Today’s POP RESCUE from a future unknown, is the 1991 Christmas album Together With Cliff Richard by (yes, you’ve guessed it) the Peter Pan of pop, Sir Cliff Richard. Will this album bring you festive feelings, or would you rather be stuck up a chimney? Read on…
A Christmas without a Cliff Richard Christmas album, is like a Christmas without the rush to reach the remote control in order to miss another utterly miserable Christmas Day visit to Albert Square.
The album bursts open with the classic Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and whilst this version would also appear on his Cliff At Christmas album from 2003, it’s a welcome reminder. The track has a wonderful pace to it, and it’s loaded with some lovely backing vocals. It’s upbeat, pop friendly, and really is a catchy interpretation. The perfect opening track.
That leads on to Venite (O Come All Ye Faithful), which opens with some light guitars before giving way to Cliff singing this slow number over some sporadic percussion and tinkling electric piano. The band kicks in for the Latin lyric ‘Venite Venite Adoremus Dominum‘ part just after the usual chorus. The track allows Cliff to show off the quality of his vocals here, and once again the backing vocals help to add warmth to the track.
Next up is lead single We Should Be Together, which is an original track that gave Cliff another top 10 UK hit to add to his collection. It opens with Cliff dialing on an old rotary phone. Strangely he talks and sings down the phone whilst it’s still ringing. That aside, this song sounds nice – a nice mid-tempo pop rock song, although the lyrics are a bit stunted (i know, it’s a Christmas song, so there’s only so much you can do) and it includes the lines “that’s why they invented trains” and “that’s why they invented stars. I got no need for cars“. Thank goodness for this insight, now we know.
Cliff’s huge 1988 Christmas hit Mistletoe And Wine follows this, and it’s that familiar Cliff territory. The song evokes a polar response, but I’m happy with this track. It comes with good childhood memories for me, and therefore I can see through it’s twee lyrics, the cheesiness of that choir, and the Christian ideals.
Christmas Never Comes follows this, opening with a lovely violin and piano duet. Cliff arrives, and sings softly alongside the piano. The song builds nicely, with bass and strings dropping in as we lead to the chorus. It’s a nice little gentle song.
The album’s first sleigh bells arrive in the opener to next song Christmas Alphabet. It’s a slightly nauseating simple song, and keeps it safe by just repeating its spelling out of Christmas. It’s not particularly an interesting song, and even Cliff sounds a bit bored by the repetition.
That’s followed by earlier hit Saviour’s Day, which gave Cliff a UK #1 single in 1990. Aside from your feelings towards a Saviour, Cliff puts in a great performance, and the music is right up there with him. Here he sings of time passing and the winter, and the music fits perfectly with this mood. The synths are well placed, and Cliff gets to show off his vocal range.
Saxophone leads us into next song The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You), which starts off sounding like the intro to a mid-morning magazine show but then gives way to a piano-laden pop version with Cliff singing these well trodden lyrics. He makes light work of these, and saunters through just as much as the saxophone does. The end result is quite a nice leisurely little song.
Little Town follows this, and we’re treated to lots of sleigh bells, little flourishes of brass. The arrangement of this traditional song by Chris Eaton, results in a really nice song. It’s loaded with instruments, and the melody takes a diversion from the usual route.
Next is the New Zealand and European single Scarlet Ribbons, and was not released in the UK. Thank goodness – it’s messy, disorientating and almost reggae in style. Next!
A version of Silent Night follows this. It has synth layers bleeping in the distance which are a nice touch, and a funky bass but with Cliff singing the song traditionally, it feels like such a waste of a nice track, and of Cliff’s performance. Mid way through, some modern lyrics give us two verses about ‘kissed the kids goodnight‘ and ‘we drink a last hot coffee‘ which just makes this song sound even more like it was two ideas that got pushed into one. Had Cliff performed this song with a simple track, and the modern part been a separate song, then I reckon both would have fared better. It feels a bit disjointed with the new part.
Next is White Christmas and it opens with tinkling synths, that lead us to Cliff putting in a wonderfully warm vocal performance. It’s fairly faithful to most covers of this old song. After about 1m 40s, the track throws in some wonderful vocal harmonies allowing it to sound even closer to older recordings. The result is a lovely musical and vocal performance.
The album closes with second and final single This New Year, and again this is an original track. A simple drum machine track brings us into the first verse where Cliff takes us through a harrowing winter of ‘abandoned cars and glowing fires’ before he suddenly lifts the song with much more optimistic lyrics and brighter vocals about the coming new year. Sadly, this optimistic track failed to strike a chord with the UK public, and it got stuck at #30 in the singles chart.
Over all, the Christmas album genre pretty much needs a bit of Cliff Richard, and this is far from being the only time he’s released a Christmas album.
This album is a mixture of fresh takes of classic Christmas time songs, and some faithful covers, alongside the brace of original tracks.
Whilst the bright energy of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas sets the album up well, there’s some uneasy tracks here too. Scarlet Ribbons is definitely the low point here, and its choice as a single outside the UK was clearly a mistake. Tracks Little Town, Saviour’s Day, the opening track, and White Christmas are good strong songs that help to give the album a boost.
This album is one that you could put on in the background whilst cooking, but you would’t want to be stuck with it for your Christmas travel.
- POP RESCUE 2020 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1991 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #10, certified Platinum by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: 33p from a British Heart Foundation store.