Remembering Cilla Black

Growing up, the two things that I knew about Cilla Black was that she presented ‘Blind Date’ on a Saturday night (a program I wasn’t allowed to watch as a child, due to my mother’s long-held distrust of ITV) and that her real name was Cilla White.


As I got older, and all teenage, it would have been harder to think of anyone less cool than Cilla Black. She hung out with Cliff Richard, campaigned for the Tories, and had her hair set in a perfect early-nineties bouffant. Years ago I stumbled across a forum in which BA cabin crew posted horror stories about serving Ms. Black (always ‘Ms. Black’), how she would only sit in seat 1A, only drank a particular champagne, and would make her demands known only through her PA… (although, are you even a real celebrity if cabin crew don’t have a few bad things to say about you…?)

The one thing I didn’t know Cilla Black for, really, was the thing that started her off on her career of matchmaking and terrorising cabin crew: her singing.

While her hit-making career didn’t last too long, the two chart-toppers she had in 1964 are both excellent ballads interpreted very well, by a very young woman. The first – ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ – a Bacharach & David number that stands as the highest-selling single of the 1960s by a British woman.

I love the way, in that performance, how she starts off simply, quite unspectacularly, before dropping an octave and letting loose. Then a few months later came ‘You’re My World’, an Italian melody with English lyrics. Both these hits stood out, when I wrote about them for this blog, because they stood out so much from Cilla’s contemporaries, the Merseybeat bands, and in particular her Cavern Club mates, The Beatles (who are in the audience for the performance below).

She would continue to have hits as the sixties went on, though no further number ones. I can’t claim to be the biggest expert on the later musical career of Cilla Black (and I will happily take recommendations from those who know better), but if I can choose one more video to embed, it would be her final UK Top 10, a #3 from 1971: ‘Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight)’.

Following this the hits dried up, although she kept on recording music even after reinventing herself as the 1980s/1990s go to woman for Saturday night ‘trash’ TV. (My mother’s words, not mine…) On this, the fifth anniversary of her death then, it is worth remembering that Cilla Black was, first and foremost, a lady who could hold a tune, and whose musical achievements have been slightly overshadowed by what came next.


Cilla Black, 27th May 1943 – 1st August 2015


170. ‘You’re My World’, by Cilla Black

A word of warning. If you listen to this next #1 through headphones, and haven’t checked the volume levels on your device, then the violins that open this song may burst your eardrums. Take it from me. They’re the violins from the shower scene in ‘Psycho’, remixed.


You’re My World, by Cilla Black (her 2nd and final #1)

4 weeks, from 28th May – 25th June 1964

Once they settle down, though, we head into solid ‘sixties ballad’ territory. Dramatic piano, tumbling drums, a soaring chorus… You’re my world, You’re every breath I take, You’re my world, You’re every move I make… The lyrics are trite, no doubt about it – but does that really matter? It’s an over-the-top record, that requires some over-the-top emoting. As the trees reach for the sun, Above, So my arms reach out to you, For love…

I still can’t shake the feeling I had while listening to her first #1: ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ – that Cilla was but a second-rate Dusty Springfield. She gives it a good go, and does sing it very well, but her voice just doesn’t have enough behind it – it’s still a little too reedy. It’s harsh, you might argue, to compare a perfectly good singer to the one and only Dusty. And this, after all, is Cilla’s second chart-topper while we are still yet to hear from Ms. Springfield… But. From a 2019 standpoint, the patent on this type of pop-ballad is owned by Dusty, and almost everybody else will fall short of her standards.

Still, when we get to the line that builds up to the chorus – With your hand, Resting in mine… I feel a po-wer, So, divine… I’m completely won over by this song. That’s how you do a chorus. We’re a long way yet from the golden age of the power-ballad; but this is a proto power-ballad. What the V2 rocket was to Apollo 11. It’s a song that manages to cram a lot into it’s three minute run-time. A song that takes you on a journey, and assorted other clichés.

It’s also a song with a bit of a story behind it. It had originally been written the year before, in Italian as ‘Il Mio Mondo’ – which explains the operatic vibe – and translated into English, then French, then Spanish. It was a hit record in whatever language they tried; apart from, interestingly enough, in Italy… George Martin, who had an ear for these kind of things, was the man who spotted its potential and gave it to Cilla…


And so it was her, and her alone, who could break up these nine months of Merseybeat with two #1 blockbuster ballads. She was a huge star, no doubt about that, though with this her chart-topping career ended quite abruptly. Whatever happened to her…? She lasted throughout the sixties – not something that all of her contemporaries managed – scoring nine more Top 10s (the last of which, the sublime ‘Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight)’ is the best.)

Oh yes. And then she became one of the most famous TV personalities in the country, as the face of Saturday night light entertainment shows like ‘Surprise, Surprise’ and ‘Blind Date’. I wasn’t allowed to watch ‘Blind Date’ as a kid; my mum thought it was trash. I mean, it was trash – that was the entire point… Anyway, unresolved childhood grievances aside, Cilla Black was part of the fabric of British live in the eighties and nineties and it was genuinely shocking when she died suddenly in 2015. Her death sent a ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation to the top of the UK Album Charts – the first time she had topped any chart since ‘You’re My World’…

I once spent an enjoyable hour reading a thread by anonymous British Airways cabin crew who had had the misfortune to serve Cilla on flights. She could *allegedly* be, shall we say, demanding… It made me love her even more. A proper diva, the likes of whom we see fewer and fewer of these days. RIP, and onwards.