A (long-overdue) tribute to Cliff!
My mother was (and probably still is) a big Cliff Richard fan. She would sometimes tease my Dad about how she'd leave him for Cliff (which, let's face it, was unlikely to ever happen for many reasons). She always dutifully bought his Christmas single, and probably helped to get him to number 1 on more than one occasion. Despite this, it was downright odd and scary to see that (according to E4 last night) Cliff is the best-selling UK singles artist of all time (he beat the Beatles, Elvis, Robbie, Queen and Elton). Even Cliff himself seemed slightly bewildered by the news. And to show that the fruit never falls far from the tree, just like my mother, I have a secret liking of Cliff myself.
Before Cliff became a Christian he was a super-quiffed, slightly naughty Elvis-alike, with a moody leer, gyrating hips and badboy attitude. (He was popular as a lesbian icon!) But slowly he morphed into the goody-two shoes, tennis-addict, earnest, mild-child that we all now love. In fact, he looks younger now than he did in the 1970s (a bit like a botoxed Eric McCormack from Will & Grace). How does he do it? It's supernatural, that's what it is!
At cliffrichard.org there's a slight note of bitterness in Cliff's own personal message to his fans, which starts out with a jolly "Hi everyone!" Cliff takes no time, however, in cutting to the chase and telling "everyone" what's on his mind: "Perhaps I was a little over-optimistic about an exciting television project we thought was lined up but which failed to materialise when it came to the crunch. It would have been great, but never mind - you get accustomed to occasional disappointments in this business!" Such complaining isn't very attractive in such a superstar (he's already the UK's best-selling artist, what more does he want? Wings?) And he goes on "...sales of 'Something's Goin' On' have been rather poor - despite me working my socks off with promotion! If it had been a duff album, I would have understood but I love it and so, it seems, do scores of industry and media people who tell me it's the best work I've done for years." Ah well, that's the danger of surrounding yourself with yes-folk. Get over it! At least it all ends on a positive "Don't think for a minute that I've abandoned the ambition to break through in the States!" How could we? You go girl! The States don't know what they're missing and I'm sure you'd go down amazingly in places like Idaho, Nebraska or Wyoming. American readers - you're missing out on the Ultimate Britpop Experience if you've never heard of Cliff. Hang your heads in shame and then go and download his entire back-catalogue now!
But it's all a bit too easy and cruel to skit Cliff and I refuse to do it any more. Instead, I'll talk about my two favourite Cliff songs:
Devil Woman (1976)
"She's just a devil woman! With evil on her mi-ind!... She's gonna get you from behind" sang Cliff. Who could he be talking about? Una Stubbs? Jane Asher? Elton John? Maybe I imagined it, but I seem to remember that a performance of this involved lots of red smoke and possibly even high heels. Was this Cliff's not-so-repressed "Dark Side" of Christianity? "If you're out on a moonlit night, Be careful of them neighbourhood strays. Of a lady with long black hair. Tryin’ to win you with her feminine ways" warns Cliff in the song. I'm sure this didn't refer to a dogging/transsexual encounter in a carpark, but you can but hope. I don't care what anyone says but this song is a classic and I haven't stopped playing it since I downloaded it from Itunes, roughly 2 minutes ago.
Wired for Sound (1981)
Cliff crashes into the 1980s with his personal "discovery" of electro-pop. This song is insanely zeitgeist and contains everything about 1981 that you ever need to know. Not only is it hideously "electro", but Cliff also wears a personal stereo (what an early adopter!) and yes, roller-skates DURING THE WHOLE VIDEO. Those of you who were unfortunate enought to live through the early 80s (to live in "interesting" times it was not), will probably have experienced a roller-disco at some point. They were pretty awful, and even if they didn't end in huge teen-age gun battles (ala the 1975 film Switchblade Sisters), someone usually fell over and got their fingers sliced by someone else's roller-skates. I have no idea what the nonsense-lyrics of Wired For Sound mean - "Power from the needle to the plastic. A.m.-f.m. I feel so ecstatic now." (Sounds like one of those "clues" in 3-2-1.) You'd almost think he'd been hanging round John Lennon's dealer or something. Cliff is the eggman! This song regularly makes the top of all the "worst" lists, but who cares? It's fab.
Cliff's been around so god-damn long that he's gone from cool to naff to cool (he had a comeback in the 1980s with the Young Ones and a re-release of Living Doll) and now he's naff again. He's even complained that radio stations have blacklisted all his work. But, if you hang around long enough, there's always the chance that you can get that second comeback. And I predict that Cliff's on the cusp of one. Let's pray he gets to number one this Christmas. I can name at least two people who'll be buying his next single (me and mum).