2LP on 1CD (Stereo)
## 1 - 16 "Cliff" 1959 EMI-Columbia (4.5*)
Cliff Richard was England's most successful 1950s homegrown rock & roll star, although his credentials have long been suspect, a result of his shift to a softer sound in the wake of "Livin' Doll" in late 1959. But on this album, newly reissued on CD in 1998 in both its stereo and mono versions on one disc, there's no credibility problem - he sings hard and the band plays even harder. Richard and the Shadows (who were still billed under their original name, the Drifters, on the first pressing's jacket, reproduced here) performed live at EMI's Studio No. 1 on February 9 and 10, 1959, in front of several hundred screaming fans, an audio precursor to the mock concert "played" by the Beatles at the end of A Hard Day's Night, except that there's nothing "mock" about this show. White rock & roll's first professionally recorded live album is a red-hot document of England's first world-class rock & roll phenomenon. At his best here, which is 95% of the show, he sings like a hard-rocking Ricky Nelson with a little bit more power and depth than that description implies, while the Shadows show themselves to be the most professional, if not quite the wildest rock band in England at that time. Lead guitarist Hank B. Marvin has a genuine American sound, with perhaps more embellishment and flamboyance than a lot of American players might have bothered with, while Bruce Welch, Jet Harris, and Tony Meehan reveal themselves as a solid rhythm section. They also rip through numbers like "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" not very much slower than a lot of punk bands 20 years later might have done it. Apart from the inclusion of Ritchie Valens' "Donna" (virtually a tribute, Valens having died a week earlier in the much-lamented plane crash), there isn't a slow or soft number here. Interestingly, the stereo mix (which only appeared as fragmentary tracks in countries other than England, most notably Holland) may be preferred - the stereo isn't primitive binaural, although the bass and drums, with Richard's voice, are centered in one channel, and the guitars on the other; obviously, this was a live recording, so there was bound to be some bleeding of the sound, thus making this concert disc a bit more "modern" sounding than many of EMI's other early stereo efforts. And Jet Harris' bass and Tony Meehan's drums are certainly more prominent on the stereo tracks. (British import)
- Bruce Eder (All Music Guide)
## 17 - 32 "Cliff Sings" 1959 EMI-Columbia (4*)
Producer Norrie Paramor knew exactly what he was doing. Cliff Richard burst onto the British pop scene with a rocker - his first album, accordingly, rocked just as hard. But when he scored his first number one with a ballad, it only followed that album number two would follow suit. Cliff Sings is almost unrecognizable as the successor to the hottest live recording of the late '50s. True, the two sides of the original vinyl open with blistering intent - a vicious "Blue Suede Shoes"; a sneering rockabilly "Twenty Flight Rock." But the heart of the album lies in the biggest ballads, the warmest strings, the most dramatic arrangements - all the things, in fact, for which the veteran Paramor had been renowned before he was nipped by the rock & roll bug. It was not a complete disenfranchisement. A second Carl Perkins song, "Pointed Toe Shoes," a fluid "Mean Woman Blues," and the furious "The Snake and the Bookworm" rocked at least as hard as past 45s "Dynamite" and "High Class Baby." And when the last dance loomed at the youth club, George Gershwin's "Embraceable You" was always going to get a lot more couples smooching than some raucous one-two-three o'clock rocker. But a perfunctory "As Time Goes By" and an anemic "Here Comes Summer" were surely included as much because Paramor enjoyed rearranging them, than because they were crucial additions to Cliff's canon, and asked whether the album struck Cliff's existing audience as a disappointment, at the time, it probably was. Certainly the bright young things who sent "Move It" soaring up the British chart would have had little time for the likes of "Little Things Mean a Lot," "I Don't Know Why," or "I'll String Along With You"; might not have been instantly impressed by the newfound rich warmth of the Richard tones. But that audience hadn't exactly broken its neck buying Cliff's post-"Move It" rockers either, so what did they expect? Rock & roll was still young, but its heartiest practitioners were growing older by the day. Cliff knew that if he was to survive in show business, he would need to start adapting to a far wider audience than the rockers would ever allow him to embrace. Cliff Sings was the first day of the rest of his career.
- Dave Thompson (All Music Guide)