And they said that Cliff didn't have a prayer...

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The Independent Culture

Sir Cliff Richard last night went to the top of the charts singing The Lord's Prayer to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne". Future students of the fin-de-siÿcle zeitgeist will have to make up their own minds as to what this says about Britain on the eve of a new millennium.

Sir Cliff Richard last night went to the top of the charts singing The Lord's Prayer to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne". Future students of the fin-de-siÿcle zeitgeist will have to make up their own minds as to what this says about Britain on the eve of a new millennium.

If Sir Cliff's success with this song in the face of almost universal apathy and hostility from radio stations is remarkable, then consider this: should the song remain at the top at the turn of the year, Sir Cliff will have had number one singles in six different decades.

It is to be hoped that none of this will go to the head of the Prime Minister, or that he will now see himself as a "hitmaker". Nevertheless, it is true that Sir Cliff discussed making the record with Tony Blair and told him he would be donating all proceeds to the charity Children's Promise.

The idea appealed to the PM rather more than it did to Sir Cliff's record company EMI, who did not release the record. Instead, Sir Cliff took it to an independent company, Papillon; Radio 2 and other stations refused to put it on their playlist; Sir Cliff hired a highly proactive press agent to encourage newspaper articles on the theme of "Big record company and big radio stations versus the man who just wants to sing about God"; Sir Cliff eventually got to sing it on An Audience with Cliff Richard on ITV, and his management mailed churches asking them to publicise the record to their congregations. Church groups also plugged the single to each other over the Internet.

Sir Cliff must be musing that it was a lot easier in the days of "Living Doll". Before the row over "Millennium Prayer", Cliff tried earlier this year to get around what he claimed was an ageist plot to keep him off the air by sending out a remixed version of his single "Can't Keep This Feeling In" under the name Black Knight.

"Millennium Prayer" is Sir Cliff's 121st hit and his first number one since 1990. In reaching number one the 59-year-old sold 6,000 more copies than Boyzone.

Whether or not it is the shock of his success, Sir Cliffis going to take next year off to reflect. He might reflect that he is once again a pin-up. Britain's largest calendar company Danilo, which compiles its sales charts in the run-up to Christmas, found Sir Cliff was ahead of Boyzone at number two, and footballer Michael Owen at number three. Religion, celibacy and being on a strict diet for 35 years clearly have their rewards.

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