Cliff is a very British kind of star: Cheesy, self-parodying but actually has a great back catalogue of songs that we have all grown up with. So why don’t we give him a break and celebrate him for what he is – our most successful solo male artist of all time?
He is an easy target for jokes from day one when he was branded “The British Elvis” – the two don’t compare for cultural impact, but in terms of statistics he matches the king in many areas. 100 Albums, over 130 singles including chart hits in every decade from 1950s to 2000s and with only the exception of the last decade had a number one each decade too, and he has more singles, albums and EPs in the UK chart than any other artist. Even John Lennon said that “before Cliff and the Shadows, there had been nothing worth listening to in British music.”
If he was American we would be holding him up as a national treasure in a uncynical way as they do with Barry Manilow, Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka and many others, instead we point and laugh at a man who – let’s be honest – has done nothing majorly wrong in his career. Sell out tours, calendars, records sold by the barrow load even today when many major radio stations refuse to play his new work he is still in the industry 55 years after his first hit “Move it” which has been described as the first proper UK Rock and Roll single. Consider his biggest hits like “Summer Holiday”, “Bachelor Boy”, “We Don’t Talk anymore”, “Devil Woman” and his Christmas mainstay “Mistletoe and Wine” we all know them – from Grandparents to our kids they know these songs. My son knows Summer Holiday because they sang it at school and my Granda knows it too – 6 years and 89 years, and all in between, connected by a song by Cliff.
Yes he can be a bit cheesy and while the Wimbledon thing in retrospect is a bit cringe worthy, at the time was brilliant and everyone had a bit of fun with it. Then his forays into soft Christian music has led to many deride him – but people bought it and made “Millennium Prayer” number one in 1999 against all the odds. You can’t just hate him because he is popular or religious. As much as I hate the phrase “Guilty Pleasure” Cliff is the UK’s guilty pleasure in many ways. Few of us would ever put his music on by choice, but if it comes on the radio we know the words and can sing along – he doesn’t make you reach for the off button in the way others do.
And I have to concede his performance at the Diamond Jubilee Concert was painful, but I’ve watched Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney through my hands before as they are old men without the charisma or ability they used to have. For me Sir Cliff is an integral part of post-war Britain; from 1958 to today he continues to record, perform and enjoy what he does and I applaud him for that. It’s easy to mock, make suggestive jokes about his private life and criticise the man, any pop star starting out today would love to have just a fraction of this man’s success over the last half century or so. And you also know that in several years time when he passes, dozens will come out of the woodwork to praise him and his achievements. Songs will be played on the radio and we’ll all sing along and remember the words as the melodies take us back to our childhoods or teenage years or adult lives.
Considering the media bashing that he has had in the last two decades, his success should be celebrated and applauded even more because he’s still here and many of those commentators and critics are long forgotten. He might be cheesy, showbiz in the old fashioned sense and not as good as he once was – but he’s ours, and we should celebrate and enjoy him anyway.