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.
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.
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…