Last week in this space, I described a single by the Canadian rock band Prism as â€œsounding like an early-â€™80s Cliff Richard single (not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with that).â€ Iâ€™d like to say I spent hours deciding whether or not to make such a seemingly insulting comparison, but Iâ€™d be lying â€“ I tossed it off. It wasnâ€™t until I was editing the piece that I began weighing the significance of what Iâ€™d written; suddenly (ahem), the wheels were in motion, and that phrase triggered a flood of memories and bits of knowledge that Iâ€™m pretty sure Iâ€™ve been suppressing since about 1983 â€“ when I finished high school and headed off for college determined to invent a cooler version of my previous self (just like everyone else does, right? Right?).
Anyway, thanks to the magic researching powers of the Internet, I quickly discovered that not only had I been a fan of Cliffâ€™s turn-of-the-â€™80s singles like â€œWe Donâ€™t Talk Anymore,â€ â€œDreaming,â€ and especially â€œA Little In Loveâ€ â€“ I had actually owned a Cliff Richard album. Legit MP3 files are difficult to come by for some of these tunes (how can it be impossible to buy a copy of a top-10 hit like â€œWe Donâ€™t Talk Anymoreâ€?), but as I searched iTunes and Amazon I found the title of his 1980 collection Iâ€™m No Hero vaguely familiar, and as I sampled track after track I recognized each one, untilâ€¦
Cripes! I know it was 28 years ago, but Iâ€™ve owned at least 10,000 records/tapes/CDs/digital albums in my life, and until now, I thought I had a pretty good handle on which ones Iâ€™ve had and which ones I havenâ€™t. Is Cliff really that forgettable?
Apparently so, at least in the U.S.
Of course, in the U.K. no homegrown solo artist has ever been bigger. Beginning with â€œMove Itâ€ in 1958 â€“ a song that no less an authority than John Lennon identified as the â€œfirst British rock recordâ€ â€“ Cliff has sold more singles than any other act in British history.
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His posture in that TV clip of â€œMove Itâ€ clearly mimics Elvis singing â€œYouâ€™re So Square (Baby I Donâ€™t Care)â€ in Jailhouse Rock; not surprisingly, Cliffâ€™s early career mirrored Elvisâ€™ in myriad other ways. An early spate of high-charting hits established his credentials as a rocker, one who was viewed by parents as a dangerous figure until he began appearing in films during the early â€™60s. The films softened his image (and music) considerably; so did a conversion to born-again Christianity in 1964, which led him to dual careers in pop and gospel and to a series of appearances on Billy Graham Crusades through the early â€™70s. Eventually his reputation morphed into a caricature, revered by some and reviled by others, as the one major pop figure of the â€™60s to refuse to mix sexâ€™nâ€™drugs with his rockâ€™nâ€™roll.
Of course, almost all of this happened without American audiences giving a whit; during his run of 36 top-10 British hits from 1958-68, he hit the U.S. Top 40 exactly twice, peaking no higher than #25 with a cover of â€œItâ€™s All in the Gameâ€ in 1963 (a single that rose even that high only because it was swept along in the first tide of Beatlemania). It wasnâ€™t until Cliff was positioned for a comeback as a rocker in 1976, with the Iâ€™m Nearly Famous album and the classic trifle â€œDevil Woman,â€ that he finally cracked the Top 10 on this side of the Atlantic.
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The transatlantic success of â€œDevil Womanâ€ had numerous rockers who had idolized Cliff as children, including Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, sporting Iâ€™m Nearly Famous buttons on their jackets. In â€™79 Cliff returned to the charts on both shores with â€œWe Donâ€™t Talk Anymore,â€ a song that lacked the dramatic edge of â€œDevil Womanâ€ â€“ yet became his first British chart-topper in a decade. A year later he duetted with Olivia Newton-John on â€œSuddenly,â€ from the Xanadu soundtrack, right around the same time that Iâ€™m No Hero was released. The albumâ€™s first single, â€œDreaming,â€ actually beat â€œSuddenlyâ€ up the charts and into the Top 10; itâ€™s just as featherweight as â€œWe Donâ€™t Talk Anymore,â€ but it does have a killer bridge.
It was the second single off the album, â€œA Little in Love,â€ that hooked me. Like his previous two Top-10s, it was written by Alan Tarney, an Australian who scraped the Hot 100 a couple times during the late â€™70s as part of the Tarney/Spencer Band; look for my Popdose colleague Dave Steed to post their two-time sorta-hit â€œNo Time To Loseâ€ in one of his â€œBottom Feedersâ€ columns sometime early in the Obama administration. Itâ€™s nowhere near as good as any of his songs for Cliff, which included eight of Iâ€™m No Hero‘s 10 tracks. (Tarney co-wrote â€œDreamingâ€ with Leo Sayer; the two also collaborated on one of Sayerâ€™s own singles from that period, â€œLiving in a Fantasy.â€ Tarney produced both singersâ€™ albums of the period, as well.)
Comparing Cliffâ€™s Tarney-penned hits, the similarities are obvious: Classic â€™70s-pop arrangements (key changes included, natch), with rather mundane melodies in the verses giving way to hooks that arrive with dramatic flourishes on the way into and/or on the way out of the choruses. Those hooks were fleeting, but riveting enough to send circa-1980 pop listeners to the radio request lines. As far as I was concerned, â€œA Little in Loveâ€ had the best chorus of the bunch. I suppose it also spoke to my crush-prone-yet-hopeful adolescent approach to romance.
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â€œA Little in Loveâ€ crapped out at #17 in March 1981, and EMI quickly followed it with â€œGive a Little Bit More.â€ It was the boppiest single off the album, to be sure, but it barely missed the Top 40. Dave Steed will offer up the MP3 in due course; in the meantime, this clip features everything that was great and awful (and awfully great) about Solid Gold‘s first season:
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The rest of Iâ€™m No Hero, as my suddenly refreshed memory serves, is a bit of a trend-chaser, featuring an attempt at Rockpile-ish latter-day rockabilly on the title track and couple of Big Ballads in â€œHereâ€ and â€œA Heart Will Break.â€ Itâ€™s all rather squishy, as youâ€™d expect, but with the hits speckled throughout itâ€™s agreeable enough â€“ certainly for 1980, which was a year not exactly replete with classic pop albums.
I donâ€™t know how long I held onto my copy of the Iâ€™m No Hero album â€“ probably no later than my first uncool-record sell-off in college. With his next album Cliff continued his slide from the British Elvis to the British Barry Manilow, offering up a maudlin version of â€œDaddyâ€™s Home.â€ Later in the â€™80s, he scored his biggest hit yet with the Christmas dreckfest â€œMistletoe and Wineâ€ (go here to be horrified as my colleagues Jason Hare and Jeff Giles poop all over it) and briefly submitted himself to the machinations of Stock-Aitken-Waterman. In 1995 he became the first rock star ever knighted; naturally, he took it upon himself to offer his countrymen a â€œMillennium Prayerâ€ in 1999, and sure enough he scored another holiday chart-topper (a very big deal over there, as anyone whoâ€™s seen Love Actually can attest).
His fortunes have fallen off a bit since then; most recently heâ€™s recorded a requisite duets album and then a collection of love songs featuring utterly unnecessary remakes of â€œWaiting for a Girl Like You,â€ â€œWhen You Say Nothing at All,â€ â€œAll Out of Love,â€ â€œWhen I Need Youâ€ and more. The blue-haired early-boomer ladies with dodgy teeth still throw their baggy knickers on the stage, I suppose, but itâ€™s a far cry from the passions he once stirred with â€œMove Itâ€ or â€œLiving Dollâ€ â€“ or even from his brief run of middle-aged American success. Oh, well, at least Cliff had a couple good years over here; were he not such a goody-goody, he might be inclined to point to that era and snarl, â€œSuck on it, Robbie Williams!”
As for meâ€¦whatâ€™s next? Will I wake up in a cold sweat sometime next week and realize Iâ€™m a closet Chris DeBurgh fan?
Download Iâ€™m No Hero from Amazon .