441. ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’, by Cliff Richard

Twenty years to the day from his very first number one hit, ‘Living Doll’, and over eleven years since his last, Sir Clifford of Richard is back, back, back…

We Don’t Talk Anymore, by Cliff Richard (his 10th of fourteen #1s)

4 weeks, from 19th August – 16th September 1979

The first thing that strikes my ears is how modern this sounds – synths are now just an accepted part of the musical landscape – but also how retro. Especially in the verses, it sounds like one of his old rock ‘n’ roll hits dressed up for the late-seventies. Used to think that life was sweet, Used to think we were so complete… he sings over a simple guitar riff, while hand claps enter later on.

It’s a canny move from Cliff and his record label to release a song like this, one that straddles the sort of easy-listening cheese you expect from the man, but that also slots in perfectly with the sound of the time. The chorus is a belter: It’s so funny, How we don’t talk anymore… At certain points in the song I’m getting hints of Billy Joel, then Hall and Oates, but by the chorus Cliff’s giving us pure Elton John: No I ain’t losin’ sleep, And I ain’t countin’ sheep…!

The synths are maybe a bit tinny – though that’s perhaps because I still have the Tubeway Army ringing in my ears – but aside from that I’m not ashamed to admit that this is a tune. I knew it vaguely, because my mum is a big Cliff fan, but had never properly listened to it. Richard sounds like he’s having a lot of fun, and his falsetto after the post-chorus drop is perhaps the best five seconds from any of his fourteen chart-toppers. Damn it… Cliff sounds… Cool! And then the fade-out has actual hard rock guitars. Hard rock. Cliff Richard. What a moment…

I am amazed to discover that he was still only thirty-eight when ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’ made the top. In my mind, Cliff was a teenage idol for a few years, before waking up one day around 1965 as an old man. Anyway, as young as he still was, this record marked a bit of a comeback for him after a decade in which he’d struggled for hits. It was his first Top 10 single since ‘Devil Woman’ in 1976, and is possibly his biggest hit internationally: a #1 across Europe, and a #7 in the US – only his 2nd release to get that high in the States.

Cliff is famous for managing UK number one singles in five consecutive decades – a feat that nobody else has ever managed – but he left it late in the ‘70s. In a nice touch, the record that kept the run going was produced by Bruce Welsh from his long-time backing band The Shadows, with whom he shared so many ‘60s hits. Amazingly, this is the decade in which Cliff has fewest chart-toppers: in both the eighties and nineties he’ll manage two, while his final #1 is another twenty years away. Whatever you think of the man, his beliefs, and his music… There’s no denying his legend.

And there’s no denying that this might be the best of his fourteen chart-toppers. I say that because none of his earlier hits truly grabbed me – though I do like the rockabilly ‘Please Don’t Tease’ and the unashamed cheese of ‘Congratulations’ – and because I know… shudder… what’s to come… Yes, Cliff’s far from done featuring in this countdown; but I will be nowhere near as generous with his final chart-toppers…!

248. ‘Congratulations’, by Cliff Richard

Just what we needed – a bit of Cliff. 1968 has so far been a year in which everything and everyone has had a go at #1, and Sir Clifford doesn’t need to be asked twice before claiming his ninth number one single.

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Congratulations, by Cliff Richard (his 9th of fourteen #1s)

2 weeks, from 10th – 24th April 1968

I’d say that this, along with ‘Summer Holiday’ and ‘Mistletoe and Wine’, are the quintessential Cliff hits. The ones that people would go for if you shoved a microphone in their face and yelled ‘Name a Cliff Richard song!’ I know without even checking that this was one of the songs he sang during that rain delay at Wimbledon. Peak Cliff.

It goes without saying that ‘Congratulations’ is complete and utter cheese. It blasts into life with a goofy grin, all horns and handclaps, sounding like the theme song to the campest game show never commissioned. Congratulations, And celebrations, When I tell everyone that you’re in love with me… It also goes without saying that it’s pretty irresistible.

The big drums, the whimsical strings, the jaunty guitar, the music hall horns… It’s pop at its most disposable; yet also at its purest. ‘Congratulations’ is a song that exists to make people smile and tap their feet – a song that would get a reaction out of anyone aged between seven and ninety-seven. Congratulations, And jubilations, I want the world to know how happy I can be…

And, unlike some of the snoozers Cliff was releasing towards the end of his imperial phase – ‘The Next Time’, ‘The Minute You’re Gone’ and the like – at least it’s upbeat. I especially like when it slows down and Cliff starts doing the can-can (in my mind at least…) I do wish they’d kept it up and gone for a big, bawdy brass finish.

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It’s tempting to see this as a comeback for Cliff – his 1st #1 in three years. But that would be to rewrite history. Between ‘The Minute You’re Gone’ and ‘Congratulations’ he had managed to score six Top 10s. Just because he wasn’t topping the charts with every release doesn’t mean he had gone anywhere. He was a still huge presence, and would continue to be for the next forty-odd years. But, after a year in which Engelbert, Petula Clark, Tom Jones et al had taken easy-listening back to the top of the charts, perhaps he felt safe enough to stop trying to catch The Beatles and to just settle into middle-of-the-road comfort. Maybe this is the exact moment that Cliff the rocker finally is laid to rest, and Cliff the housewives’ favourite is born?

‘Congratulations’ was famously the British entry to the Eurovision Song Contest in ’68, in which they were defending the crown won by Sandie Shaw’s ‘Puppet on a String’ the year before. It was the hot favourite, but was beaten at the last by the Spanish entry ‘La La La’. Rumours abounded that the result had been fixed on the orders of Franco himself! But still, ‘Congratulations’ was a huge hit across Europe – #1 from Norway to Belgium, to Spain itself.

Looking back, we’ve only gone nine years since Cliff’s first chart-topper ‘Living Doll’, but so, so much has changed. Rock ‘n’ roll has died, been revived, died again… Merseybeat, R&B, Soul and Folk have all been the order of the day. Meanwhile, Cliff has stayed afloat just by being Cliff. Fortunately / Unfortunately (delete as appropriate) we won’t hear from him now for another eleven years…

Behind the #1s – Norrie Paramor

We’ve covered 210 chart-toppers so far in this countdown, going from the very first chart through to Nancy Sinatra and her boots in early 1966. And it’s only fair that we turn our attention to the man that, up to now, has been involved in more of these #1 singles than anybody else, more than Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Bacharach and David…! Norrie Paramor.

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Born in 1913, Paramor had worked as a pianist and arranger through the thirties and forties, before being appointed recording director at EMI in 1952 – the very year that the singles chart he was to help shape began. Having developed his sound during the light-programme, easy listening days, Paramor was perfectly positioned to help the pre-rock stars sway (albeit gently). He was responsible for trumpeter Eddie Calvert’s hits, and the Northern-Irish warbler Ruby Murray’s ‘Softly, Softly’. Then there was Michael Holliday. Already a pretty impressive body of chart-topping work… And it was about to become all the more impressive, because along came Cliff.

Cliff Richard has had eight number ones so far in our countdown, all of which have been produced by Norrie Paramor. And each time I’ve complained that ‘rock ‘n’ roll Cliff’ was nowhere to be seen… Britain’s answer to Elvis etc. etc. Yeah right. He had a handful of truly rocking singles in ’58, but by the time he’d gotten down to the business of topping the charts the rock had become more of a gentle toe-tap. And a lot of that was probably down to Paramor. He wasn’t a rock ‘n’ roll producer; he was a light-entertainment, easy listening kind of guy. I get the feeling he wasn’t convinced by rock and roll, probably saw it as a fad, and was willing to allow it as long as it was successful. Still, he moulded Cliff’s sound. One wonders how Cliff would have turned out had he had someone else’s hands on the tiller…

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(An early pic of Paramor, Cliff and The Shadows)

Of course, wherever Cliff went The Shadows weren’t far off. Paramor produced all of their chart-toppers too. Which makes for a more interesting comparison of styles, as discs like ‘Kon-Tiki’ and ‘Dance On!’ were actually pretty rocking little numbers. Perhaps it’s unfair, then, to write Paramor off as a dinosaur. Add to this the fact that he also oversaw Helen Shapiro’s wonderful 1961 chart-topping double – the bubbly ‘Walkin’ Back to Happiness’ and the melodramatic ‘You Don’t Know’ – and it’s clear that he wasn’t all bad…

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(Paramor with Cliff, again, and Helen Shapiro in the early sixties)

Wait, though… On the flip side of this particular coin lies one Frank Ifield. Yep, Norrie Paramor produced all four #1s from ‘The Year of Ifield’, pre-rock’s final hurrah before The Beatles and The Pacemakers saved us all… The yodelling horror that is ‘Lovesick Blues’ remains, for me, far worse than anything that Cliff has inflicted.

A mixed bag, then, from Norrie Paramor, prolific producer of the chart’s early years. In total (I think, it’s hard to keep track) he put his name to around twenty five chart-topping singles before the seventies arrived. He also acted as musical director for the Eurovision Song Contest, and wrote multiple film scores, before passing away in 1979. And, in a sentimental twist, the artist that was sitting at #1 in the UK as Paramor drew his final breath, with his first chart-topper in over a decade, was… Cliff!

Recap: #181 – #210

We last recapped in late 1964, and the past thirty #1s have brought us right through 1965 and out the other side. The very middle of the mid-sixties. And, to be honest, we’ve been spoiled.

For example. This was a genuine, consecutive run of chart-topping singles, from the summer of ’65: ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, by The Byrds… followed by The Beatles, with ‘Help!’… then ‘I Got You Babe’… and finally ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones. No filler in between. Those singles, over the course of just nine weeks, were the top selling songs in Britain. Timeless hit after timeless hit. Songs that are still ubiquitous to this day, some fifty-five years later. Amazing.

This is why it’s good to pause, momentarily, and look back. Otherwise I’d start taking for granted the huge musical moments that are becoming almost commonplace. Dotted around elsewhere in the past year or so we’ve had non-consecutive gems too: our first Motown #1 from The Supremes, a karaoke classic from Tom Jones, the distilled essence of The Swinging Sixties TM from Nancy Sinatra and a contender for best pop song ever from The Righteous Brothers. It’s like the best all-you-can-eat buffets – you never have enough room to appreciate every morsel.

The sound of these number ones has also been moving forward at lightning speed. We’ve seen the Beat sound disintegrate into straight-up blues, folk, baroque pop, and garage rock. Glance back two years, to early 1964, and things were much more homogenous. Merseybeat followed by Merseybeat followed by – hey – more Merseybeat. And most of those discs were great. But variety is the spice of life. I’m really loathe to be one of those ‘things were much better back in the day’ types… but… compare pop music from 2019 with that of 2017 – or even 2007 – and would you see that much of a difference? Of course, everything here was new, just waiting to be discovered and experimented with. Dirges and harpsichords on hit singles? Why not!

Even the outliers, the singles that deviated from the irresistible forward thrust, had the good sense to be eclectic. Elvis returned and took us to church, Georgie Fame gave us some Latin soul, Roger Miller represented the country side of things while, in Unit 4 + 2, we had genuine one-hit wonders. We’ve also heard several more female voices than we have in past recaps: Sandie, Jackie, Nancy, Diana Ross and the gang, and a lady called Cher.

All of which means I’m struggling to dish out the more negative awards – the ‘Meh’ Award and my equivalent of a Razzie: The Very Worst Chart-Topper. But let’s not kid ourselves. I’ve not enjoyed every single song going. I struggled to get the appeal of The Seekers after hearing their bland chart-topping double. Meanwhile, Cliff returned as boring as ever… Plus there’s my unresolved childhood history with The Moody Blues, which means I want to award one to ‘Go Now!’, even though I love that one song. ‘Where Are You Now (My Love)’ was OK, though I’m struggling to really remember it, while The Overlanders’ cover of ‘Michelle’ didn’t really need to exist. And then there was Ken Dodd’s ‘Tears’ – the 3rd biggest selling single of the decade. Yes, you read that correctly. But that would be like kicking a puppy, naming that as the worst record…

I’ve got it. The ‘Meh’ Award goes to ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers. A funeral dirge, plain and simple, with some cheek for having the word ‘Carnival’ in the title. I still can’t believe it sold over a million. And the very worst of the past bunch goes to Country Cliff, for the soporific ‘The Minute You’re Gone’. Compared to some of the past ‘worst #1s’ it’s fairly inoffensive. Russ Conway, David Whitfield and Elvis in Lederhosen were much worse crimes against music. It’s just that, while everybody was twisting, Cliff was sticking, even going backwards.

Before we choose the ‘good’ awards, we should mention that over the past thirty #1s, one of the greatest ‘rivalries’ in pop music has really taken off. After the last recap, everybody was trailing in The Beatles’ wake. But… The Stones have arrived. Both bands have scored four chart-toppers in this segment. In a recent post I claimed that, for the moment, The Stones were ahead of The Fabs, just. Those of you who took the bait disagreed… But I’m sticking with it. Yes, ‘I Feel Fine’, ‘Ticket to Ride’, ‘Help!’ and ‘Day Tripper’ / ‘We Can Work It Out’ are superb records. No debate. Imperious. But look at The Stones’ four: ‘Little Red Rooster’ (authentic, full-on Blues), ‘The Last Time’ (the weakest, for sure, but still a great, swaggering rock song), ‘Satisfaction’ and then ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ (those riffs, along with a tonne of angst and venom, and general dissatisfaction with the world around them – It’s punk, metal, emo… It’s the future!) On that note, I’m going to give the ‘WTAF’ Award, the award for our more ‘out there’ #1s, to ‘Little Red Rooster’, because that’s a slice of pure Chicago blues that had no business getting to the top of the British singles charts – though I’m so glad it did.

Which just leaves the crème de la crème. As always, I’ve got it down to four. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, ‘Help!’, ‘Satisfaction’, and our most recent #1: ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’’. And I’m going to instantly eliminate The Beatles and Nancy Sinatra for being great, but just not great enough. So… Perhaps the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. The Righteous Brothers, or The Rolling Stones. I’m listening to both songs one more time as I mull…. God, why don’t I just call a tie…? No, that sets a dangerous precedent for me (in this completely unnecessary and self-imposed situation)… Ga! I love rock music, at heart. Rock ‘n’ roll always wins. As great as ‘…Lovin’ Feelin’’ is, it ain’t rock. ‘Satisfaction’ takes it.

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To recap the recaps, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows. 6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies. 7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers. 6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers. 7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield. 6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors. 7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes. 6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles. 7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.

Phew. We’ll pause for a bit, before hitting the next thirty. Thirty discs that’ll take us through the ‘Summer of Love’ and beyond. Next up, I’m going to spend a week looking at some of the people behind the #1s… Coming soon, to a blog feed near you…

192. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard

A fraction over two years since we last heard from him, Cliff’s back. What’s changed in his absence? Well… There’s been Merseybeat, for a start. The Beatles, The Pacemakers, The Searchers reinvented pop music, then The Animals and the Stones brought the blues and The Kinks brought the rock, and recently we’ve started going all jazzy, folky and a touch Baroque…

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The Minute You’re Gone, by Cliff Richard (his 8th of fourteen #1s)

1 week, from 15th – 22nd April 1965

So, has Cliff emerged from the most fertile and fast-moving period in popular music history, and taken anything from it? Has he borrowed a funky new sound from all those new kids on the block? Has he bollocks.

If anything he’s regressed. He sounded old-fashioned before; now he sounds positively pre-historic. For this latest chart-topper, Cliff’s gone… brace yourselves… country. Lilting guitars, a tinkling saloon-bar piano, backing singers last heard on a Frankie Laine record. That weird, uber-C & W whale-noise guitar in the background, last heard in ‘Rose Marie’. In 1955. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’ was recorded in Nashville, and it’s clear that Cliff dived whole-heartedly into the scene over there. I can imagine him buying his own Stetson and spurs just for the occasion, and throwing the odd ‘Howdy’ into conversation.

The minute you’re gone I cry, The minute you’re gone I die… To be honest, it took me several listens before I actually paid attention to the words… Before you walk out of sight, I’m like a child all alone at night… And I’m not sure it was worth bothering… I stare into emptiness… So on and so forth.

It’s not a terrible song. The chords are in the right place, there are verses, a bridge, a chorus… In the hands of a different singer I might have enjoyed this much more. The original singer, Sonny James, put a bit more OTT emotion into it. The very first UK chart-topper – the one and only Al Martino – lent it some of his customary gravitas. The only thing that stops Cliff’s version from finishing bottom of the ‘The Minute You’re Gone’ league table, is a sub-karaoke version by Irish grannies’ favourite Daniel O’Donnell.

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Back in 1963, I described the Mersybeat invasion as a comet that slammed into the musical landscape. A comet that killed off all the musical dinosaurs that had clogged up the charts of the early sixties. Only the very strongest would survive its sudden impact – Elvis, Roy Orbison, and Sir Cliff. Britain’s very own musical cockroach…

Harsh? A bit, maybe. It was an exaggeration to claim in my intro that Cliff had been ‘absent’ in recent years. He may not have scored a #1 since ‘Summer Holiday’, but every one of his singles, both with The Shadows and, like this one, without them, had gone Top 10. Don’t look at this record as a comeback; Cliff hadn’t been anywhere.

Who was buying his records, though? Surely not the same kids that were going wild for The Beatles and The Stones? Their mums, maybe? Their grans? I always complained about how seldom Cliff, Britain’s first rock ‘n’ roll star, actually rocked. Even as far back as his first chart-topper: the cheesy and insipid ‘Living Doll’. But maybe that was a masterstroke of foresight by him and his management. You can’t lose something you never had. Sell out from the very start…

Since starting this countdown, I’ve changed my opinion on many things. I now know that pre-rock music was far from boring, that Elvis didn’t actually invent sex, that ‘Rock Around the Clock’ didn’t open the floodgates, that instrumentals can actually be great… And yet I can’t say I’ve heard anything to convince me that Sir Clifford of Richard isn’t one of the blandest, squarest, middle-of-the-roadest artists in history…

Next!

148. ‘Summer Holiday’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows

The doors are locked, the suitcases stowed in the boot, the dog’s at the kennels. Dad starts the car and mum turns to the kids in the backseat. We’re all going on a summer holiday… she sings… No more working for a week or two…

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Summer Holiday, by Cliff Richard (his 7th of fourteen #1s) & The Shadows (their 11th of twelve #1s)

2 weeks, from 14th – 28th March / 1 week, from 4th – 11th April 1963 (3 weeks total)

Chances are, if you had any sort of semi-regular, middle-class British childhood in the latter half of the twentieth century, you will have lived through that very scene. I know I have – more than once. There can’t be many better known #1 hits than this? I’m racking my brain to think of chart-toppers that more people will know the words to, and I can come up with ‘Hey Jude’, and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’…

We’re goin’ where the sun shines brightly, We’re goin’ where the sea is blue, We’ve seen it in the movies, Now let’s see if it’s true… It’s a horrendously twee song. The jaunty guitar ‘riff’, the glockenspiel, the strings that are apparently now a constant part of Cliff’s musical journey… And those lyrics. So we’re goin’ on a summer holiday, To make our dreams come tr-u-u-u-ue… Fo-or me and you… ‘Trite’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. Then there’s the key-change, and the humming to fade. Humming!

This should be an awful song. It is awful. And yet, it’s not. Not really. Because deep down in even the hardest, most cynical and blackened hearts there remains a kernel of the-child-that-was. And that little kid, in the backseat of his family’s Ford Escort, cares not for the sickeningly perky guitar and the vomit-inducing lyrics; to him it is simply the sound of, well, the summer holidays.

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This song is Cliff doing what he does best. Cliff at his Cliffest. Peak Cliff. This will be his last chart-topper for a while, and it’s kind of fitting that we pause here. ‘Summer Holiday’ draws to an end his teeny-bopper stage – very soon he’ll be usurped by a four-piece from Liverpool as Britain’s foremost pop-act of the age. And it’s the perfect song to do so with, as any lingering hope that Cliff was Britain’s great rock ‘n’ roll hope is finally, brutally, irrevocably snuffed out in this record’s opening chords. Looking back at his seven #1s so far, only ‘Please Don’t Tease’ came anywhere close to being a rocker; and even then it was a super-mild rocker. The coconut korma of rock ‘n’ roll records. ‘Summer Holiday’ is, of course, one of the songs that Cliff performed on Wimbledon’s Centre Court during that rain delay, a moment still commemorated every year in Middle England’s village halls…

‘Summer Holiday’ is also the second chart-topping record from the hit movie of the same name, after ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’. Which is impressive – not many movies spawn two #1s (and it’s not finished with the chart-toppers yet!)

It also, and this is something that’s just came to me, confirms ‘Summer’ as the biggest single theme in pop music, after Christmas. We’ve already had ‘Here Comes Summer’ by Jerry Keller as a chart-topper in 1959, and I can think of at least three more summer-themed number ones through the years (there are surely others…) Which makes it all the odder that winter was barely finished when this song actually topped the charts… The power of Cliff! Even the seasons couldn’t contain him!

144. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows

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.

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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.

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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….

132. ‘The Young Ones’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows

We enjoyed/suffered through (delete according to personal preference) a Cliff-less 1961. But Britain’s great rock ‘n’ roll hope kicks off 1962 with… (pause for dramatic effect)… his most famous hit?

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The Young Ones, by Cliff Richard (his 5th of fourteen #1s) and The Shadows (their 7th of twelve #1s)

6 weeks, from 11th January – 22nd February 1962

OK, there are the Christmas songs. And ‘Summer Holiday’. And ‘Congratulations’… Let’s just say that this is his most famous song not about festivities and/or vacations. Though this latest chart-topper is a celebration of sort – a celebration of being young!

Its starts with some Shadows ™ guitar, before Cliff comes in with his gossamer-light voice… The young ones, Darlin’ we’re the young ones, And the young ones, Shouldn’t be afraid… I am slightly loathe to admit it, but I have missed that voice of late… To live, Love, While the flame is young, ‘Cause we may not be the young ones very long… Any song performed by The Shadows and sung by Cliff can’t fail to be of a certain standard. It may well be cheesy, and the lyrics might be very trite, but downright bad? Unlikely.

And ‘The Young Ones’ does have its moments. I love the beat-band drum fills, while the guitars are very reminiscent of Buddy Holly’s mid-tempo hits – ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Maybe Baby’ and the like. Yet it’s far from perfect –  corny couplets like: Oh I need you, And you need me, Oh my darlin’, Can’t you see…? make sure of that.

And then there are the violins. Yep, Cliff’s gone orchestral. By the end the strings are swirling and cascading, drowning out Hank and Bruce’s guitars. (I can’t help wondering if this was one of those tracks, like the minimalist ‘Travellin’ Light’, on which The Shadows were a little bored…) I had to double-check that I was listening to the original version, rather than some kind of polished re-release… I’d see this as Cliff’s attempt to move away from teeny-bop discs like ‘Please Don’t Tease’ and ‘I Love You’ – his bid for adult-artist longevity.

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In that regard it’s a very clever record. The lyrics are about being young; and yet the production is very grown-up. It isn’t enough of a departure to alienate the screaming fifteen year-olds, but it’s classy enough to get grandma interested. And there’s a bittersweet edge to the closing lyrics that will appeal to mum and dad: And someday, When the years have flown, Darlin’ then we’ll teach the young ones, Of our own…

I wouldn’t call it a sell-out in the same way that Elvis prancing about in Lederhosen singing ‘Wooden Heart’ was a sell-out. Because, let’s face it, Cliff has never – in terms of his chart-topping singles, at least – managed to justify his tag as Britain’s foremost rock ‘n’ roller. From the opening chords of his first #1 he’s been planted firmly in the middle of the road. But… Something definitely clicked here, and his career has kicked up a gear. Thanks to its role on the soundtrack to Cliff’s movie of the same name, ‘The Young Ones’ had built up a staggering 500,000 pre-orders before its release, meaning that it rocketed straight in to the charts at Number One – only the 3rd single (and the 1st single not released by a certain Elvis Presley) to do so. It remains his biggest seller in the UK.

And its legacy was such that twenty years later it became the theme tune to BBC sitcom ‘The Young Ones’, in which Rik Mayall played a lisping, tantrum-throwing, anarchy-loving Cliff fan. The joke of course being that, by 1982, young people with any aspirations towards being cool couldn’t possibly be Cliff fans. But, the eighties are a long way off yet in our world. It’s January of 1962, Cliff and The Shadows are the biggest pop-stars in the country, and they’ve just scored their biggest hit yet. Though, as with all of us, they may not be the young ones very long…

110. ‘I Love You’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows

Can there have been a more basic title in the history of popular music? This is what pretty much every rock and pop disc ever recorded boils down to – the sediment left at the bottom of the barrel once the distilling process is over… ‘I Love You.’

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I Love You, by Cliff Richard (his 4th of fourteen #1s) & The Shadows (their 5th of twelve #1s)

2 weeks, from 29th December 1960 – 12th January 1961

And it ain’t just the title that’s basic. Everything about this latest chart-topper has a bare-bones, doing-the-bare-minimum, holding-pattern feel. The plodding guitars, the solo that struggles to find a pulse, the lyrics… (*shudder*) Oh, the lyrics…

Your love means more to me than, All the apples hangin’ on a tree, And like those apples, Our love will grow, Because I… I love you… Yup. Then a bunch of similarly trite bletherings about fishes in the sea and how Cliff needs his girl near to him more than she could ever know, and then the piece de resistance: Everyone knows one and one is two, I’ll be the one, And the other one’s you…

I mean, you could moan and nit-pick, but are these lyrics really worth the time or the effort? I think what makes this record sound particularly bland is the fact that Cliff’s last effort ‘Please Don’t Tease’ showed catchy promise, while The Shadows last #1, ‘Apache’ was a bona-fide little masterpiece. What did they make of this record? Their dreamy guitar licks are the highlight of this track, licks that are rapidly becoming both a trademark and the sound of 1960, but they were clearly capable of so much more. Though ‘I Love You’ was actually written by Bruce Welsh, AKA rhythm guitarist for The Shadows, so… Either way, this is the sound of Cliff – who, let us not forget, is fairly tame at the best of times – undergoing a complete castration. It’s music for five-year-olds, the closest we’ve come to having a lullaby at the top of the charts. I’d liken ‘I Love You’ to ‘Living Doll’ – the Cliff track that it has the most in common with – but that at least had creepy sex-doll lyrics to pique the listener’s interest.

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Having put my opening statement through more serious consideration, the ‘I Love You’ sentiment obviously doesn’t cover every pop song ever written. There’s the ‘I Used to Love You’ songs, the ‘I Wish You Loved Me’ songs, the ‘I Still Love You, But You Don’t Love Me’ songs, the ‘I’m Not Sure About Love But I’d Really Like to Bang You’ songs… In fact, there are precious few pop songs in the canon with such a relentlessly optimistic view of love as ‘I Love You’ (after all, only seven songs by this title have ever made the UK charts). I take it all back – this record is nigh on unique! But that doesn’t make it sound any better. Frankly, it could do with a bit of lust, a bit of regret, a bit of SOMETHING just to make it mildly interesting.

It does at least give us a first sighting of the two titans of early sixties pop knocking one another about at the top of the charts: Cliff replacing Elvis just in time for the new year. And this won’t be the last time that these two follow one another in and out of pole position. I’d even go so far as to suggest that the only other artist whose star power could have dragged this silly little ditty to #1 would have been Elvis Aaron. In the hands of any other singer this would have #12 hit written all over it. Too dull to be any good; not bad enough to be of any interest. Next!

 

 

104. ‘Please Don’t Tease’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows

Our third meeting with Sir Clifford. Just the eleven (11!) more to go…

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Please Don’t Tease, by Cliff Richard (his 3rd of fourteen #1s) & The Shadows (their 3rd of twelve #1s)

1 week, from 28th July – 4th August / 2 weeks, from 11th – 25th August 1960 (3 weeks total)

I mentioned during my last post that the opening months of 1960 have seen rock ‘n’ roll undergoing a castration at the top of the charts – all the sounds and stylings of this musical revolution diluted down to a poppy mulch (see Johnny Preston, ‘Three Steps to Heaven’ and all that.) And if this latest #1 isn’t just the blandest, most castrated version of rock ‘n’ roll going. But Goddam don’t I just love it…

You tell me that you love me, baby, Then you say you don’t, You tell me that you’ll come over, Then you say you won’t… Cliff loves a girl, but she’s leading him a merry dance. That’s all you need to know lyric-wise. It’s all something something come on and squeeze me something something your tender touch. Nobody’s coming here to have their thoughts provoked. (The use of ‘doggone’ in the second verse is worthy of note, however, as the one and only time in recorded history that a British person has ever used the term.)

No, this is a record best described as ‘breezy’, bouncing along like a light-hearted summer’s picnic, carried on a chord progression that satisfies our most basic urges and by the fact that – praise be! – The Shadows finally get something to do. Having sat through Cliff’s first two chart-toppers with barely a sniff of the action, they get a rocking little solo here and lend a cool revving sound under the Oh please don’t tease… lines in the bridge.

And, lo! Is that the sound – the merest whiff – of a riff at the beginning and the end of this record? Da-dun-dun-dun-da-da-dun-dun-da-da-da…? We aren’t in the ‘riff era’ yet – the rock songs that have topped the charts thus far have been all about the solos and the rhythm rather than any memorable, 100% guitar-led riffs. But here… It’s no ‘Smoke on the Water’ that’s for sure, but it stands out as something that you could perhaps play air guitar to. I also – and this might be a bit crazy – get a sort of Merseybeat-vibe from said riff, at least three years ahead of The Searchers and Gerry & The Pacemakers, and The Beatles obv., turning it into the dominant musical movement of the mid-sixties. Or maybe that’s just me.

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And… that’s about it for this one: with an artist as successful as Cliff you can take each of his many, many #1s as songs in their own right without needing to go into so much backstory and detail. They are all signposts on our journey through British popular music history, with Cliff at the wheel. ‘Please Don’t Tease’ is definitely one of his more forgotten hits; but one that’s worth rediscovering. And notable in its way, as Cliff and his backing group will soon be going their separate ways. The next time we hear from The Shadows – very shortly, in fact – they will be quite Cliff-less.