Last week in this space, I described a single by the Canadian rock band Prism as Á¢€Å“sounding like an early-Á¢€™80s Cliff Richard single (not that thereÁ¢€™s anything wrong with that).Á¢€ IÁ¢€™d like to say I spent hours deciding whether or not to make such a seemingly insulting comparison, but IÁ¢€™d be lying Á¢€” I tossed it off. It wasnÁ¢€™t until I was editing the piece that I began weighing the significance of what IÁ¢€™d written; suddenly (ahem), the wheels were in motion, and that phrase triggered a flood of memories and bits of knowledge that IÁ¢€™m pretty sure IÁ¢€™ve been suppressing since about 1983 Á¢€” 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 CliffÁ¢€™s turn-of-the-Á¢€™80s singles like Á¢€Å“We DonÁ¢€™t Talk Anymore,Á¢€ Á¢€Å“Dreaming,Á¢€ and especially Á¢€Å“A Little In LoveÁ¢€ Á¢€” 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 Á¢€Å“We DonÁ¢€™t Talk AnymoreÁ¢€?), but as I searched iTunes and Amazon I found the title of his 1980 collection IÁ¢€™m No Hero vaguely familiar, and as I sampled track after track I recognized each one, untilÁ¢€¦
Cripes! I know it was 28 years ago, but IÁ¢€™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 IÁ¢€™ve had and which ones I havenÁ¢€™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 Á¢€Å“Move ItÁ¢€ in 1958 Á¢€” a song that no less an authority than John Lennon identified as the Á¢€Å“first British rock recordÁ¢€ Á¢€” Cliff has sold more singles than any other act in British history.
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His posture in that TV clip of Á¢€Å“Move ItÁ¢€ clearly mimics Elvis singing Á¢€Å“YouÁ¢€™re So Square (Baby I DonÁ¢€™t Care)Á¢€ in Jailhouse Rock; not surprisingly, CliffÁ¢€™s early career mirrored ElvisÁ¢€™ 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 Á¢€™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 Á¢€™70s. Eventually his reputation morphed into a caricature, revered by some and reviled by others, as the one major pop figure of the Á¢€™60s to refuse to mix sexÁ¢€™nÁ¢€™drugs with his rockÁ¢€™nÁ¢€™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 Á¢€Å“ItÁ¢€™s All in the GameÁ¢€ in 1963 (a single that rose even that high only because it was swept along in the first tide of Beatlemania). It wasnÁ¢€™t until Cliff was positioned for a comeback as a rocker in 1976, with the IÁ¢€™m Nearly Famous album and the classic trifle Á¢€Å“Devil Woman,Á¢€ that he finally cracked the Top 10 on this side of the Atlantic.
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The transatlantic success of Á¢€Å“Devil WomanÁ¢€ had numerous rockers who had idolized Cliff as children, including Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, sporting IÁ¢€™m Nearly Famous buttons on their jackets. In Á¢€™79 Cliff returned to the charts on both shores with Á¢€Å“We DonÁ¢€™t Talk Anymore,Á¢€ a song that lacked the dramatic edge of Á¢€Å“Devil WomanÁ¢€ Á¢€” yet became his first British chart-topper in a decade. A year later he duetted with Olivia Newton-John on Á¢€Å“Suddenly,Á¢€ from the Xanadu soundtrack, right around the same time that IÁ¢€™m No Hero was released. The albumÁ¢€™s first single, Á¢€Å“Dreaming,Á¢€ actually beat Á¢€Å“SuddenlyÁ¢€ up the charts and into the Top 10; itÁ¢€™s just as featherweight as Á¢€Å“We DonÁ¢€™t Talk Anymore,Á¢€ but it does have a killer bridge.
It was the second single off the album, Á¢€Å“A Little in Love,Á¢€ 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 Á¢€™70s as part of the Tarney/Spencer Band; look for my Popdose colleague Dave Steed to post their two-time sorta-hit Á¢€Å“No Time To LoseÁ¢€ in one of his Á¢€Å“Bottom FeedersÁ¢€ columns sometime early in the Obama administration. ItÁ¢€™s nowhere near as good as any of his songs for Cliff, which included eight of IÁ¢€™m No Hero‘s 10 tracks. (Tarney co-wrote Á¢€Å“DreamingÁ¢€ with Leo Sayer; the two also collaborated on one of SayerÁ¢€™s own singles from that period, Á¢€Å“Living in a Fantasy.Á¢€ Tarney produced both singersÁ¢€™ albums of the period, as well.)
Comparing CliffÁ¢€™s Tarney-penned hits, the similarities are obvious: Classic Á¢€™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, Á¢€Å“A Little in LoveÁ¢€ 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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Á¢€Å“A Little in LoveÁ¢€ crapped out at #17 in March 1981, and EMI quickly followed it with Á¢€Å“Give a Little Bit More.Á¢€ 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 IÁ¢€™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 Á¢€Å“HereÁ¢€ and Á¢€Å“A Heart Will Break.Á¢€ ItÁ¢€™s all rather squishy, as youÁ¢€™d expect, but with the hits speckled throughout itÁ¢€™s agreeable enough Á¢€” certainly for 1980, which was a year not exactly replete with classic pop albums.
I donÁ¢€™t know how long I held onto my copy of the IÁ¢€™m No Hero album Á¢€” 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 Á¢€Å“DaddyÁ¢€™s Home.Á¢€ Later in the Á¢€™80s, he scored his biggest hit yet with the Christmas dreckfest Á¢€Å“Mistletoe and WineÁ¢€ (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 Á¢€Å“Millennium PrayerÁ¢€ in 1999, and sure enough he scored another holiday chart-topper (a very big deal over there, as anyone whoÁ¢€™s seen Love Actually can attest).
His fortunes have fallen off a bit since then; most recently heÁ¢€™s recorded a requisite duets album and then a collection of love songs featuring utterly unnecessary remakes of Á¢€Å“Waiting for a Girl Like You,Á¢€ Á¢€Å“When You Say Nothing at All,Á¢€ Á¢€Å“All Out of Love,Á¢€ Á¢€Å“When I Need YouÁ¢€ and more. The blue-haired early-boomer ladies with dodgy teeth still throw their baggy knickers on the stage, I suppose, but itÁ¢€™s a far cry from the passions he once stirred with Á¢€Å“Move ItÁ¢€ or Á¢€Å“Living DollÁ¢€ Á¢€” 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, Á¢€Å“Suck on it, Robbie Williams!”
As for meÁ¢€¦whatÁ¢€™s next? Will I wake up in a cold sweat sometime next week and realize IÁ¢€™m a closet Chris DeBurgh fan?
Cliff Richard Á¢€” Á¢€Å“DreamingÁ¢€
Cliff Richard Á¢€” Á¢€Å“IÁ¢€™m No HeroÁ¢€
Cliff Richard Á¢€” Á¢€Å“A Heart Will BreakÁ¢€
Download IÁ¢€™m No Hero from Amazon .