In Britain, it started with Cliff Richard & the Shadows
(No. 31 in a continuing series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
John Lennon once said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”
He also said, “before Cliff & the Shadows, there had been nothing worth listening to in British music.”
Which brings us to this week’s subject…Cliff Richard & the Shadows.
If the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame truly was representative of Rock & Roll worldwide, Cliff Richard would have been inducted 20 years ago. And the Shadows probably should have gone in with him. For while Richard hasn’t had tremendous impact in the United States, what he has accomplished in Great Britain is truly mind-boggling.
Born Harry Webb, he changed his name to pure Rock & Roll, Cliff standing for Rock and Richard for his idol, the Little one. He soon became known as “the British Elvis” and the Shadows, as great as they were/are led by guitar hero Hank Marvin, had to cope with comparisons to the incomparable U.S. Ventures. But, while most artists would have been crushed by hype of that magnitude, Richard and the Shadows not only survived it, they lived up to it.
Richard’s debut single “Move It,” often referred to as Britain’s first great rock & roll recording, reached No. 2 on the U.K. charts in 1958, kept from the top spot by “Stupid Cupid” by Connie Francis. From that to his album “Bold As Brass,” which climbed to No. 4 on the Brit charts last year, Richard has dominated the British music scene for 53 years, establishing standards that probably never will be equaled.
Since we already had the real Elvis, Richard’s billing probably hurt him in the States. But his talent got him through the bombast, and he did notch a fair amount of hits in the colonies. Five albums charted between 1965 and 1981 and 19 singles scored, beginning with 1959’s “Living Doll,” which climbed to No. 30. Success in the States was sporadic, however. In 1976, he appeared poised for a breakthrough when “Devil Woman” reached No. 6. But follow-ups didn’t fare as well.
In 1979, his album “Rock ‘n’ Roll Juvenile” started his most successful run in the U.S., yielding the No. 7 single “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” and the No. 34 “Carrie,” with the follow-up LP “I’m No Hero” giving us the No. 10 single “Dreaming” and the No. 17 “A Little In Love.” In the midst of that success, he teamed with Olivia Newton-John on the No. 20 “Suddenly” from the film “Xanadu.”
When “We Don’t Talk Anymore” clicked, Richard became the first artist to reach the U.S. Hot 100’s Top 40 in each of Rock’s first four decades. Richard is the only singer to have scored a number one single in the U.K. in five consecutive decades: the 1950s through to the 1990s. If “The Millennium Prayer,” a charity single his own label refused to release, had just held off a couple months, Richard would have made it six consecutive decades. It reached No. 1 in November 1999 in spite of little radio support.
Now let’s look at just some of his other U.K. achievements (most statistics compliments of the outstanding everyhit.com website):
- He ranks third in No. 1 singles with 14 behind Elvis (21) and The Beatles (17).
- The longest span of No. 1 singles (47½ years) also goes to Elvis, with Richard second with 40 1/3 years.
- Only eight acts have sold more than 10 million singles in the UK. Richard tops the list, beating Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, Michael Jackson etc.
- Richard has, by far, the most Top 40 hits in the UK with a staggering 124. And that doesn’t even include re-entries. The Shadows, with and without Richard, top the group list with 56.
- Elvis leads the British list with 76 Top 10 hits, Richard is second with 67, but Richard leads all male vocalist with the most consecutive Top 10 British hits – 23.
- “Gee Whiz It’s You” by Cliff & the Shadows reached No. 4 on the British charts in 1961 as an import only. It was released as a single outside the UK.
- The group with the most top 10 albums is The Shadows with 28, 17 featuring Richard.
- The biggest jump to No. 1 by an album on the British charts was made by The Shadows “20 Golden Greats,” which vaulted from No. 48.
- The Shadows also hold the biggest climb inside the top 40, their 1980 release “String Of Hits” going from No. 39 to No. 3 in one jump.
- The Shadows also have the longest span of hit albums for any group, 50 years and five months, trailing Elvis for all artists by just six months.
- In 1989, Richard received the The Brit Awards nod for “Outstanding Contribution,” after being named “Best British Male Solo Artist” in the first two award years, 1977 and 1982. These awards are decided by over 1000 members of the British music industry.
- Richard finished second in the Eurovision Song Contest with “Congratulations” in 1968 and third with 1973’s “Power To All Our Friends,” while the Shadows were runner-up in 1975 with “Let Me Be The One.”
- His worldwide record sales are reported to be over 260 million.
- He had his own TV show, “It’s Cliff Richard,” from 1970 until 1976 and has appeared in over 10 movies.
- In 1995, Richard was knighted, two years before Paul McCartney and also before Elton John, Mick Jagger and Tom Jones.
In 2002, the BBC sponsored a vote for the 100 Greatest Brits of all time. Richard finished 56 on the list, which was topped by Winston Churchill. John Lennon finished eighth and Paul McCartney & George Harrison also made it (once again, the drummer gets no respect). David Bowie, Robbie Williams, Bob Geldof, John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), Bono and Freddie Mercury were additional Rock representatives. The list also cited Henry VIII (the King not the song), Richard Burton (probably for giving Bob Dylan hell), Alexander Graham Bell, King Arthur and, of course, William Shakespeare. And, of course, Boy George!
In 2004, the UK Music Hall of Fame was started, with five artists – Elvis, The Beatles, Madonna, Bob Marley and U2 inducted by committee. A nationwide poll then was conducted to determine five more inductees, one from each decade. Richard was the inductee from the 1950s.
After reuniting with the Shadows for a new release in 2009, Richard celebrated his 70th birthday last October with six concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, which sold out within hours of their announcement. The next two months he performed 18 concerts in Germany to over 300,000 fans. He has a tour scheduled for the Fall featuring the Temptations, the Stylistics, Candi Staton, Percy Sledge, Deniece Williams, Billy Paul, Lamont Dozier, Freda Payne, Brenda Holloway and Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.
In the past 53 years, Cliff Richard has won almost every possible award connected with British music, many several times over. Considering the contributions the Brits have made to Rock & Roll – The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin etc. etc. – how can the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ignore the man credited with starting it all?