Cliff Richard

TrackAlbum
Move ItCliff / Columbia 45 DB 4178
Living DollColumbia 45 DB 4306
Please Don’'t TeaseColumbia 45 DB 4479
The Young OnesThe Young Ones OST
Do You Wanna DanceColumbia 45 DB 4828
Summer HolidaySummer Holiday OST
Devil WomanI'’m Nearly Famous
We Don’'t Talk AnymoreRock '‘n'’ Roll Juvenile
Whenever God Shines His LightAvalon Sunset
From A DistanceFrom A Distance: The Event

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Contributor: Peter Viney

100 albums exactly by September 2013. 47 studio, 7 soundtracks, 11 live and 35 compilations, but I wouldn’t really count compilations. 154 singles. 46 EPs. More EPs than any other artist, British or American. Fourteen UK #1 hits (at the time of writing). It’s a mountain. What percentage of it have I even heard? What percentage of that can I actually remember? How can you possibly approach it sensibly and extract ten songs?

Early on, I suggested Cliff as a Toppermost, but it was rightly felt that it needed someone with a more comprehensive and detailed knowledge than me. But one having failed to turned up, I’m going to have a go, and comments and alternative tens can be added below. Of course it’s biased. Cliff dominated five years of my listening early on. I have stood in line for Cliff Richard tickets as a gift for my sister-in-law, who often has the latest Cliff for Christmas, and I think it fair to say that the keen Cliff fan is a different constituency to those who browse lists of rock on the internet. I’m happy to be proved wrong. Cliff fans are deeply loyal.

It’s singles biased, but so is Cliff, ever keen to get those number ones. But with 154 singles, all with B-sides, that’s still a lot to choose from.

There are many positive feelings. Some of my happiest teenage moments were spent watching The Young Ones and Summer Holiday, both endlessly repeated at the local News Theatre, which was basically a teen snogging venue with films on constant rotation all day. So you could watch a film twice on a cold wet night. I liked the films so much that I timed to arrive as the main feature started, leaving the heaviest snogging for the Edgar Lustgarten Presents B-movie and so watched the songs with attention. I struggled to pick out Travellin’ Light and Please Don’t Tease on guitar. When it finally emerged forty years late, the abandoned 1962 live album Live At The ABC Kingston 1962 proved to be one of the best live recordings dating from that era, with The Shadows acquitting themselves superbly backing Cliff. I respect and admire his persistence and stamina, and agree that it’s a calumny that snotty major label record executives declined to release his singles in recent years, and even worse that radio stations castigated DJs who did play him. Just a few weeks ago I heard him on Clive Anderson’s Radio Four show, calmly side-stepping the inevitable joshing, then doing a solo Move It accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, leaving us amazed that he was that good a guitar player as well as retaining his voice.

There are negatives, and I know from the writing I’m doing on record collecting what some are. There are an awful lot of unwanted Cliff LPs in cardboard boxes in charity shops. The Silver Hits collection, Almost Guaranteed and Wired For Sound are easily found. However, other LPs, like The 31st Of February Street never turn up, and are sought after. I’m Nearly Famous, Rock ‘n’ Roll Juvenile and Silver aren’t rare, but they don’t end up in the cardboard boxes on the floor under the musty old overcoats because they’re three of his best. It’s true that once Cliff singles reach picture sleeves in the early 70s, they are not in the slightest collectible. On the other hand early EPs and singles are valued, though Cliff is said to be the only artist where reissue singles are sought more than originals. I guess that, like Cliff, they’re cleaner.

In Record Collector (December 2012) Mo Foster, the top session player, mentions a 1978 Cliff tour. He said:

It was good fun, and good company, though we weren’t supposed to swear in front of Cliff. And good music, except for one tune, All In The Game, that I kept making mistakes on … Cliff surprised me by politely asking if I had a problem with the song. I must have been tired and abstracted because my answer was, “I’m sorry, Cliff, but it’s so fucking boring.” Back to the sessions!

And like Mo Foster, some Cliff songs are anathema to me. I loathe Congratulations almost as much as I loathe Engelbert’s Release Me. I can’t stand Bachelor Boy, that song title being a gift to forty odd years of tabloid headline writers. I don’t like It’s All In The Game in Cliff’s version. Nor The Twelfth Of Never. I could run up a “Bottom-most” at great length pretty fast, with lots of early 70s religious stuff, but that is not the point.

Throughout, Cliff has sourced good writers, relying often on the same associates: Marvin, Welch & Farrar for starters, plus Terry Brittan, Alan Tamay. He’s also kept up to date … Jagger & Richards, Cook & Greenaway, Don Everly, Neil Diamond, Raymond Froggat, Julie Gold, Bob Crewe, Barry Gibb, Alan Gorrie, Albert Hammond, Carole Bayer Sager, Mike Batt, Tim Rice, B.A. Robertson and he’s been backed by the best session people (including, of course, The Shadows).

OK, let’s justify the ten.

Move It had been planned as the B-side of Schoolboy Crush, until Jack Good astutely made singing Move It a condition for appearing on the TV show Oh, Boy! in 1958. Producer Norrie Paramour had a knack for choosing the wrong A-sides for Cliff. Move It is a contender for the first credible original British rock single. The guitar playing from Marvin, Welch and Harris was a major part of the success, but Cliff does rock. Selections from those early rock TV shows have been issued on a CD, with both Six Five Special and Oh, Boy! selections. It’s noticeable that after the semi jump-jive played by the old session guys on the earlier show, Cliff and The Drifters/Shadows on Oh, Boy! are immediately tighter, louder, more authentic.

Living Doll was his first number one, in 1959, written by Lionel Bart, and it definitely doesn’t rock, but sets a pattern for the light voiced unthreatening boy next door Cliff. I was tempted to choose the rocking and very good B-side, Apron Strings, instead, but I used to know so many filthy alternative lyrics to Living Doll that it summons up the era too powerfully to skip it.

Please Don’t Tease has always been my favourite Cliff song of all. I’m amazed no one has done a successful (and faithful) cover version, though Cliff redid it as a B-side in 1978, and on album in 2009. I’d love to hear it done in full Everly Brothers/CSN style with massed acoustic guitars, and a sexier vocal, but it’s pretty fine as it is. There’s the timing, the sense of Cliff floating across the song, but still hitting the rhythmic points perfectly.

The Young Ones is the perfect early 60’s pop song. Pop certainly, not rock and nowhere near it, but with the tingle of early teenage built in. To live, love, while the flame is strong, because we may not be, the young ones very long … OK, there’s this old theatre that’s going to be demolished. We need to save it. Let’s put on a show! Whaddya know? We gotta show? … a cliché, but the best teen flick realization of that cliché ever.

Do You Wanna Dance? The rock snob would have to choose the Bobby Freeman original. I have that on 45 and CD too. And by the Beach Boys, Del Shannon, Johnny Rivers, The Mamas & The Papas, John Lennon, David Lindley. But really, I do like Cliff’s version best. Possibly it’s familiarity. Similarly, Willie & The Hand Jive was the B-side of Fall In Love With You. A friend was recording the song and I assembled half a dozen versions for him running from Johnny Otis’s originals via The Flying Burrito Bros to The Band. Cliff’s version stands its ground with all of them. Like Move It, it’s technically a B-side, to I’m Lookin’ Out The Window which it surpasses with ease. It opens Live At The ABC Kingston 1962 too.

Summer Holiday. 1963. I thought we needed to show the range of Cliff, and in that case you might choose between The Young Ones and Summer Holiday as similar, but I have to have both. Jaunty teen expectation fuels the great summer songs like Here Comes Summer and Summertime Blues. A deserved member of the best of the genre, and the jauntiest of the lot! The one I nearly replaced it with is Gee Whizz It’s You an oddity from Me & My Shadows that was only issued as an export single, but was reimported in sufficient quantities to make the Top Ten.

Devil Woman raised a few eyebrows in 1976 and came from I’m Nearly Famous. It’s also his biggest American hit. Cliff had had EMI withdraw Honky Tonk Angel in 1974 when he discovered that the angel in question was a lady of the night rather than a chap tinkling the ivories on a honky tonk piano. He made a public fuss too (though in 2008 he started playing it again). Devil Woman competes with I Can’t Ask For Anymore Than You from the same album as choice. I’m drawn to the latter’s Bee Gee-like feel with falsetto section contrasted with deep extended bass. But the false-Americana of Devil Woman is a contrast with other work.

We Don’t Talk Anymore. 1979. The late 70s were more appealing than the Eurovision style late 60s, or overtly pious early 70s. There are two Cliff singles with ‘anymore’ spelled in my preferred way, and both being hits, that actually influences those dictionaries which still insist on two words, ‘any more’. After it was a hit, it was belatedly added to Rock ‘n’ Roll Juvenile, the album Cliff considers his best. Carrie from the same album was a contender. We Don’t Talk Anymore was one of his biggest international hits too.

Whenever God Shines His Light in 1989 was a duet with Van Morrison on Van’s Avalon Sunset. Van Morrison retained an affection for the singers of the early 60s: Lonnie Donegan, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones. Is it cheating to include it? It’s a great melody and the contrast between the two voices, with Cliff spookily sounding the younger, is a major part of its appeal.

From A Distance. 1990. This song was made famous by Nanci Griffith, though written by Julie Gold. Bette Midler did a significant cover version, as did the reformed Byrds, then Elaine Paige. It’s a pretty melody, somewhat swamped by Midler. We wanted to record a new version for an educational textbook (English As A Foreign Language) and sat down with several versions, and Cliff’s live version, to our amazement, leapt out at us. We had also had an issue with the lyric (the voice of every man) as educational publishers fight very shy of ‘man’ to refer to both genders. Cliff had changed it to the voice of every one and made it fit perfectly. An excellent rocked-up over-the-top version with full orchestra, even if I’d take Nanci Griffith’s version first.

Because of Cliff’s penchant for re-doing songs at special anniversaries, especially in recent years, there are later studio versions of several early hits. The Cliff Richard & The Shadows 50th Anniversary Album Reunited reprises early hits, in 2009. The trouble is listening back to back with the early hits is that the voice, while still crystal clear and hitting every note, is a tad weaker and older, and the advance in recording means louder bass and drums which don’t sound as good as the teen-played originals. Only Hank B. Marvin’s guitar comes off as ‘just as good’. There’s also the recent Soulicious duets album, which had several tempting cuts because like Whenever God Shines His Light, it’s interesting to hear his highly-distinctive voice set against powerful soul voices.

My selection leans to the middle. Hard as he may try, it’s a good few years since Cliff convinced me at rock, and I’m not one for the ballads. By ‘middle’ I mean pop. Last word to Tony Parsons in The Independent:

If you don’t like at least some Cliff Richard, you don’t like pop music.

 

Great B-sides

Both Move It and Do You Wanna Dance were B-sides that got flipped, as was Bachelor Boy (B-side of The Next Time). These three all charted under their own titles. These are some early Cliff ‘Killer Bs’:

Move It (Schoolboy Crush)
Apron Strings (Living Doll)
Dynamite (Travellin’ Light)
Willie & The Hand Jive (Fall In Love With You)
“D” in Love (I Love You)
We Say Yeah (The Young Ones)
Do You Wanna Dance (I’m Looking Out The Window)
Dancing Shoes (Summer Holiday)
Bachelor Boy (The Next Time: I don’t like it, but millions do)

 

The Official Cliff Richard Website

Cliff Richard Fan Club

Cliff Richard biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #156

5 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Jan 2, 2014

    Great list. I’d be tempted to put in somewhere Livin’ Doll with the Young Ones (the comedy group) which showed Cliff could laugh at himself. I also am a bit partial to ‘Wired For Sound’, but that might be an age thing… It was a big hit here (Australia) when I was about 12.

  2. Ian Ashleigh
    Jan 2, 2014

    I congratulate Peter for the posting – you have risen to the challenge admirably.

    Like David, I would also include Wired for Sound but think I am 10 years older than him because I associate it with my involvement with Hospital Radio at Edgware General during that period. I also liked Carrie (doesn’t live here anymore) from the same time and the summer I spent as a delivery driver for a motor spares firm in a van that had a radio – a warm summer and slidey doors open!

    Two mid-1960s memories are In The Country (more for its radio airplay than its quality) and The Day I Met Marie which I still love and which brings back memories of a summer when I was 8 or 9.

  3. Rob Millis
    Jan 2, 2014

    Bravely tackled Peter, for several reasons. We ALL know that Sir Cliff has produced at least 75% dross in his time, but with that 25% including Move It (as you say, the first credible homegrown rock and roll single, in fact one of only about half a dozen I’d guess, were you to look among The Pirates and Joe Brown too) and the “last gasp of pre-Beatle” that was Summer Holiday/Young Ones, of course that 25% deserves a fair hearing, without so much as a smirk or raised eyebrow.

    And indeed a timely reminder that your average Cliff diehard IS far too partisan to rely upon. Never would they have it that Wired For Sound is an atrocity – which I agree it most definitely is – so your “approach with caution, but more fool you if you don’t approach at all” err… approach… is bang on the money.

  4. David Lewis
    Jan 3, 2014

    I think it’s Elijah Wald who stated the big difference betweeen many early US rock and rollers and others (particularly the UK but it applies to France and Australia and others too) is that the great US performers were driven by the tension between sin and salvation. That YouTube clip though, suggests the gap was closer than perhaps that seems.

  5. Colin Duncan
    Jan 5, 2014

    I think the list and the accompanying article are both excellent. Cliff is part of the British popular music story. Genuine British rock and roll is short lived and Cliff is an important part of this era. Not Mums and Dads’ music played by jazzers. Like David and Ian, I think Wired For Sound, Carrie and Living Doll are great tracks. Musical instruments were hard to get. I think Cliff had the first Stratocaster in Britain. I remember reading an Alex Harvey biography where it was decribed how difficult it was to get a bass guitar instead of an upright bass just after this era. The downpoint to Cliff for me was several later recordings, including when he recorded The Lord’s Prayer to the tune of Auld Lang Syne and thought it was a great idea. A really good article.

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