As in 1962, the first number one of 1963 is by Cliff and his gang. New year; new Cliff? Well, kind of. His sound is changing… For the worse, mostly.
The Next Time / Bachelor Boy, by Cliff Richard (his 6th of fourteen #1s) and The Shadows (their 9th of twelve #1s)
3 weeks, from 3rd – 24th January 1963
The first thing I noticed after pressing play on ‘The Next Time’ was that there’s an awful lot of piano. Previously, no matter how bland and soppy Cliff got – and he’s been plenty bland and soppy in his five previous chart-toppers – they were all guitar-led tracks. The Shadows are here, apparently, but quite why they were deemed necessary is beyond me. If I were Hank Marvin I wouldn’t have bothered getting out of bed for this one.
Away from the instruments, Cliff is properly crooning. They say I’ll love again someday, A true love will come my way, The ne-e-e-ext time… But after you there’ll never be a next time, Fo-o-o-or me… The song unravels at a snail’s pace, the verses and chorus blending together in a soggy mush. Lord, this is dull. It sounds like something Cliff should have been releasing in his forties; not when he was twenty-two!
There are lots of recurring themes here. It isn’t the first time that The Shadows have had their name on a disc to which their contribution was minimal (see ‘Travellin’ Light’.) It isn’t the first time that Cliff – the man who just three years ago was being hailed as Britain’s great rock ‘n’ roll hope – has released bland, saccharine crap (see ‘I Love You’.) But the more it happens the less I find I have the patience to listen to it.
By the time Cliff’s gone all nineties Hugh Grant, mumbling that he’s Still so very much in love… I’m over it. Grow some balls, Clifford. I can’t think of many previous #1s that were so lacking in oomph, so in need of a kick up the backside.
Can the flip-side of this double-‘A’ redeem it? Well, straight away I’m getting strong whiffs of ‘Whatever Will Be Will Be’, both in the lilting rhythm and in the lyrics. When I was young, My father said, ‘Son I have something to say…’ And what he told me, I’ll never forget, Until my dying day… What is it that his dad imparts, in this testosterone-fuelled ‘Que Sera Sera?’ Well… Son you are a bachelor boy, And that’s the way to stay, Son you be a bachelor boy, Until your dying day…
Why his father is so anti-marriage is not explored, which is a shame, but Cliff wastes no time in putting Pop’s wise words into action. When I was sixteen, I fell in love, With a girl as sweet as can be, But I remembered just in time, What my daddy said to me… There’s no suggestion that he is staying unattached for any kind of racy, sow-my-wild-oats kind of reasons. No, not our saintly Cliff. He concedes, grudgingly, that he probably will fall in love eventually; though he doesn’t sound thrilled at the prospect. Until then though he’s Happy to be a bachelor boy… so on and so forth.
It’s better than ‘The Next Time’, but that’s a very low bar to get over. It’s faster paced, and at two minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. I suppose this song would have been forgotten completely in the canon of British pop, even in the canon of Cliff, if it hadn’t become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: Sir Cliff has famously never married. Never even had a serious girlfriend, it seems. Which means that every time the ‘Daily Mail’ runs a story about Cliff and one of his female friends they will, without fail and to this very day, though he’s pushing eighty, trot out the ‘Bachelor Boy’ headlines. I bet he wishes he’d never recorded the bloody song.
Of course, there have always been rumours that Cliff is something of a ‘confirmed bachelor’, ‘not the marrying kind’, a ‘friend of you-know-who’ if you know what I mean, nudge, nudge… And people always argue that, in these enlightened times, he should just come out with it. But when you’ve been courting the evangelical Christian market for decades, and risk losing the only people that still buy your records in doing so… Anyway, all this is neither here nor there. The fact that I’ve started blethering on about this rather than the chart-topping record in question is a sign that I should wrap up.
Both ‘The Next Time’ and ‘Bachelor Boy’ featured on the soundtrack to ‘Summer Holiday’ – Cliff’s latest box-office smash (the 2nd biggest movie of 1963). And I hope you’re ready for more from Cliff and more from The Shadows, because they are going to utterly dominate the first three months of this year. Yay….