Today is the birthday of the terrific Cilla Black (1943).
Americans ought to know her better than they do. Baby boomers will remember her British Invasion hits, but she had much greater success in the UK, including (in addition to many more hit recordings), a successful tv career as actress and producer.
Black started out in the coat check room at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where she gradually began to get stage time, became friends with The Beatles and was signed by Brian Epstein. A bit of the “working class lass” has remained part of her image in a way that was true of none of the Beatles (except Ringo). Her voice is brassy like Bassey — Shirley Bassey, that is, an effect augmented by the horns used on so many of her records, which created quite a different sound from that of the Beatles, whose songs she constantly interpreted. Lennon and McCartney wrote many songs specifically for her to sing. Two of them have been on my virtual turntable lately, which is why I’m so eager to share them (and her) with you.
The first, “Love of the Loved” (1964) was Cilla’s first big hit. Those horns are very unBeatley, right? But the Ringoesque drums definitely make it identifiable as what people were then calling “Merseybeat”. I also love her dance moves!
The second, “Step Inside Love” (1967) was used as the theme song to Cilla’s tv variety show. I first became aware of this tune from McCartney’s demo on the 1995 Beatles DVD set. Though credited to Lennon-McCartney it is strictly a McCartney affair, and to me is an example of the endlessly fascinating topic of just what McCartney’s genius is. He can put on and take off musical styles like a pair of galoshes. This is a distinctly un-Beatley, jazzy tune, a style he was dipping into quite a bit at the time but sort of on the sly. “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” is also jazz inspired; he produced the psychedelic trad jazz Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band, and he wrote and arranged the all-horn “Thingumybob” for the Black Dyke Mills Band, all in 1967-68. “Step Inside Love” looks ahead to the quiet, somewhat austere ballads of the White Album, “I Will”, “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Martha, My Dear”. I just really love the chorus to this tune, with Cilla backed by almost explosively joyful backup singers (possibly herself in overdub?)
(I used to have the clips here but they keep being removed. Just google ’em)
To find out more about the history of variety entertainment, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc