|The LP that began the renaissance of Cliff Richard’s career,
I’m Nearly Famous from 1976.
I didn’t realise disturbing rumours have been swirling online for some time about British pop star Cliff Richard. I also didn’t realise until a couple of days ago that police made no attempt to contact him until at least a week after the raid on his home. However, I am aware he is yet to be charged with anything. So how come we even know his name in connection to the current investigation?
You’ll have to ask the police in the UK and the BBC how this potentially catastrophically defamatory leak occurred. The law must treat celebrities and members of the public alike and we should never, ever be blasé about historical cases of abuse. Justice must always be served. That said, we must also never pronounce someone guilty before they’ve been found that way in a court of law.
Sometimes people are more keen to be seen as tough on crime than to be genuinely tough on crime. Being genuinely tough on crime surely means by definition that we are likewise passionate about keeping people who may be entirely innocent away from the stickability of mud.
As a music-obsessed expat-kid in Malaysia in the 80s, Cliff – particularly because of his underrated gospel LP Small Corners from 1977 – was a hero. Alongside all the other pirated tapes I’d buy at KL night-markets with my pocket money, Small Corners formed a significant part of my childhood. It was lyrically spiritual and felt every bit as good as the rock and pop of my other most-played tapes by Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel etc. I knew every line of every song and while there were standouts like Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music, I never pressed fast-forward.
Speaking of which, fast-forward to the present day and as an adult I’ve interviewed Cliff for radio and also met him, as well as meeting Bruce Welch, Brian Bennet and Hank Marvin (the Shadows) in person. So sue me if I lean towards defending him. Certainly it’s not hard to see how Cliff’s unfashionable personal life made him not just an easy target for criticism and speculation, but someone too easily forgotten for how artistically accomplished he could be.
Cliff Richard artistically accomplished? Forget what you think you know of pop’s most famous carol-singing, calendar-releasing, celibate Christian. You don’t have 68 UK top 10 hits (97 top 20s, 124 top 40s) by accident, and if popular music means something to you, go and back with fresh ears and listen to material like Can’t Ask For Anything More Than You, Carrie, Dreamin’, Miss You Nights, Throw Down A Line etc.
I’ve written in the past that the bulk of Cliff’s finest recordings took place between 1976 (the I’m Nearly Famous comeback LP) and 1989 (Stronger). At his best, there is a surprising R&B influence in his material as his producers during this period (initially Shadows’ rhythm guitarist Bruce Welch) urged him to extend his vocal and stylistic range.
Late 70s/early 80s songs like Dreamin, Carrie and We Don’t Talk Anymore aren’t just hits, nor are they just catchy pop tunes. Vocally, Cliff is singing much higher and with far greater emotion and elasticity than what he did in the 50s and 60s. If you’re prejudiced, pretend Carrie isn’t a Cliff Richard song and its hook, its groove, its paranoid lyrics and its clean production make it a worthy music cousin of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine.
This is not to write-off Cliff’s earlier decades. Paul McCartney was reportedly a major fan of the bluesy, three-part-harmony-filled Time Drags By (1966, with The Shadows), and the Cliff / Hank Marvin duet Throw Down A Line (1969) has both socially-conscious lyrics and a killer guitar solo from Marvin. As for debut hit Move It (1958), it’s still held aloft as the first great British rock & roll single.
For whatever reason, it seems it’s more confronting for some music fans to accept that Cliff produced good music than it is to deal with accusations he’s anything other than his public persona. With that in mind, here’s an article to support the concerns many with calm minds fear about witch-hunts: http://piginthewind.wordpress.com/tag/cliff-richard/
And considering Britian’s most statistically successful singer is yet to be charged, I offer precisely zero apologies in presenting 20 of his finest forgotten songs. Only one of these songs reached the UK top 10 – She Means Nothing To Me – and some like the hook-heavy Everyman and Try A Smile weren’t even released as singles. There is the blues of the previously mentioned Time Drags By, the late 80s adult/contemporary of Lean On Me, the acoustic rock of Hey Mr Dream Maker, the apocalyptic Silvery Rain, the funky Ease Along and the orchestra-filled R&B of Never Even Thought.
Take note of the falsetto used on songs like Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Everyman and Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music and either be reminded or introduced to the reality Cliff was an exceptional singer at his peak. Then there’s the quiet magic of the brothers Gibb on the late-career highlight I Cannot Give You My Love, while Discovering is about as minimalist as an 80s spiritual hiding as a secular song got. On that subject, the direct message of Yes He Lives is even more interesting when you learn it was written-to-order by Cliff’s then-Buddhist guitarist Terry Britten.
So here they are (in no special order), some of the best produced songs with the biggest hooks, most apparent R&B influences and strongest vocals of Cliff Richard’s 56 year career:
Can’t Ask For Anything More Than You – 1976
Time Drags By – 1966
Try A Smile – 1977
Hey Mr Dream Maker – 1977
My Kinda’ Life – 1977
Lean On You – 1989
Ease Along – 1978
Throw Down A Line – 1969
Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music – 1977
Yes He Lives – 1977
She Means Nothing To Me – 1983
Everyman – 1980
Never Even Thought – 1978
Once In A While – 1981
Ocean Deep – 1983
One Night – 1987
Silvery Rain – 1971
Discovering – 1982
I Wish You’d Change Your Mind – 1976
I Cannot Give You My Love – 2004