Sir Cliff Richard: Hiding in Plain Sight

Cliff_Richard_Allan_Warren

Today is the birthday of British pop star Sir Cliff Richard (b. 1940), that rare artist who was an English rock and pop star both long before the advent of the Beatles, and long after their breakup.

In fact, so long-lived has been his career, and so mercurial, that when I first started reading about the Beatles in the early 1980s and read about Richard being the only major British rock act prior to Beatlemania, I never connected that guy with the same Cliff Richard who’d had several recent U.S. hits.

The early Cliff Richard was an inspiration to John Lennon and his bandmates, though there was always a certain pre-fab quality to his music, more Fabian  than Elvis. His breakthrough tune with his group the Shadows in 1958 as “Move It”.

Richard kept having British hits, but couldn’t crack the American market; that’s why the Beatles were considered so revolutionary — they were the first British rock act to properly do so. And though a flood of British bands followed The Beatles to success in the States in the sixties, Richard wasn’t among them. He converted to Christianity in 1964 and was always a little clean cut; he began to ebb in prominence even in the U.K. as the 60s wore on.

The first Cliff Richards song I was aware of was 1973’s “Power to All Our Friends”, which was included on one of my K-Tel collections, despite not having been a major U.S. hit. As you can see, he has been substantially influenced by the Beatles:

Eventually though he did crack U.S. markets in a huge way and his songs were easy-listening staples for years, so even if (like me) you don’t remember his name particularly, you definitely know his music. The first of these was “Devil Woman” released in 1976:

The second was the melancholy ear-worm “We Don’t Talk Any More” (1979), which I regard as an excellent piece of songwriting and a genuine ear worm…but the clip below speaks volumes. Even if you get past his lamé outfit, this cat is particularly disconnected from the material he’s singing. What’s with this joyful attitude and the exuberant dancing in this song about a break-up? It makes you wonder what the guy’s got upstairs!

There were later U.S. hits too, the 1980 duet with Olivia Newton-John “Suddenly” most prominent among them, but we’ll let sleeping dogs lie. He went back off the U.S. radar in the 1980s but essentially never stopped being a star in the UK, having hits right along until quite recently. Sir Cliff’s last top 40 hit there was in 2009; his last #3 was in 2008!

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