Cliff Richard (born Oct. 14, 1940) is an English pop vocalist with a career that has spanned more than 60 years, starting in the late 1950s amid the U.K.’s initial wave of home-grown rock performers. Between 1958 and 1963, he enjoyed teen-idol fame and a series of hits with his backing band The Shadows. In 1976, he entered the second phase of his career with the transatlantic breakthrough I’m Nearly Famous. Over the following seven-year period, he released eight albums in a contemporary rock vein with songs provided by Terry Britten, Alan Tarney, and Chris Eaton, among others.
Richard was born Harry Rodger Webb on October 14, 1940, one of four children borne to English parents in Lucknow, India. His father was a catering contractor for Indian Railways in the then-British colony. When Harry was seven, the Webb family moved to England, where they settled in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, in 1959. At secondary school, he excelled in English literature.
An enthusiast of skiffle, his father bought him a guitar when he was sixteen. In 1957, Webb did brief stints in The Quintones (a doo wop combo) and the Dick Teague Skiffle Group. The following year, he started singing for The Drifters, a rock n’ roll band with guitarist/songwriter Ian Samwell, guitarist Norman Mitham, and drummer Terry Smart. At his manager’s suggestion, Webb adopted the stagename Cliff as a synonym for “rock.” The surname Richard was added as an ode to his idol, Little Richard.
The Drifters’ debut single was the 1958 Samwell-penned “Move It” (b/w “Schoolboy Crush”), often cited as the first British rock n’ roll record. The song hit no. 2 on the UK chart and established Cliff Richard as a teen idol. It was followed with the 1958/59 hits “High Class Baby,” “Livin’ Lovin’ Doll,” “Mean Streak,” and “Living Doll,” his first UK no. 1 and US Billboard Top 30 hit. His first two albums, Cliff and Cliff Sings, appeared in 1959 on Columbia.
By the time of “Living Doll,” the Drifters’ lineup consisted of bassist Jet Harris, drummer Tony Meehan, and guitarists Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch. Upon learning of the namesake US doo wop combo, they changed their name to The Shadows. They served as Cliff’s backing band until 1968 and recorded separately as an instrumental rock band, scoring hits with “Apache,” “Kon-Tiki,” “FBI,” “Wonderful Land,” and “Foot Tapper.”
Richard made his film debut, accompanied by The Shadows, in the 1959 drama Serious Charge. Between 1960 and 1965, he notched 23 UK Top 10 hits and starred in the musical dramas Expresso Bongo (1960), The Young Ones (1961), Summer Holiday (1963), and Wonderful Life (1964). His most enduring songs from the period include the prophetic “Bachelor Boy” and the movie themes “The Young Ones” and “Summer Holiday.”
As Beatlemania and the British beat boom broke globally in 1964, Richard remained popular throughout the British Isles, the commonwealth, and mainland Europe. However, he was unable to crack the US market, despite scoring a second Billboard Top 30 hit with his 1963 single “It’s All in the Game” (US #25, 1964).
In 1966, Cliff became a devout Christian, a change that initially made him question his career choice. Urged to continue, he eventually reconciled his faith with the secular music world and used his platform to spread his message. He starred that year in the musical comedy Finders Keepers and provided music for the sci-fi puppet film Thunderbirds Are Go. With the Shadows, he scored a UK #15 hit with the Jagger/Richards composition “Blue Turns to Grey,” followed by six Top 10 hits in 1966/67: “Visions,” “Time Drags By,” “In the Country,” “It’s All Over,” “The Day I Met Marie,” and “All My Love (Solo Tu).”
In 1967, Richard starred in the romantic drama To a Penny, where he plays a drug-addled pop singer whose girlfriend (played by actress Ann Holloway) turns to faith. The film was released to national audiences in 1968 along with a namesake soundtrack. It features 14 tracks, 11 performed by Cliff with backing by the Mike Leander Orchestra, plus three instrumentals.
Musically, Two a Penny finds Cliff embracing late ’60s baroque pop, as heard on the tracks “Questions,” “Lonely Girl” (both rare co-writes from Cliff) and “Close to Kathy.” The Richard-Collier-penned “I’ll Love You Forever Today” was issued as a single. Like most of Richard’s work up to 1972, the album was produced by Norrie Paramor.
Also in 1968, Richard scored a UK #1 with the Bill Martin/Phil Coulter ditty “Congratulations,” the UK entry in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest, where it placed #2. He also covered “Marianne,” recorded earlier that year by Sergio Endrigo as Italy’s representative in the contest.
Richard’s fourteenth studio album, Sincerely, appeared in October 1969 on Columbia. It features 14 songs recorded between September 1966 and April 1969 at Abbey Road Studios. Leander conducted and arranged six tracks, including the Buzz Clifford cover “Baby I Could Be So Good at Loving You,” Mick Cahill’s “In the Past,” and the Terry Britten composition “Always.”
Another Britten song, “Take Action” (arranged by Brian Bennett), is a 7/8 psych-rocker recut from the prior year’s Once Upon a Twilight by Britten’s Australian beat band The Twilights. This marked the start of a Richard/Britten partnership that would reach its full fruition during the late 1970s. Sincerely also includes covers of songs by Paul Simon (“For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”) and Mike D’Abo (“Punch and Judy”), plus the Hank Marvin-supplied “London’s Not Too Far.”
In 1970, Richard scored a hit in several countries with the non-album single “Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha” and released About That Man, an album of religious music. His next secular album (and sixteenth studio album overall) was Tracks ‘n Grooves, released that November. It features songs written by Dick Holler (“Abraham, Martin & John,” earlier a hit for Dion), Neil Diamond (“Put My Mind at Ease”), Raymond Froggatt (“Are You Only Fooling Me”), Sedaka/Bayer Sager (“Your Heart’s Not In Your Love”), and one apiece from Marvin (“Love, Truth & Emily Stone”) and Britten (“What a Silly Thing To Do”).
About That Man starts with the Leander/Eddie Seago co-write “Early in the Morning,” which Cliff charted in Japan with the prior year. However, a recording of the song by popsters Vanity Fair beat his version in the UK and US markets. This would be his last proper studio album for four years.
Between 1970 and 1974, Richard hosted the BBC1 music program It’s Cliff Richard. It featured a slew of musical guests, including Daliah Lavi, Mary Hopkin, Cilla Black, Clodagh Rodgers, Labi Siffre, and Elton John. The Christmas Eve 1970 broadcast marked an early UK television appearance by English-Australian singer Olivia Newton-John, who sang her first of several duets with Richard, backed by the Shadows-spinoff Marvin, Welch & Farrar. (Welch was Newton-John’s then-boyfriend and Farrar, a future Shadow, was her longtime songwriter).
- Two a Penny (1968)
- Sincerely (1969)
- Take Me High (1973)
- The 31st of February Street (1974)
- I’m Nearly Famous (1976)
- Every Face Tells a Story (1977)
- Small Corners (1978)
- Green Light (1978)
- Rock ‘n’ Roll Juvenile (1979)
- I’m No Hero (1980)
- Wired for Sound (1981)
- Now You See Me, Now You Don’t (1982)
- Silver [Give a Little Bit More] (1983)
- Always Guaranteed (1987)
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