Considered the most successful artist in the history of British pop music, Cliff Richard has showed remarkable staying power in an industry known for short careers. From the late 1950s through the late 1980s, he placed nearly 100 songs on the British pop charts as he managed to survive through revolutionary changes in musical tastes. During this span he progressed from an Elvis Presley-like rocker, to a well-scrubbed teen idol, to a purveyor of mellow rock, to a singer of songs with a Christian theme.
After moving from India to England as a boy, Richard began learning how to play the guitar after he was given a used one as a present. Like many teens in Britain at the time, he became interested in the outgrowth of blues music known as “skiffle.” He formed the Quintones vocal group in 1957, then sang with the Dave Teague Skiffle Group. Richard sang gigs around his Hertfordshire home on nights and weekends, while working as a credit control clerk at his father’s factory during the day. Eventually he teamed up with drummer Terry Smart and guitarist Ken Payne to form the Drifters, who worked their way up on the club circuit until they were playing at London’s famous 21 ’s coffee bar. While performing they were seen by guitarist Ian Samwell, who then joined the group. With his musicians providing a Ventures-like background, Richard continued to develop his rocking style and grow in popularity.
In 1958 Cliff and the Drifters attracted the attention of theatrical agent George Ganyou while performing at a Saturday morning talent show at Gaumont cinema in Shepherd’s Bush, London. Ganyou approached them about making a demo, then paid for their recording of “Breathless” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” Norrie Paramour, a producer at EMI, gave the group an audition after hearing the demo. He immediately saw Richard’s obvious “Elvis-like” appeal and wanted to sign him up as a solo act who would be backed up by an orchestra. Richard insisted on retaining his band members, and the producer agreed to bring the Drifters on board as well.
For his first single with EMI, Richard recorded a cover of Bobby Helms’s American teen ballad “Schoolboy Crush.” However, when British television producer Jack Good heard the record, he preferred the B-side’s “Move It.” According to the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, “Good reacted with characteristically manic enthusiasm when he heard the disc, rightly recognizing that it sounded like nothing else in the history of UK pop.” Richard and the Drifters had brought a much
For the Record…
Born Harry Roger Webb, October 14, 1940, in Lucklow, India.
Moved from India to Cheshunt, Hertfordshire in England, 1948; sang with local “skiffle” groups as teenager in Hertfordshire, England; became part of the Quintones vocal group, 1957; joined Dave Teague Skiffle Group; worked as credit control clerk in a television factory; formed Drifters, 1958; performed at London’s 21’s coffee bar; signed contract with EMI/Columbia, 1958; reached number two on U.K. charts with first single, “Move It,” 1958; made television debut on British television’s Oh Boy!; recorded 93 songs that charted in the U.K., including six that reached Number One, 1958-86; renamed group Cliff and the Shadows, 1959; had first Number One hit, “Living Doll,” 1959; appeared in first film, Serious Charge, 1959; received critical acclaim for role in Expresso Bongo, 1959; made acting debut on stage in Five Finger Exercise, 1970; hosted variety show on British television, 1970s; gave lectures on Christian living and worked with the Crusaders, an English Christian youth group, 1970s; made Top Ten for first time in U.S. with “Devil Woman,” 1976; recorded duets with Olivia Newton-John, Phil Everly, Sarah Bright-man, Elton John, and Van Morrison, 1980-87; appeared in London stage musical Time, 1985.
Awards: Voted Number One in one or more categories every year in polls conducted by New Musical Express, 1959-70.
Addresses: Record company —EMI Records, 810 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.
desired American sound to British rock, and Good launched a massive publicity campaign to herald the arrival of the group’s first single. His instincts turned out to be right, and “Move It” soared to Number Two on the U.K. charts. In no time Cliff Richard was hailed as Britain’s top rock and roller, ousting Marty Wilde from the slot.
Samwell decided to quit the group and become a songwriter when Richard started receiving most of the attention, and by the end of 1958, the group included new members Hank B. Marvin and Bruce Welch. To avoid confusion with the American rhythm-and-blues group of the same name, the group then became Cliff and the Shadows. While the group enjoyed massive popularity, Richard also generated controversy with his highly physical gyrations on stage that were labeled offensive by some groups. The New Musical Express chastised him for his “hip-swinging” and “crude exhibitionism.”
Richard really came into his own in 1959, reaching Number One with Lionel Bart’s “Living Doll.” By then he had already appeared on British television’s Oh Boy!, and had also landed roles in two feature films. In Expresso Bongo, he played an average singer who is repackaged into a major pop star. The Guinness Encyclopedia said that it was “one of the most revealing and humorous films ever made on the music business and proved an interesting vehicle for Richard’s varied talents.”
After his sensational arrival on the entertainment scene at the end of the 1950s, Richard generated songs in the 1960s that were relatively tame but dependably popular. From 1960 to 1965 he enjoyed a streak of seven consecutive Top Ten singles, and appeared in two more popular movie musicals. He demonstrated his versatility by having success with both rocking numbers such as “Nine Times Out of Ten” and pensive tunes such as “Theme for a Dream.” One of his best showings in the early 1960s was “The Young Ones” released in 1962. Guinness called it “A glorious pop anthem to youth, with some striking guitar work from Hank Marvin.” During the first half of the 1960s, Richard toured actively in Europe, Japan, Australia, South Africa, and the U.S.
Although Richard never got on the track of the British invasion or beat groups of the mid-1960s, he managed to keep churning out fresh material that kept him in the Top Ten in Britain. He became a fundamentalist Christian in 1966, and at first was going to quit the pop music scene. Instead, he used his voice to promote faith in God. He became active with the English Christian youth group the Crusaders and often spoke to groups on the merits of Christian living.
Popular culture was changing too fast for Richard to adapt in the late 1960s, and he was left somewhat behind as other British groups ushered in a new era in music. A new Richard song in the 1970s was no longer assured of Top Ten status, although he continued to break the Top 20 with songs such as “Sunny Honey Girl” in 1971 and “Sing a Song of Freedom” in 1972.
After being absent from the charts for nearly two years, Richard sprang back to pop life in 1976 when Bruce Welch of the Shadows took over as his producer. The collaboration led to the best-selling 1976 album I’m Nearly Famous, which contained the hits “Miss You Nights” and “Devil Woman,” Richard’s first song to chart in the U.S. since 1959. Following another creative trough after “My Kinda Life” was released in 1977, Richard resurfaced again with “We Don’t Talk Anymore” in 1979. That song became his first Number One hit in the U.K. since 1968, and it heralded a new, well-arranged sound for Richard that sustained him on the hit parade through the 1980s. The success of the song overseas triggered a tour in the U.S., his first there since 1963.
Richard added another dimension to his career in the 1980s by demonstrating a keen ability to harmonize, as shown in duets with Olivia Newton-John, Phil Everly, Sarah Brightman, Sheila Walsh, Elton John, and Van Morrison. He also starred in Dave Clark’s (of the Dave Clark Five) musical Time, which was first staged in the West End of London in 1985. Retaining his youthful good looks over the years, Richard retained a loyal army of fans well into his forties. By 1988 there were 29 Cliff Richard fan clubs in Britain, consisting mostly of middle-aged women. At age 50, he showed his continuing ability to adapt when he recorded his first anti-war song, “From a Distance,” which proved to be a hit.
Cliff Richard managed to remain viable as a pop act for an incredible three decades, in an era when most singers fade from the scene in just a few years. As acknowledged in New Statesman and Society, he is “undoubtedly the most important pop symbol modern British culture has produced.”
Singles; with others
(With the Drifters) “Move It,” 1958.
(With the Drifters) “Living Doll,” 1959.
(With the Shadows) “Fall in Love with You,” 1960.
(With the Shadows) “On the Beach,” 1964.
(With the Shadows) “The Minute You’re Gone,” 1965.
(With Hank Marvin) “Throw Down a Line,” 1969.
(With Olivia Newton-John) “Suddenly,” 1980.
(With Phil Everly) “She Means Nothing to Me,” 1983.
(With Sarah Brightman) “All I Ask of You,” 1986.
“The Twelfth of Never,” 1964.
“Devil Woman,” 1976.
“We Don’t Talk Anymore,” 1979.
The Young Ones, Columbia, 1961.
Summer Holiday, Epic/Columbia, 1963.
I’m Nearly Famous, Rocket/EMI, 1976.
40 Golden Greats, EMI, 1977.
Wired for Sound, EMI America/EMI, 1981.
Always Guaranteed, EMI, 1987.
Ferrier, Bob, The Wonderful World of Cliff Richard, Davies, 1964.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 3, Guinness Publishing, 1992.
Doncaster, Patrick, and Tony Jasper, Cliff, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1981.
Tremblett, George, The Cliff Richard Story, Futura, 1975.
Winter, David Brian, NewSinger, NewSong, The Cliff Richard Story, Word Books, 1960.
Billboard, February 12, 1994.
Entertainment Weekly, November 19, 1993.
New Statesman and Society, September 23, 1988.
People, February 18, 1980.
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