Why Cliff Richard Is Much Cooler Than You Think

Last night I saw my very first childhood music hero in concert, the third time I’ve now seen this most unfashionable of pop stars in a live setting. When I was five years old, Cliff Richard was it. Sure, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon were up there too, but top of the pile as a Kiwi expat kid in Malaysia in 1986 was Cliff Richard.

To see him live for the first time back in 1991 – my first ever concert thanks to my Dad forking out $49.50 per ticket – was surreal, irrespective of Cliff wearing bike pants and a dinner jacket for the encore.

The second Cliff concert was three years ago in 2010 when he performed with the Shadows for their extended 50th anniversary tour which culminated in an alleged Roxborogh ambush at his hotel at 2am alongside his superstar wingman Hank Marvin, the original British guitar hero. A long story short, Cliff, Hank, my friend Jen and I had quite the chin-wag in the wee small hours that night, thanks to them arriving back at their hotel just as we were about to board a taxi…

For the third Cliff Richard concert experience I managed at the last minute to pick up a couple of tickets through radio connections to Cliff’s Rockin & A Reelin’ Auckland concert last night. Unfortunately at that kind of late notice I couldn’t find anyone to accompany me to the concert, though try I did. Plenty of folks claimed they would’ve loved to but had something on. “What a shame!” they exclaimed, though my suspicion was that they’d fallen prey to the myth that the most successful singer in the history of the British top 40 was somehow something of a joke. So I went by myself.

But who cares if he’s uncool? Who cares if two of his current backing singers / guitarists / dancers redefine what it means to be cringe-ably camp, Cliff Richard didn’t place more songs in the UK top 10 than anybody else (68) by accident.

So what is he like in concert at the age of 72? Needlessly cheesy support staff to one side, the answer is pretty damn good. Sure, I’d love to force upon him a set-list that removed any songs that weren’t originally hits of his and that focused mainly on his golden years of 1976 to 1989. That said, the man can still sing (though naturally, not quite with the gusto of his circa 1980 peak) and sure knows how to pace a show as well as anyone in the business.

Showing the benefit of an intermission in padding a show out, Cliff began at 8pm and didn’t leave the stage for the final time until 10.30pm. In between he gave the 9000-strong crowd pop standouts like Dreamin’, Devil Woman, Suddenly, We Don’t Talk Anymore, Some People, I Could Easily Fall In Love With You, Please Don’t Tease, The Young Ones, My Kinda’ Life, Move It, Livin’ Doll and Wired For Sound. Undeniably it frustrates me his all-too-common live predilection for interchangeable rock ‘n’ roll songs that were never hits for him in the first place or that he is covering for the first time, but that is a minor quibble.

Cliff may be celibate, he may annoy some with his public professions of his Christian faith (though not once mentioned last night), and he may have had a knack for singing Christmas number one hits that sap the tragically hip’s will to live. But get passed that and he’s the owner of one of the finest, most adaptable voices in popular music history. On on a completely different note, but one I feel is important to mention, privately he is also said to be one of Britain’s most generous philanthropists.

So for the uninitiated, here are 12 of my favourite Cliff songs from what I regard as his finest era, 1976 – 1989. It was at the start of this period that Bruce Welch from the Shadows produced Cliff, reviving his former lead-singer’s career by pushing him in a more blue-eyed soul direction and encouraging him to stretch his vocal range. Even now, listening to the falsetto-dipping Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music makes me think it should’ve been a contender for a Best Pop Vocal Grammy had the judges ever bothered to listen to it.

Operating as a functioning band with consistently excellent material coming from his guitarist Terry Britten as well as his bassist Alan Tarney (who would dominate production duties for Cliff in the 80s), these 12 songs (as well as many others during this era) represent one of the most consistently high quality runs in British pop history: Carrie, Dreamin’, We Don’t Talk Anymore, Can’t Ask For Anything More Than YouMy Kinda’ Life, Hey Mr Dreammaker, Yes He Lives, Keep Me Warm, Devil Woman, Ease Along, Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music and Miss You Nights:

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice article! Going to see Cliff in UK in June. Last time Cliff was here in Finland was a reunion with Shadows. Yeah, people think he is so uncool and that's what makes it so cool to be his fan, if you understand.

    1. Bernarda Brunovic says:

      I’m a young, proud and enthusiastic fan – and I’m lovin’ it!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Finally – an "article" about Cliff that I agree with 100%. The only thing I would change would be to add a couple of songs – the classic ballad "When Two Worlds Drift Apart", the great rocker "Monday Thru´ Friday" and the underrated "Lean On You".

    1. Bernarda Brunovic says:

      Yeeeeeeaaaaahhhhh!!!! and I would also add “My kinda life” “Every face tells a story”, “The winner”, “Walking in the light”, “Jesus won’t you come back to earth”, “I wish we’d all been ready”, “Hot shot”, “Must be love”, “I’m nearly famous” “I wish you’d change your mind”, “Rock n roll Juvenile”, “My luck won’t change”, “Forty Days”, “Hold us together…but then the title of the article wouldn’t be any more “the 12 best songs” 🙂

  3. Ann Onymous says:

    Cliff is so underrated. Unfortunately his work will probably not be fully reappraised until after he's gone. I would add the early rock songs such as Mean Streak, Dynamite and Nine Times out of Ten; the Mum pleasers such as the Next Time and It's All in the Game; his cover of Blue Turns to Grey; Throw Down a Line; but for me his greatest album is I'm No Hero. Full of classic pop.

    Even on the full-on cheese tracks such as Sing a Song of Freedom his voice is unbelievable.

    I do agree about the rock n roll covers. They are so cliched now and dont do him justice.

    One of Britain's greatest.

  4. Bernarda Brunovic says:

    I’m 23 years old and am a huge fan of Cliff’s. I really love all his songs but the 70’s and 80’s period is undoubtedly that time when Cliff recorded his best ones. Of course, singers such as Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, ZZ Top etc. etc. etc…are all near the top of the list of music that I love, but Cliff is absolutely “oh-my-God-INCREDIBLE!!!” Only Gospel music is something that I can say that I love more than Cliff’s songs, but after that he’s my favorite. He should have made it in America, gotten grammy awards, gotten in to some hall of fame… It makes me so sad how people think that he’s uncool. He’s such a talented but sadly underrated artist, He’s got one of the most beautiful male singing voices that I’ve ever heard, he does so much for charity, he’s a Christian (I’m also one by the way), and such a wonderful, inspiring man. I’ve seen him in concert and he was just so fantastic, beyond my every expectation…long live dear Cliff!! I love you and pray for you!!!

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