Are they the lemmings, or are you Cliff?

22:47, Jan 23 2013

I'm looking forward to seeing Cliff Richard. He's playing here on Monday. OK, his voice won't be as it was - and frankly he has some horrific songs. But he has a lot of great songs too. Far more than most people would ever want to give him credit for in this day and age; it's just easier to laugh him off, I guess.

He's a guy who's been delivering number one records every decade since the 1950s - that's some feat.

Few could argue with Move It - yes, it's his aim to sound like Elvis Presley and particularly Little Richard and so much of the early rock'n'roll that was hitting from America. In fact the man born Harry Rodger Webb chose the name Cliff Richard because cliff is the edge of a rock, a reference to rock'n'roll, and the Richard part is in tribute to Little Richard.

Move It is a good song. Yes, it was replaced by so many other good songs by other people, some pretenders, some the real deal (even if only fleetingly), but you listen to Move It now and it's still got something. It's got groove and heart and soul and it hums. It's both slick and raw. It's vital. It sings. And Cliff sings. And he's good. Really good.

We all know a few of the hit singles from the era with The Shadows - and again you can laugh off Bachelor Boy, Summer Holiday, Living Doll, The Next Time and On the Beach if you want to. But they're good songs. Cute, twee, of their time. But I reckon they still work. Maybe not every time, but more often than not.

I'm not a huge fan of the Cliff/Shadows era/sound though. I liked The Shadows as an instrumental combo over their work as a backing band.


The thing I respect about Cliff is that he's a pop star. And he knows what a pop star is supposed to do - play their part in creating pop hits. And he did that.

His return in the mid-70s, made over - with just a whiff of a hint of a tinge of disco-glam - as a tweaked/hopped-up, lit and loaded version of the young Cliff-Fifties-Rocker was a masterstroke. The real piece of work here is that Cliff remained a bachelor boy, a non-boozer, a no-drugs paragon of Christian virtue. You might have thought it would take all sorts of white lines and Sunday mornings coming down to get into that get up and get on with those songs. But no, as it turns out. Not the case at all.

So you listen to Devil Woman - a brilliant song - and it's all the more bent, all the more twisted, for the fact that Mr Straight-laced cut it. Your Ariel Pinks and Fergus & Geronimos of today would love to have a hit like that; or (even) a hit with that.

In fact the best trick, I find, for a heightened appreciation of the great Cliff songs from this period - and it's the start of a brilliant period - is to imagine Neil Young singing the verses. Or imagine that Cliff is impersonating Neil Young singing the verses. Go back to Devil Woman (there, I'll even provide the link again). Now close your eyes and, er, think of Neil Young. See. Brilliant, right? Or - should I say - even more brilliant.

It works with Carrie too. Another very strong song.

The best introduction to the world of Cliff Richard - at his peak - is The Private Collection, a double album/cassette tape (or shortened single CD - boo!) that covers 1979-1988. Okay, there are two important points to note about this brilliant compilation. First, it does not include Devil Woman. Sadly. But what are you going to do? That was a hit back in 1976. And then there were quiet-ish years until Cliff really got on a roll from 1979. Second, the album is - largely - rubbish.

But wait, I just said it was brilliant. And it is. Because it shows Cliff's soppy, wet failures alongside the shining pop gems. It is a mixed bag. It contains a lot of kack. But it also showcases some great songs. Things can be both brilliant and rubbish. Many things are.

And here's a thought - it may not be a popular one - but I reckon Cliff had a better 1980s than Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young (but you can always imagine Neil singing Cliff's songs - just the verses - and that'll help) and, it probably should go without saying, but I'll say it, he definitely had a better 1980s than John Lennon.

So many of the big-name musicians from the 1960s and 1970s struggled across the 1980s. They had one or two hits, towards the end of the decade Dylan, Reed and Young all got back on track, but really it was a lost decade for them all. And yet Cliff, who had made his name up to a decade earlier than any of them, nailed the 1980s.

As was the case for most musicians, the 1980s actually started for Cliff in 1979.

And We Don't Talk Anymore is the golden hit from that year. Yes, yes, it is all a little bit Hi-Di-Hi, a bit summer holiday (and a bit) camp. But I still like it. Strong song I reckon.

And then into 1980 there's Carrie - covered already, great tune. And Dreamin'. There's also the killer duet with Olivia Newton John, Suddenly, from her movie Xanadu. Top tune. Don't fight it. It's bigger than all of us.

And then in 1981 Wired for Sound has Cliff hip enough to never pay the door-charge at Wellington bar Mighty Mighty. And he's so indiscriminate, but so totally passionate, about his speaker set-up.

He also delivered a giant hit in the mid-1980s by retracing Living Doll with The Young Ones. It's cartoonish and grotesque but I loved it because I loved the show. And I still like it. Because I still like the show. And Rick did a lot for Cliff appreciation, I'll bet.

It might be a case of Extra For Experts but give She's So Beautiful a go if you haven't. It's actually pretty good.

But the last really great - big - hit of the 1980s for Cliff was Some People. You might have heard it one too many times in a doctors' waiting room but that's not the song's fault.

So if Cliff delivers a set built entirely from the tunes I've mentioned here on Monday night I'm on for one of the best gigs of 2013, easy money.

But this is Cliff Richard we're talking about (and some of you are still wondering why that is. I get that feeling already). And Cliff doesn't just do the acceptable hits. There'll be Mistletoe & Wine and Congratulations and so many toe-curlingly awful cringe moments too.


I can't wait. Four more sleeps...

So, 'fess up to your level of Cliff Richard fandom. There must be plenty of closet fans out there, I figure. Be honest - you must like some of Cliff's great tunes, right?

The last thing I liked was this Stock, Aitken, Waterman gem that sums up the entire career of SClub7 roughly a decade before they even existed. And I can't even tell you why I like that. There's no acceptable reason to like it. But I do.

So - how about you? What are your favourite Cliff Richard songs/eras? And anyone else going to the show? Have you seen him before? Had enough, Nazis, or do you want some more?

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