ah, Cliff. We had a sneaky peek of you yesterday, but here you are in your full glory with the 1990 Christmas number one, Saviour’s Day. One of the versions on YouTube comes accompanied with the warning: “Remember, listen to this while doing something else – it get’s incredibly boring!!”, which I think is unfair as well as illiterate, because this is a classic Cliffmas video, from the massed choir, which I like to imagine is made up of the entire population of whichever Cornish village this was filmed close to, to the unlikely set of dance moves (I use the term loosely) which begin around the 2:30 mark. Enjoy.
(YouTube have prefaced the video with an interminably dull ad, so rather than link to them I’m using a version from elsewhere: if you can’t see the video below just click on the link.)