A plea to Cliff Richard
British singer Sir Cliff Richard (80) has written his autobiography, “The Dreamer”. In his book, Cliff recalls that John Lennon once asked him to delay releasing a song to give The Beatles a chance to top the charts, which they then did.
The Beatles were fans of Cliff Richard’s debut song “Move It” because they would have seen it as was very much in the tradition of a rock and roll song. Cliff was originally marketed as a rebellious rock and roll singer in the style of Presley and Little Richard. With his backing group, the Shadows, Richard dominated the British popular music scene in the pre-Beatles period of the late 1950s to early 1960s. His 1958 hit single “Move It” is often described as Britain’s first authentic rock and roll song; in the opinion of John Lennon, “before Cliff and the Shadows, there had been nothing worth listening to in British music”. In the early 1960s, he had a prosperous film career with films including “The Young Ones” and “Summer Holiday”. Increased focus on his Christianity and subsequent softening of his music led to a more middle-of-the-road image and he sometimes ventured into contemporary Christian music.
Even though laughing at the Shadows’ dance-steps while playing on stage, and despite sending them up with the instrumental “Cry For a Shadow”, the Beatles became friends with the group after having risen to fame themselves.
Not having thought much of the Beatles when he first heard them on the radio, covering an older song, Cliff Richard didn’t think much of the band. But after having heard their first singles, “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” he began to champion the group, requesting radio DJs to play their songs when he was a guest in the radio programs. But when asked if he thought “they’ll be huge”, he replied: “I shouldn’t think so. Their name just sounds like something that you tread on!” He later commented: “This was not my finest prediction…”
When he finally met the Fab Four at a house party for The Shadows guitarist Bruce Welch, he thought they were “friendly and smart”. Sir Cliff and The Beatles sat in the kitchen and “chatted away like mad” during their first encounter – shortly after the band had finished a gig at the Lewisham Odeon. Cliff recalled: “John Lennon was very funny and asked me to delay releasing my next single to give their follow-up to ‘Please Please Me’ a chance.
At the house party where they met Cliff, they previewed the song for him but he claims that the band were dismissive of the song and had their doubts that it would be a success. He recalled: “The Beatles glanced at each other and shrugged, then John took the guitar and started strumming”. “He, Paul and George began singing in perfect harmony, ‘If there’s anything that you want…’”
Cliff recalls that the small section he heard “blew my head off” and described it by saying, “What a song”. “But The Beatles seemed totally blasé about it. When they had finished, John put Bruce’s guitar down and looked at us.” Cliff was so taken aback that when they claimed to be “not quite sure about it” he protested: “Are you kidding me? That’s fantastic! That’s your first No 1, right there!”
Which is probably an inaccurate account, because at the time, “Please Please Me” was already topping the charts that mattered in the day. The single was eventually robbed of that status, when beer company Guinness purchased a little known hit list to use in their “Guinness book of records”, and in that insignificant list from Record Retailer, “Please Please Me” hadn’t hit no. 1 but stalled at no. 2. Unfortunately, in the seventies that became the list that everyone is now referencing, even though the real hit lists of the day were those in music papers Melody Maker and New Musical Express, whose list the “Please Please Me” single topped. So George Martin’s “Gentlemen, you have made your first number one” was actually true at the time, but revisionism later robbed “Please Please Me” of that status and also kept the song out of the “1” compilation in 2000. But with “From me To You”, all charts agreed that it was indeed a number one single – they had reached the toppermost of the poppermost.
Later Sir Cliff admitted that he was jealous of The Beatles during his younger years because they had managed to break the US and he hadn’t. The singer was supposed to tour this year “Great 80 Tour“, but the tour has been postponed to 2021. Meanwhile, he has been entertaining his fans from home during the lockdown – by uploading videos to his YouTube channel. Cliff Richard made UK chart history last month by having a Top 5 album in eight consecutive decades, after having released his new album, “Music…The Air That I Breathe”. It includes George Harrison’s “Her Comes The Sun”. George famously used the melody of Cliff’s Eurovision hit “Congratulations” in his birthday tribute to John Lennon on the “All Things Must Pass” album, “It’s Johnny’s Birthday”.