If you think that making yourself gluttonously sick on Quality Street in front of EastEnders, dystopian scenes of work-night-out drunken bedlam up the town centre and two strangers battering each other in Tesco over the last discounted telly on Boxing Day all somehow undermine the traditional spiritual origins of the festive season, just take a look at the recent history of the Christmas Number One.
Between various X Factor desperadoes, creepy novelty stars and for what felt like about 17 years the unmovable object that was the Spice Girls, you have to go all the way back to 1988 and Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe and Wine to find a festive chart-topper about nice wholesome stuff like faith, forgiveness and singing Christian rhymes in front of the fire. Before anyone asks, “Hey but what about Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as covered by Alexandra Burke?” – you do realise that song is basically a massive sex metaphor, don’t you?
Will Christmas Number One 2018 prove the first in three decades to put Jesus back where he belongs – top of the pops – or is it to be yet another heathen hit that triumphs on big J’s big day? I listened to some of the contenders and went in search of an answer to a deep metaphysical question: have any of them got the Cliff factor?
Beware of false prophets! Not content with biblically boring us all as plain old Coldplay, Chris Martin and co have sneakily rebranded with a side-project called Los Unidades to release a charity EP titled Global Citizen. Their benevolent intentions earn them a grudging one Cliff out of five, but otherwise their contender for Christmas Number One E-Lo – also featuring Pharrell Williams, yes they’ve even dragged him into it – is more of Martin’s trademark beige dance-pop stink by another name. If this is anyone’s idea of heaven then give me the hot fires of hell.
Cozy Little Christmas
For its use of the word “cozy” in the title, the Cliff factor looks to be strong in Katy Perry’s contribution to the seasonal canon. That is until the perky Motown beat drops and Perry starts rhyming “whiskey” with “getting frisky”, and suddenly old Cliff’s whipping his handkerchief out, anxiously mopping his brow. A song about rejecting the lavish material baubles of the season in favour of a shall-we-say intimate Christmas for two in front of the fire enjoying a few hallelujahs (no, not the type you get in Christian rhymes), it’s a song of mixed messages.
Sir David Attenborough
Everyone’s favourite naturalist is kind of like a modern-day Noah, doing his best to save man and animal from the impending epic floods of climate change, albeit through the medium of lavishly shot TV documentaries instead of a big wooden boat. Sadly his unlikely campaign for seasonal pop chart success with a random recording of indigenous musicians in Paraguay seems doomed to extinction. The entirely unremarkable La Llegada has earned little better than an ant-sized 2,500 Spotify streams at the time of writing. Still love your work with the monkeys and stuff though Dave!
Street Cat Bob and James Bowen
And Then Came Bob
The ancient Egyptians worshipped cats and at the risk of sounding a bit idolatrous – sorry Cliff –they totally had a point. This song retelling London busker and former Big Issue vendor James Bowen’s story about his life-saving encounter with the world-famous Street Cat Bob has it all – even if Bowen’s voice proves an acquired taste. Stirring, feelgood lyrics about one man’s undying love for his four-legged ginger companion! A children’s choir! A vaulting key change! I am ascending to cat heaven listening to it. Farewell, sinful world.