There is little about Cliff Richard that hasn’t already been said. He has remained in the music business – and the spotlight – for more than half a century, garnering both praise and criticism as he notched upwards of 250 million global record sales. Such a career spans generations, and while some have witnessed his journey from the get-go, other, younger listeners might not be so familiar with Sir Cliff’s rock’n’roll roots – it wasn’t all Christian music!
After an early childhood in India, nine year-old Cliff – then known as Harry Webb – moved to England with his parents, Rodger and Dorothy, after the country gained independence. Like many kids his age, he was inspired by the burgeoning rock’n’roll movement led by Elvis. He featured in a number of bands throughout his early teens, desperate to emulate his idol. It wouldn’t be long before he started doing just that.
Cliff’s first attempts, the Quintones and the Dick Teague Skiffle Group, were short-lived, despite a number of gigs around Richard’s then-hometown of Cheshunt. But in 1958, the blue touch paper on Cliff’s rocket to stardom was lit. With his band, the Drifters (later changed to the Shadows to avoid confusion with the US band of the same name), Harry Webb became the far more edgy Cliff Richard and took Britain by storm.
Written by original Drifters/Shadows member Ian Samwell, ‘Move It’ (disc two) hit the UK charts in the late summer of 1958 and was the reward for a bold strategy. Cliff had originally planned to debut with a cover of US country star Bobby Helms’ hit ‘Schoolboy Crush’. But ‘Move It’ was flipped from the B to the A-side at the insistence of TV producer Jack Good, who gave the singer his big break on popular TV show Oh Boy!, therefore bucking the trend of promising UK rock’n’roll artists trying to hit the big-time by copying Americans. It paid off. ‘Move It’ hit Number 2 in the charts, selling more than a million copies along the way. A new rock’n’roll act had arrived – and it was the first that was authentically British.
Follow-ups saw him pepper the UK Top 20 with tracks like ‘High Class Baby’ and ‘Mean Streak’ (both disc one), but it wasn’t until 1959’s ‘Living Doll’ (disc one) that he reached the summit. The track was originally meant to further Cliff’s rock’n’roll image, but was slowed to a country-esque tempo before release. It had been meant for fellow British rocker Duffy Power, but ended up featuring on the soundtrack to Cliff’s movie-acting debut, Serious Charge.
Follow-up release, ‘Travellin’ Light’ (disc one) also topped the UK charts, displacing Bobby Darin’s ‘Mack The Knife’. The slower and mellower version of ‘Living Doll’ had marked a change of direction. ‘Travellin’ Light’ was firmly rooted in pop, but that only served to make Cliff more popular with both fans and the UK press, with both the New Musical Express and the Daily Mirror continuing to sing his praises.
After selling an estimated five million records in just 18 months, Cliff Richard entered the Sixties on a high. A leading role in movie Expresso Bongo saw him release an EP of the same name, while five singles released during the year made the Top 3 of the UK chart. Two of these were chart-toppers, the first, ‘Please Don’t Tease’ (disc two), returning to a more uptempo approach, selling more than 1.5 million copies. The second, ‘I Love You’, saw Cliff top the charts in Christmas week and would prove the first of a quartet of Yuletide Number 1 hits, the last coming exactly 30 years later with 1990’s ‘Saviour’s Day’.
As well as storming the charts, appearances in Serious Charge and, later, Expresso Bongo were turning Cliff into a box-office attraction. Along with 1963’s Summer Holiday, which spawned the monster hit of the same name, 1961’s The Young Ones was one of Cliff’s most popular films. The title track from the accompanying soundtrack (disc one) shifted more than a million copies in January 1962, continuing his hot streak.
As Cliff entered his twenties, he was coming into his own as an artist, co-writing ‘Bachelor Boy’ with Shadows guitarist Bruce Welch in ’62. The track was twinned with ‘The Next Time’, which featured on Summer Holiday, and gave Cliff his first self-penned Number 1.
With the beginning of Beatlemania in 1963, Cliff Richard would be forced to take what he had learned in his first half-decade of stardom and find his own niche in the music biz. With that in mind, he should be celebrated for his sheer longevity: Top 10 hits in six consecutive decades (not to mention Number 1 hits in five!) is nothing to be sniffed at. And while more seasoned music fans may remember many or all of those decades of success, others may not know the story of Cliff’s formative years as a rock star and teen idol.
This two-disc collection brings the first five years of his career to life and serves as a blueprint for aspiring artists on how to lay the foundations of a musical legend.