Monday, June 20, 2011

Don't Talk To Me About Love: Cliff Richard: "It's All In The Game"

There are certain moments when everything comes into focus, almost too sharply, the contrasts are almost too precise and vivid to look at for very long...and in this case, the two songs - this one at two and the other at one - set out the differing paths of music (at least chart music) for pretty much the rest of the decade.

What is most interesting is that the struggle here, if it even is a struggle, isn't between two generations but two whole ways of thinking about music itself. On one side is the new, the brash, the massive "YEAH" of The Beatles (whose "She Loves You" prevented Cliff from getting to the top); on the other is The Man plc, who told Cliff repeatedly that this whole rock 'n' roll thing was a kid's game and that to really make it in "the industry" he had to branch out, to become an all-around entertainer*, and this gift would give him a kind of immortality. Clearly Cliff had already chosen this route (if in fact it hadn't been chosen for him by his label) and thus here he is, doing a song whose music predated the birth of his own producer, Norrie Paramor. In the face of the Huge Inevitable that was The Beatles (after this song Beatlemania, which had been building up all summer, simply exploded), Cliff and Co. may have felt that the best way to deal with it was to retreat, retreat into a past that was theirs for the taking. The song is barely sung as such but quietly pronounced; he sounds not as if he's been through the ringer romantically (though of course he had; Jet Harris had left The Shadows because his wife and Cliff had an affair - how much of this the public knew I don't know) but has been disappointed himself too many times and is now content to sing about love rather than experience it. That may seem like a harsh judgement, but Cliff was already paying the price for having a loyal female following (nicknamed The Screaming Nellies) - no girlfriend - and so whenever he sighs or moans it always sounds as if there is something vital and messy being avoided - or is that just plain old English reserve?

In the face of the winking knowingness and good humor of The Beatles, Cliff does his best (and this was also his biggest hit in the US at the time); but the yawning maw that was "the industry" was indeed making him immortal, bit by bit, separating him and those of his "ilk" from the vagaries of music, if not rough, vernacular life itself. But, I wonder, who could change him and give him back, rescue him from The Man plc? That will be answered in time, but when we get back to him, it will be with something much creepier than this.

*Clearly Cliff's career in the UK was a copy of Elvis Presley's, right down to making reasonably good movies and churning out hit after hit to an admiring and fervently loyal following; he may have felt it unfair that he had to go head-to-head with The Beatles, but then so did Elvis, with middling results. Cliff has been married to "the game" (as Tim Westwood would put it) for so long, but does he get his due? Some may think that the metaphoric worm has turned over the decades, but if so, where are the deluxe repackagings of Cliff's albums from the 60s? Hm...

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