Friday, 25 September 2009
Cliff Richard & The Shadows: The UK Singles, 1958-1966
A few quick questions:
Who were one of the first UK acts to release singles & albums of mostly self-composed material?
What group made several highly successful movies notable for their breezy pop tunes & zany humour?
Which UK act was one of the first from the UK to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show?
Who was the first act outside the USA to rival & sometimes surpass Elvis Presley's popularity?
Which musicians inspired thousands of others to start groups, & were imitated worldwide?
And who is the most successful UK singles act of all time?
The answer is Cliff Richard of course, both with & without The Shadows! Yet their place in pop history is almost always downplayed & often completely forgotten. So I'm going to look back at all the singles released during the first eight years of their career, a period when Cliff Richard scored 32 Top 10 UK singles (& The Shadows had another 14 Top 10 singles in their own right). I've also given both A's & B-sides of each disc marks out of 5 (A side / B side).
Lawdy Miss Clawdy / Breathless (Demo only, mid-1958)
Shortly after changing his name from Harry Webb, the newly-christened Cliff Richard & his chums taped this in a tiny studio in London's Oxford Street. Only three original copies were made (& only one of these survives), but fortunately the recordings have been made available officially in recent years, & what a revelation they are! The musicians (including Cliff on rhythm guitar) sound amateurish & out of time, but even as an inexperienced 17-year-old it is obvious that there's a special talent here. Cliff chooses not to perform carbon-copies of records by his two main heroes Elvis Presley & Jerry Lee Lewis but instead makes these songs all his own. 5 / 5
Move It / Schoolboy Crush (August 1958)
There were British rock 'n' roll records before this, but none of them came anywhere near the excitement of this one! From Ernie Shears' classic guitar intro onwards, this is still a strong candidate for the greatest '50's UK rock 'n' roll record of all time, yet this was originally intended to be just the B-side. The original A-side Schoolboy Crush is OK, though a bit "square" to coin a phrase of the time (those backing singers didn't have a clue how to sing rock 'n' roll) & nowadays sounds very dated indeed. 5 / 2
High Class Baby / My Feet Hit The Ground (November 1958)
Apparently Cliff himself hated this record so much he went home & cried after recording it, but though it doesn't quite come up to the high standard of Move It, it's still a pretty good rock 'n' roll record, though the flip side probably has the edge. 3 / 4
Livin' Lovin' Doll / Steady With You (January 1959)
More good rock 'n' roll, though it doesn't really sound much different from his previous single. This probably explains the poor chart position (# 20), despite this being the first single to feature Hank Marvin & Bruce Welch on guitars. Steady With You is a rather drippy ballad & is best avoided. 3 / 2
Mean Streak / Never Mind (April 1959)
Back to the top 10 (just), & another slightly failed attempt at making a rock n' roll record to match the quality of Move It, this is still superior to the previous two releases. Never Mind is another very good rocker, good enough to chart in it's own right in fact, & also the first released recording to feature the classic line-up of Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris & Tony Meehan, though they were still calling themselves 'The Drifters' at this point. 4 / 4
Living Doll / Apron Strings (July 1959)
Although performed uptempo in his first movie 'Serious Charge', Cliff was dissatisfied with Living Doll so insisted that they try a different approach. The result is this memorable single, & first ballad A-side & his first number one (from this point onwards all of his UK singles up to & including 'The Minute You're Gone' in 1965 would enter the top 10). The B-side is one of his best early rockers. 5 / 5
Travellin' Light / Dynamite (October 1959)
With a top-notch ballad on the A-side & possibly his wildest ever rock 'n' roll performance on the B-side, this was a successful attempt at repeating the formula of the previous single. This was the first single to feature the now re-named The Shadows, who would shortly begin a highly successful chart career of their own whilst continuing to back Cliff on most of his singles & albums. 5 / 5
A Voice In The Wilderness / Don't Be Mad At Me (January 1960)
From his 2nd movie 'Expresso Bongo', this is yet another very strong ballad performance that was enhanced greatly by Hank Marvin's picking. This was the first single to feature a ballad on both sides, though the B-side was rather mediocre. 5 / 3
Fall In Love With You / Willie And The Hand Jive (March 1960)
Yet another ballad A-side, no wonder people at the time were saying that rock 'n' roll was on the way out! While a pleasant enough song, it's not quite as memorable as the previous three hits, though the fabulous Bo Diddley-esque (& live favourite) Willie And The Hand Jive more than makes up for things. 4 / 5
Please Don't Tease / Where Is My Heart (June 1960)
The first uptempo A-side in over a year, Cliff & The Shadows were no longer simply imitating their heroes & instead were creating music that was very much their own! Co-written by Bruce Welch & superbly backed by The Shadows, this pop-rock song was the beginning of a sound that they would continue to develop over the next few years. A very good B-side too. 5 / 4
Nine Times Out Of Ten / Thinking Of Our Love (September 1960)
Did someone say that rock 'n' roll was dead by 1960? They obviously needed to listen to this! This storming rocker again shows off the uptempo Cliff & The Shadows sound at it's very best, with what was probably their most raucous A-side ever, though the B-side was rather forgettable. 5 / 3
I Love You / 'D' In Love (November 1960)
Back to ballads again, & though perhaps not the strongest of singles it still got to number 1, which says alot for just how popular he was at this point. 'D' In Love is a pretty good mid-tempo rocker. 4 / 4
Theme For A Dream / Mumblin' Mose (February 1961)
Although the song is OK, those tuneless girl backing singers make this one of Cliff's worse early singles! Fortunately the frantic Johnny Otis composition on the B-side is far superior. 3 / 5
Gee Whiz It's You / I Cannot Find A True Love (March 1961)
Back to the sound pioneered by Please Don't Tease for this Hank Marvin & Ian ('Move It') Samwell composition which is excellent despite it's title, & the slow-fast rocker on the flip was nearly as great. Both are proof of why The Shadows were regarded by many as the best musicians in the country. 5 / 4
A Girl Like You / Now's The Time To Fall In Love (June 1961)
A light-weight pop song, the A-side wasn't one of Cliff's best. The storming B-side was far better. 3 / 5
When The Girl In Your Arms (Is The Girl In Your Heart) / Got A Funny Feeling (October 1961)
From Cliff's third movie 'The Young Ones', this Presley-esque ballad was his best slower A-side in nearly 2 years, & the mid-tempo B-side wasn't bad either! 5 / 4
The Young Ones / We Say Yeah (January 1962)
Again from the movie of the same name, this is one of Cliff's (or anyone's) most memorable singles, & it inspired an alternative comedy series 20 years later! Much of the credit here should be given to producer Norrie Paramor (the producer of most of the records mentioned here) & his sympathetic string arrangement. Rock 'n' roll it isn't, but the B-side certainly is! And check out those "Yeah Yeah" backing vocals... 5 / 5
What'd I Say / Blue Moon (Export only single) (February 1962)
Although made in the UK for export, this appeared in some UK stores hence it's inclusion here. The A-side whilst pretty convincing inevitably pales compared to earlier versions by Ray Charles & Jerry Lee Lewis. Blue Moon features the kind of over-blown orchestral arrangement that Frank Sinatra would be proud of, making this one of Cliff's weakest B-sides. 4 / 2
I'm Looking Out The Window / Do You Wanna Dance (May 1962)
Cliff's first true double-A-side, I'm Looking Out The Window is a laid-back ballad that's probably not one of his best though I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the song, whilst the B-side is one of the greatest "twist" records ever made! 4 / 5
It'll Be Me / Since I Lost You (August 1962)
By this time there had been a couple of changes in The Shadows, with Jet Harris & Tony Meehan leaving, & Brian 'Liquorice' Locking & Brian Bennett replacing them. The A-side of this record was previously a Jerry Lee Lewis B-side in 1957, & although Cliff's version is a little slower it's equally good (& check out Hank's memorable solo!). The B-side is a forgettable orchestrated ballad. 5 / 3
The Next Time / Bachelor Boy (November 1962)
Another double-A-side, both were from Cliff's fourth movie 'Summer Holiday'. The Next Time is a superior ballad, whilst Bachelor Boy (a mid-tempo waltz written by Bruce Welch) remains another very memorable song. 5 / 5
Summer Holiday / Dancing Shoes (February 1963)
From the movie of the same name, it's impossible not to think of long summer days when hearing this pop classic! Dancing Shoes is another strong song, this time uptempo pop-rock, & both songs were band compositions. 5 / 5
Lucky Lips / I Wonder (May 1963)
A Leiber-Stoller song originally recorded by Ruth Brown, this was criticised at the time for sounding dated though in retrospect it's a wonderful record that is truly timeless! Far less memorable is the ballad flip side. 5 / 3
It's All In The Game / Your Eyes Tell On You (August 1963)
Perhaps another dated record for the time, this version of Tommy Edwards' 1958 smash is still a lovely performance of a beautiful song. More modern-sounding was the flip-side with it's prominent Shadows harmonies which sound almost like a Merseybeat group (Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas perhaps?). 5 / 4
Don't Talk To Him / Say You're Mine (November 1963)
The A-side with it's simple but memorable 12-string guitar riff (prior to The Beatles using a 12-string on many of their records in 1964) at last sounds more contemporary, as does the bluesy B-side. 5 / 4
I'm The Lonely One / Watch What You Do With My Baby (January 1964)
Highly criticised at the time for sounding too Mersey (there's no pleasing some people!), this is a superb rhythm 'n' blues / beat group song, different from nearly everything else Cliff has ever recorded. The flip-side again is Mersey influenced. This single incidentally was the first to feature new bassist John Rostill. 5 / 4
Constantly / True, True Lovin' (April 1964)
This lush orchestrated ballad (which doesn't feature The Shadows) received a back-handed compliment from P.J. Proby in the UK music press at the time when he said "This is actually the first disc of Cliff Richard's that I've really liked - before that I quite honestly thought he was an atrocious singer!", & while I can't totally agree with Mr Proby's comments this is indeed beautifully & very maturely sung. The flip is back to the Cliff & The Shadows "Mersey" sound! 5 / 4
On The Beach / A Matter Of Moments (June 1964)
From Cliff's fifth movie ' Wonderful Life', this is a return to the breezy pre-Beatles pop sound of 1960-1962 despite the sneaky reference to 'Twist & Shout' during the song! The flip-side with Hank & Bruce's prominent harmonies is very memorable too. 5 / 4
The Twelfth Of Never / I'm Afraid To Go Home (October 1964)
A Johnny Mathis hit from 1957, this sounded very dated for late 1964 despite Cliff's excellent vocals. The atmospheric B-side features very Beatle-esque harmonies throughout. 4 / 4
I Could Easily Fall (In Love With You) / I'm In Love With You (December 1964)
Another song that harks but to the sound of 1960-1962, but still a very commercial-sounding pop song that deservedly did well, while the B-side is a superior ballad. Both of these are from the 'Aladdin' soundtrack, a stage musical that ran for three & a half months at The London Palladium & featured Cliff Richard, The Shadows, Una Stubbs - & Arthur Askey! 5 / 4
This Was My Special Day / I'm Feeling Oh So Lonely (December 1964)
Only available at The London Palladium for those seeing the 'Aladdin' show, this features other cast members singing along with Cliff. 2 / 2
The Minute You're Gone / Just Another Guy (March 1965)
In August 1964 Cliff spent two days recording in Nashville (as well as a couple of less productive days in New York), & of the seven songs recorded no less than four ended up as A-sides + another song as a B-side, & these are the first songs to be released from these sessions. Produced by Billy Sherill & Bob Morgan & backed by session musicians & The Jordanaires on backing vocals, the results were inevitably closer to Elvis' 60s hits than The Beatles, but that's not a bad thing here as the A-side in particular is superb & a much deserved number one. 5 / 4
Angel / Razzle Dazzle (Export only single) (May 1965)
Another record meant for export only but briefly available in some stores, the A-side is again from the Nashville sessions. Also recorded by Elvis (& featured in the 1962 movie 'Follow That Dream'), Cliff's version is much faster & I think has the edge. Razzle Dazzle was taped over three years earlier & is a rockin' version of the Bill Haley & His Comets classic. This single didn't break any new ground but nevertheless it's one of Cliff's best! 5 / 5
On My Word / Just A Little Bit Too Late (June 1965)
Another song from the Nashville sessions, though it wasn't quite as strong as the previous singles, reflected in the number 12 chart placing (the first single not to reach the top 10 since High Class Baby 7 years earlier). The B-side (like many mid-'60's Cliff Richard & The Shadows recordings) is notable for it's prominent harmonies. 4 / 4
The Time In Between / Look Before You Love (August 1965)
Although an interesting song, The Time In Between with it's jazzy chords & bossa nova beat was hardly hit single material, & the public agreed as the number 22 chart placing made this his worst charting single to date. The B-side is a moody beat ballad & would've perhaps made a better A-side. 4 / 4
Wind Me Up / The Night (October 1965)
Yet another song from the August 1964 Nashville sessions, this beautiful ballad at last nearly restored Cliff to the top of the charts (only The Rolling Stones' 'Get Off Of My Cloud' prevented it from reaching number one). The Night is a mediocre mid-tempo song. 5 / 3
Blue Turns To Grey / Somebody Loses (March 1966)
Talking of The Rolling Stones, this superb rock-pop song was written by Jagger-Richards, though apparantly Cliff wasn't aware of this fact when he recorded it (he was highly critical of the group in the UK press at the time so this is probably true, & he probably heard the song via either Dick & Dee Dee's or The Mighty Avengers' version). The B-side is a mid-tempo song with harmonies & nice country-styled picking from Hank. 5 / 4
Visions / What Would I Do (For The Love Of A Girl) (July 1966)
Despite being backed by The Bernard Ebbinghouse Orchestra with The Mike Sammes Singers rather than The Shadows, Visions is a great song that's beautifully sung & remains one of my very favourite Cliff Richard records. The B-side (backed by The Shadows again) should've been an A-side it it's own right, with Hank's almost psychedelic guitar helping to make this the equal of what The Beatles were doing at the time. 5 / 5
Time Drags By / The La La La Song (October 1966)
Highly praised by Paul McCartney in the music press at the time, this laid-back harmony (& harmonica) song is another very strong single that sounded totally up to date. The sing-a-long B-side doesn't quite match this in quality but it's still more than OK. Both songs are from Cliff's sixth movie 'Finders Keepers', almost certainly his most consistently strong movie soundtrack (& the movie itself wasn't bad either). 5 / 4
In The Country / Finders Keepers (December 1966)
From the soundtrack album of another stage musical 'Cinderella', In The Country is a rock-pop song that's every bit as summery as Summer Holiday was nearly 4 years earlier, a truly timeless record! The B-side was the title track of his latest movie & another very strong performance. 5 / 4
...And that was sadly pretty much the end of the original Cliff Richard & The Shadows partnership! They released one final single together two years later just prior to the group splitting up (the mediocre Don't Forget To Catch Me which got to just number 21 in the charts). Of course Cliff Richard without The Shadows went on to have many giant hits, & those over the next couple of years included the good (Hank Marvin's excellent The Day I Met Marie), the bad (the dreaded Congratulations) & the forgettable (the middle-of-the-road orchestrated ballad All My Love). But that run of singles during those first eight years remain amongst the greatest & most successful in pop history.
Most of the A-sides from this era were available on 'Cliff's Hit Album' (1963), 'More Hits By Cliff' (1965) & 'The Best Of Cliff' (1969) & are currently easily available via 'The Singles Collection 6-CD box-set. Many of the B-sides however are often much harder to come by, & although there have been B-sides & rarities collections, some of these great songs are criminally still unavailable on CD or as downloads.
Cliff Richard & The Shadows have had several reunions over the years but they are currently enjoying their highest profile together since the mid-'60's, & even recently re-recorded many of their hits from this era. Whilst Cliff's vocals aren't quite as strong as they once were (he is pushing 70) the results are extremely good indeed, & I for one can't wait to see the forthcoming live DVD!
Click here for my Cliff Richard DVD list!
Click here for my The Shadows DVD list!