The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Black Sky Thinking

Why Cliff Richard Is The Epitome And Saviour Of Rock & Roll
John Doran , September 22nd, 2008 16:50

Forget Liam Gallagher, Richard Ashcroft or Paul Weller - Sir Cliff is the best rock star we have, says John 'We Don't Talk Any More' Doran

It has been revealed today that in 1963 the Israeli authorities experienced an overwhelming threat to the moral fabric of their state that caused them to resort to draconian measures to ensure it would never happen again. And what was this crushing blow to the very stability of the Middle East? Radical Islam? Anti-Semitism? The threat of nuclear war? No, it was a Cliff Richard concert.

In today’s Guardian it was revealed that the then 23-year-old fomented an "outbreak of mass hysteria" with a visit that also saw the sight of Israeli teenagers swooning. The piece quotes Alon Gan, a history professor at Tel Aviv University, saying: "Israel in the early 60s was afraid that from the west would come a bad wind of sex, alcohol and rock’n’roll."

It is about time that we in the UK realized what the Israelis have known for a long time: Cliff Richard is one of the most bad-ass rockers we have. Let us examine the evidence.

Cliff has saved the music industry.

No one dares fuck with the Richard. Everyone who wants to hear his latest masterwork has gone to a shop and bought the fucker. Unbelievably, last week, his single ‘Thank You For A Lifetime’ outsold the rest of the singles chart combined in CD sales. You see Metallica? You just didn’t put the fear into your Napster using fans like Harry Webb did. ‘Thank You For A Lifetime’ sold 33,376 units of which 31,765 were CD sales. The other 74 singles totalled 30,204. And today sees the release of an eight box set ‘And They Said It Wouldn’t Last – My 50 Years In Music’. If you place all the pre-sold boxes back to back they will stretch all the way to Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon.

Cliff is the UK’s best loved - not the fucking Beatles.

Cliff has outsold the Beatles and Elvis in the UK. And don’t just take our word for it - even the Church Times agrees. And they’ve illustrated their piece with The Cliffinator getting it on with two ladies. POW! This is only fitting from an artist who has had 14 number ones and 123 top 40 hits.

Cliff destroys rock & roll stereotypes.

Cliff laughs in the face of outmoded norms of rock behavior. It has become the standard for our so-called rock stars to indulge in alcohol abuse, recreational drug use and casual sex, therefore Cliff rejects all of it. Where Cliff leads, Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye and Morrissey follow. Add to this anti-orthodox love for the Lord above, and we have a true icon for our times.

Wired For Sound

While today’s corporate rock stars mill about on stage like they are factory workers on a fag break who have wandered into the venue by accident, cliff set out the visual gold standard for the last 30-years with the superb ‘Wired For Sound’ video.

The influence of the 'Wired For Sound' imperial period of Cliff Richard cannot be overstated. His messianic demeanour was copied wholesale by the Verve's Richard 'Sock Faced Cunt' Ashcroft. The goth mullet, chemistry teacher polaroid glasses and leathers were borrowed by Andrew Eldritch during the Sisters of Mercy's imperial 'This Corrosion' phase.

Not even David Bowie could resist getting in on the mullet, leathers and roller boots/your-dad-having-a-midlife-crisis act some 11 years later:

Cliff is a queer icon.

We're not saying that Cliff is gay - a man can live in a house with another man, stranger things have happened at sea - but we relish the fact there is a heady whiff of lavender emanating gloriously from the Peter Pan of Pop camp. It transpired recently that Sir Cliff, 67, has moved in with Father John McElynn. It doesn’t matter if they’re living ‘in sin’ as it were, but with previous form for celibacy, Cliff lives a definably queer or sexually ‘other’ lifestyle.

And what does he think of this: “As for my sexuality I am sick to death of the media’s speculation about it. What business is it of anyone else’s what any of us are as individuals? I don’t think my fans would care either way.” Yeah! Fuck you, the man!

The truth of the matter is that very little remains of rock’s oppositional nature – apart from when it comes down to gender/sexual politics. Great outsider rock music has often opposed itself to the mainstream by proudly standing under the flag of manlove. The Ramones called themselves punks (US slang for homosexual) and wore rips in their jeans which was prison code to suggest the wearer would get down on one's knees before other inmates to avoid beatings. Add Mr Richard to the honours list that also includes Suede, Pet Shop Boys, Bowie, New York Dolls, The Smiths, Marc Bolan, Little Richard and so on. At this point it is also pertinent to note that Cliff sold a million copies of 'Living Doll' a full two decades before Brian Ferry wrote 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache', also about a “rubber dolly”.

Cliff invented hip hop.

In the 1960s, The Shadows were formed to be Cliff's backing band, revolving round the twanging, dueling leads of Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch. 'Apache' was their third single which stormed the ramparts of the UK charts with its distinctive tribal drum patterns. One of many fans was funk musician Michael Viner who, along with his Incredible Bongo Band, released a cover of the song with a much elongated drum break down. In the Bronx in the mid 70s, block party DJ Kool Herc found that dancers would go wild during the extended drum break down and so he invented the technique of isolating the drum break down and extending it by cutting between two turntables. Thus meaning, in a roundabout way, Cliff invented hip hop.

All of this is completely at odds with, say, Liam Gallagher who slavishly follows what he believes to be the career path of rock and roll. There is nary a whiff of the queer or the outsider or the rebel about this sort of porridge-faced dolt in leisure wear. In the same way that he cowardly chose to run round in a circle with his fists up instead of protecting his brother from a stage invader recently; the entire band have always bottled placing themselves in any kind of oppositional context. If the EU released a document saying what the standard look and behaviour of a rock star should be they would rely on Oasis as their template.

So today let us celebrate the celibate, queer, hip hop inventing, leather trouser wearing, roller skating genius of Sir Cliff Richard. Hip hip!