Random Runners-Up: ‘Move It’, by Cliff Richard & The Drifters

Our final #2 of the week, and it’s back to the fifties. To a man we’ve met plenty of times before on these very pages…

‘Move It’, by Cliff Richard & The Drifters

#2 for 1 week, from 24th-31st Oct 1958, behind ‘Stupid Cupid’ / ‘Carolina Moon’

Cliff Richard, in 1958, was Britain’s answer to Elvis. That’s both true, and unfair. True, because he was young, good-looking, and extravagantly quiffed. And unfair, because nobody comes out well from a comparison with Elvis.

This was Cliff’s debut single, his first of sixty-eight (68!) Top 10 hits in the UK, over the course of fifty years. And if you are of a slightly snide disposition – and aren’t we all, sometimes – one could argue that this was the only true rock ‘n’ roll record from Britain’s great rock ‘n’ roll hope.

And it does rock. The opening refrain is great, reminiscent of Buddy Holly, and the purring, driving riff that succeeds it sounds genuinely exciting, almost punk-ish in its simplicity. In the autumn of 1958, it must have been thrilling to hear this growling out of some jukebox speakers, and knowing that the singer was from a London suburb, rather than Memphis.

The lyrics are pretty nonsensical, as all the best rock ‘n’ roll lyrics are… C’mon pretty baby let’s a-move it and a-groove it… while The Drifters sound the equal of any American group. (They wouldn’t become The Shadows until 1959, by which point they had accompanied Cliff on his first of many easy-listening #1s, ‘Living Doll’.)

The one thing that doesn’t quite sell this for me is Cliff himself… He just sounds a bit too nice. And I don’t know if that’s because I can’t seperate the goody-goody, God-bothering, Centre Court-serenading Cliff Richard from the eighteen-year-old version. Still, imagine Elvis mumbling and grunting his way through this…

As I referred to above, Cliff would go on to enjoy some reasonable success over the ensuing decades… I wonder if anyone who bought ‘Move It’ in October 1958 imagined that this hot young rocker would still be touring and recording in 2022, well into his ninth decade… As uncool as he is, I can’t bring myself to dislike Sir Clifford of Richard: he’s a bona-fide pop legend. I can’t say I’m looking forward to reviewing any of his three remaining #1s, though, but that’s a story for another day…

I hope you’ve enjoyed random runners-up week. The regular countdown will resume over the weekend, picking up in the summer of ’86…

88. ‘Living Doll’, by Cliff Richard & The Drifters

In which we meet the pre-eminent British popular singer of the day. And the next day. And the next. Next. Next. Basically, there will be no escaping Cliff for the following forty years…

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Living Doll, by Cliff Richard & The Drifters (Cliff’s 1st of fourteen #1s / The Drifters – AKA The Shadows – 1st of twelve #1s)

6 weeks, from 31st July – 11th September 1959

In the intro to my post on Shirley Bassey’s debut #1 I gave it the big fanfare about living legends and national treasures and so on. And let’s be honest, the same applies ten times over for Sir Clifford of Richard. He will go on to utterly dominate UK pop music, remaining a genuine chart presence well into the 2000s, even if he is probably more famous today for singing during the rain at Wimbledon and for suing the BBC over the way they covered allegations of… (REDACTED).

Let’s get to the music shall we? ‘Living Doll’ begins with a natty little bass intro, and then… Well it’s rock ‘n’ roll; but not as we know it. I’ve mentioned many a time the idea of ‘US’ Vs ‘UK’ rock ‘n’ roll: British singers taking on the Yanks at their own game and slowly getting better at it. Let’s be honest, the odds were stacked against the Brits with Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Johnnie Ray et al against Lonnie Donegan and, um, Tommy Steele. And with the arrival of ‘The British Elvis’ AKA Cool Cliff, you might think that this is the moment for Britain to really grab the rock ‘n’ roll flag for herself!

Except, no. ‘Living Doll’ is an extremely lightweight record. A couple of acoustic guitars. Cliff’s simpering vocals. And that’s about it. Got myself a cryin’, walkin’, sleepin’, talkin’, living doll… Got to do my best to please her, Just cos she’s a living doll… This is a song that I could have sung a few lines from – most Brits could, no? – without ever having listened to it properly. And it’s a song that doesn’t do well under more intense scrutiny.

Yes it sounds cheesy and flimsy with a whiff of George Formby in the background. But beyond all that there’s the problem of the lyrics… In the previous chart-topper, Bobby Darin was giving us a ‘girl as dream’ narrative. Here Cliff is giving us ‘girl as doll’, and taking it very literally: Well take a look at her hair, It’s real and if you don’t believe what I say just feel… Pretty creepy… Gonna lock her up in a trunk, So no big hunk, Can steal her away from me… Eww. That’s taking a metaphor way too far and then some. She’s either literally a doll with which Cliff is romancing… Or an extremely submissive young lady over whom Cliff is aggressively over-protective. Either way…

The best bit of the song, by far, is the dreamy guitar solo which by the standards of the time is pretty long, loose and groovy. That, of course, is provided courtesy of Cliff’s long time backing band The Sha… No, wait. The Drifters. It’s actually quite simple: The Drifters were The Shadows until the US Vocal group of the same name (Ben E. King and co.) threatened legal action. They appeared as The Drifters on Cliff’s first five or so hit singles; this was their sole chart-topper before the name change.

Rocker Cliff

It’s pretty easy, almost a cliché, to get stuck into Cliff as an uncool, God-bothering, 2nd rate Elvis impersonator. And I’d try to avoid doing so at all costs… If his debut #1 record didn’t kind of prove all the accusations correct. He was clearly trying to sound like Elvis. He was clearly trying to look like Elvis (just look at that quiff!). And this record is him selling out just like Elvis did. Except Elvis got a good few years of genuine rocking ‘n’ rolling in before the movie studios, the army and the burgers came a-calling. Cliff got one album. (Do give ‘Rock on With Cliff Richard’ a listen, though – it’s got some decent tracks on it.)

Anyway, that’s one down for Cliff; just thirteen more UK #1 Singles to go…