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Cliff Richard - A Head Full of Music

  by Bob Nicholson

published: 5 / 12 / 2023

Cliff Richard - A Head Full of Music


Bob Nicholson examines a new memoir from Cliff Richard in which he reflects upon thirty of the songs that have had the most influence on him.

'A Head Full of Music' is an intriguing concept for a Cliff Richard book. It provides a useful complement to the many biographies and is revealing about his art, his singing, his motivations and his musical passions. In what is in effect a form of living musical history, the book identifies songs and artists that thrilled, influenced and inspired Cliff to start out on a career that has lasted 65 years so far. What it reveals is a catholic taste in rock/pop music across the genres (punk, rap and opera excepted!). Whilst thirty songs are listed and discussed, he refers to, and reveres, more than 40 artists of whom nearly half are black acts from the soul and R&B tradition. It’s clear that Cliff was and remains a pop music fan. Rock and roll had reached the UK from the USA via AFN in Germany. Having heard Elvis on a car radio in Waltham Cross, he and his friends found AFN and sounds they had never experienced before. Cliff was listening and buying singles by artists as diverse as Sammy Davis ('In a Persian Market'), Elvis ('Heartbreak Hotel') and Carl Perkins ('Blue Suede Shoes)', each described in the book. If he still has that record collection, which includes Aretha Franklin’s first LP 'Aretha' (1960), it will be worth a fortune. Although the book selects thirty songs, numerous others are discussed. It could quite easily be forty songs and forty singers. Cliff’s personal memories are complemented by absorbing research by Ian Gittins who worked with Cliff on The Dreamer. The songs are predominantly, but not exclusively, from the late Fifties and early Sixties. The early rockers are well represented by Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and others. It may be a surprise to many that the list also includes Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter, Dakota Staton, Sammy Turner, The Impressions and Aretha Franklin. When explaining his selections, Cliff diverts to discussing other related artists. For example, although he has chosen The Impressions’ 'People Get Ready', it is Curtis Mayfield who gets the attention; Richie Valens is much admired in the Buddy Holly chapter; Bo Diddley gets a name check in the Carl Perkins chapter; The Isley Brothers in the Sammy Turner chapter, and so on. Eartha Kitt, Etta James, Brenda Lee and Dionne Warwick are name checked with snippets of information. It’s perhaps not surprising that the teenage Cliff Richard lacked confidence to make full use of the music styles he was discovering. He admits to feeling intimidated by the power, range and styling of some of these artists, for example the material of Chuck Berry (every Beat Boom groups’ prime source material) or The Isley Brothers' 'Twist and Shout' (pre-Beatles). Success with The Shadows gave him the confidence to tackle wider material. It is clear from the book that it is rhythm, melody, harmonies and backing vocals that excite Cliff when listening to music. He clearly takes great pleasure even now in duetting with voices that blend well with his own, acknowledging that his is what he calls a soft voice that is not capable of raucous vocalising, relying on his own pleasant tone and delivery. Cliff repeats again the phrase ‘No Elvis, no Cliff’. This book emphatically disproves the claim. Whilst Elvis was his idol, Cliff was also inspired by the wave of rock and rollers who swept over our shores in the second half of the Fifties. Indeed, it is worth noting that his Elvis top ten contained in the book are all pre-army Elvis tracks. I argued earlier (Cliff v Elvis, Penny Black Music' June 2021) that those were Elvis’ best years. Perhaps Cliff agrees. Bob Stanley wrote the Foreword and Afterword for 'A Head Full Of Music' in which he suggests that "had the book been twice as long, I’m pretty certain that Cliff would also like to have included something by Neil Diamond.....or by Clifford T Ward." Perhaps there’s room for a second living music history. - I’d buy it.

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