Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cliff Richard

I remember around the age of 9 or 10 suddenly discovering the joys of pop music. Like with so many other youngsters in Ireland at the time, a special status was attached to late night listening on Radio Luxembourg. So I soon prided myself on being well versed on everything new emerging on the pop scene.

So I can still remember the humiliation I experienced when chatting with some school pals in St. Anne's Park in Dublin after a football match. A newcomer who was in a junior class had joined the group and immediately asked me "Well! What do you think of Cliff Richard"? I tried to correct him suggesting that he meant Little Richard! However he was quite sure that it was not Little Richard to whom he was referring! So I had to own up to my shame that I had not heard of Cliff!

This was back in 1958 and Cliff's first single "Move It" had just been released. Needless to say I became quickly aware of Cliff after this episode and remarkably he is still going strong 55 years later.

He is due to give a concert in Dublin next June. So just for old time sake I decided to try and book some tickets. However within a brief few minutes of going on-sale online they were all sold out!

So this testifies to how popular he still is! And this popularity is richly deserved, as over his career he has accumulated an unparalleled number of hits in the UK (about 150) and has been equally popular here in Ireland. Also he is never less than fully professional in everything he does whether it be recording, granting interviews or performing live for his fans.

"Move It" is unusual in that it is not really typical of Cliff's work. It clearly was influenced by Elvis Presley and really comes across as Cliff's answer to "Heartbreak Hotel". And he does a darn good job too! However he was quickly to find greater popularity by moving more mainstream recording a stream of excellent pop records during the 1960's (ably abetted by his backing group "The Shadows" who became immensely popular in their own right). Among his best from this time (ably mixing up-tempo with easy listening material are "Please Don't Tease","The Young Ones", "The Next Time", "Don't Talk to Him" and the lesser known "The Day I Met Marie".

Indeed there was to be some consolation for my previous ignorance of Cliff!
The official Irish pop charts started to be aired in 1962. In the early days this was associated with a radio competition whereby listeners were invited to place the next week's top 10 in correct order. Normally it required at least 6 to be in the right positions to win. I felt confident about this type of challenge and came very close on a few occasions to winning before finally being successful.

And I remember the prize that I won was the "Wonderful Life" album by Cliff!

By the beginning of the 1970's Cliff, while retaining his popularity as a personality started to fade as regards hits. Undoubtedly some of this was due to the promotion of his Christian beliefs which seem to deflect his focus from what was required in terms of remaining commercially successful. 

However Cliff then re-invented himself making a marvellous comeback with some of his best work e.g."Miss You Nights" "Devil Woman" and "We Don't Talk Anymore" cracking the US market in the process.

There then followed what I would consider his golden period through the early 80's where he brought out a succession of superbly produced singles (all of a very high standard). Not surprisingly there was somewhat of a lull after that though he did acquire a number of huge seasonal sellers such as "Mistletoe and Wine", "St. Saviour's Day" and "The Millennium Prayer" (his last really big hit).

His productivity in terms of albums (pop and gospel) and singles has been truly incredible. Indeed recently he has released his 100th album "The Fabulous Rock and Roll Songbook" which sees him return to his early rock and roll roots. He has also duetted with many others such as Elton John, Van Morrison, Olivia Newton John and perhaps most notably with Sarah Brightman.

Now it would be very difficult nominating Cliff's best track from such an extensive and varied body of work. Instead I will highlight just two truly superb songs that are not generally mentioned.

The first is "Ocean Deep". This came out in the early to mid 80's as a B side to one of his singles "Baby You're Dynamite" (though it did subsequently attract some attention).

I remember first hearing it on a coach in Italy while travelling back to the airport after holidaying there where it made a huge and lasting impression. It is really a superb song (with an equally superb production) which should have been a huge hit in it's own right.

The other track is "Such is the Mystery" which was originally included on Cliff's great 70's comeback album "I'm Nearly Famous" which includes other great - and very varied - tracks such as "Miss You Nights", "Devil Woman" and the superb Tamla Motown sounding "I Can't Ask for Anything More than You".

This was originally recorded by the singer songwriter John Dawson Read (whose own version is very much worth listening to!) However it is a song that is ideally suited to Cliff, combining both pop and religious type sentiments and he gives a superb interpretation of this song (with its unusually meaningful lyrics). The gorgeous string finale at the end then elevates it to an even higher plane of sensibility.

If I had to nominate my favourite Cliff recording this - perhaps surprisingly - would be it!