He’s known as the “Peter Pan of Pop” and his youthful looks have long fascinated the media, but what about his music? Alongside Elvis Presley, Cliff holds the record for achieving a UK chart single across six decades from the 1950s to the 2000s, also achieving a No.1 hit in each decade from 1950 to 1990, so he’s clearly still selling records, but whether or not he’s still rockin’ would appear to depend on which newspaper you read.
75 Years Young…
In 2015, Cliff celebrated his 75th birthday with a concert tour. Each venue was a sell-out, every performance received rave reviews, and the DVD recording went to No.1 in the UK DVD music chart, so where does he get his energy from?
Well, Cliff has often said that age is a state of mind, adding, ‘‘I still think that, regardless of your age, what you need to project is the love of what you do and project energy and fun. For me, that’s not difficult to do… If I sing ‘Move It’ on stage – my first record I ever made – I still feel 18!
… and Still a Calendar Pin-Up
Not only do Cliff’s concert tickets sell like hot cakes, but also his calendar, with his 2017 offering topping the celebrity calendar sales chart on Amazon and total sales reaching around 1.5 million over the years.
That’s an astonishing gauge of his on-going popularity, yet some radio stations have taken Cliff off their playlists, considering him to be “too old” and his music too outdated for today’s listeners.
In 1998, Chris Evans stated he’d never play another Cliff song on his breakfast show at Virgin Radio; in 2004, Tony Blackburn was suspended from Classic Gold Digital for going against the station’s policy of not playing Cliff Richard records, and in 2011, Absolute Radio ‘60s announced they wouldn’t be playing Cliff’s songs as they didn’t fit with the cool sound the station was aiming to create, adding, “Timeless acts of the decade that remain relevant today are The Beatles, The Stones, The Doors and The Who, not Sir Cliff.”
No Longer Relevant?
Cliff Richard and The Drifters (the early name of The Shadows) released their first record in 1958. “Move It” peaked at No.2 in the UK singles chart and it has since been credited by many, including John Lennon and Adam Faith, as the first British rock record.
Cliff was 18 in 1958 and his singing career had started in a skiffle band. The name change from Harry Webb to Cliff Richard was inspired at the time by American rock and roll star Little Richard, but his early performances as lead singer with The Drifters were very much inspired by Elvis Presley.
In interviews, Cliff has said, ‘‘The first time I heard Elvis it was absolutely inspirational because he was so different to everything else… I’ve always said that if there had been no Elvis, there would have been no Cliff Richard.’’
Initially marketed as a rebellious rock and roller, it was the arrival of Beatle-mania in the 60s that began the change of image and the middle-of-the-road pop sound associated with Cliff today – the sound that today’s radio stations consider to be no longer relevant.
Famed for his clean-cut, squeaky-clean image, Cliff has said, “I had a sort of spiritual adventure in the late ’60s and it changed my life. It gave me a whole attitude that I liked and I enjoyed being what I was and so I didn’t do what everyone else did… In a way it made me kind of radical because I wasn’t throwing television sets out the window and stuff like that.”
Making Uncool Cool
Radio stations may consider Cliff Richard to be uncool, but at the end of his 2017 UK tour, a review headline in The Telegraph read: Cliff Richard wins over cynics and leaves his audience in tears. The reviewer wrote, “I arrived as a cynical, 24-year-old hipster, ready to jeer at the prince of cheese and his blue-rinsed followers. I left as a Cliff convert.”
To his generations of fans, Cliff is undoubtedly still reelin’ and a-rockin’. In his long career spanning six decades, he has released 146 singles, achieved 14 UK No.1 hits, recorded 42 albums, sold over 250 million records worldwide, starred in 12 films, and won three Brit Awards and two Ivor Novello Awards.
In UK chart history, only the Beatles and Elvis Presley have sold more singles than Cliff, and with 67 of them making the Top Ten, each generation has their own Cliff favourite.
So, is Cliff still rockin’? Perhaps the last word should go to music critic Tony Parsons who once said, “If you don’t like at least some Cliff Richard, then you don’t like pop music”.