We waited a long time for Cliff to make his first appearance at the top of the UK singles chart; we didn’t have to wait long for him to return. Seven weeks, to be precise. You better get used to this…
Travellin’ Light, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows (Cliff’s 2nd of fourteen #1s / The Shadows 2nd of twelve #1s)
5 weeks, from 30th October – 4th December 1959
‘Travellin’ Light’ treads very much the same path as ‘Living Doll’ did. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that they were recorded during the same session, within minutes of one another. It’s jaunty, it’s stripped-back… It’s, again, surprisingly minimalist. It’s a cooler record than its forbear – it would be a tough struggle to be less cool, in all honesty – as seen through the missing ‘g’ at the end of ‘Travellin’. Cliff don’t need no proper pronunciation.
His voice is light and airy, with an eerie echo. Got no bags and baggage to slow me down, I’m travellin’ so fast my feet ain’t touchin’ the ground… You can imagine him strolling alongside a dusty highway, or riding with the hobos on an empty freight train carriage. It’s a very American sounding recorded, steeped in the atmosphere of the open prairie, from Britain’s foremost rock ‘n’ roller.
And there’s something quite endearing about this song, something that ‘Living Doll’ lacked. The lines: No comb an’ no toothbrush, I got nothin’ to haul… And: I’m a hoot and a holler, Away from paradise… give it a nice homely feel. Cliff sounds relaxed, as if he’s just jamming with his buddies. The one time it does veer into cheese-territory is at the end of the bridge: I’m carrying only, A pocket full of dreams, A heart full of love, An’ they weigh nothing at all… We get it, we get it – you’re racing home to the girl you love. Whatever…
Actually, the more I listen to this song, the more I can see an incongruity between the music and the lyrics. Music: laid-back, chilled, goin’ nowhere in a hurry. Lyrics: all about rushing to get back to ‘see my baby tonight’. The two don’t really go together. But, hey, I don’t think this type of pop song is ever designed to be put under very intense scrutiny. It is what it is; and I like it a lot better than I did ‘Living Doll.’
Still though, The Shadows (who are now properly ‘The Shadows’, having dropped ‘The Drifters’ due to legal reasons) get another chart-topping credit without having to do an awful lot. One acoustic guitar pins the whole song together. Someone shakes a tambourine. The same, dreamy surf guitar that gave us the solo in their first #1 is back, purring away in the background with little ad-libbed guitar licks, improvised morsels of music more complex than they need to be, which suggests the guitarist – Hank Marvin, I’m guessing – may have been feeling a little restricted in his role.
To conclude, then. This is better, cooler even, than ‘Living Doll’. And yet… It’s still very safe. We are still to meet Cliff the Rock ‘n’ Roller and, by this point at the tail-end of the 1950s, looking ahead at his chart-toppers to come, I’m not sure if we will. Cliff the Rock ‘n’ Roller may already be dead and gone.