Think you know who Cliff Richard is and what he can do? Chances are, you don’t know the half of it. How about dancefloor Cliff, folky Cliff – even ecological Cliff? He’s been making records since 1958 and has worked with every development in British music, from rockabilly to electronic, without compromising his utterly distinctive personality. Here are 20 of the best Cliff Richard songs – ones you know and some you really ought to hear. You might be surprised just how many brilliant records Sir Cliff has made; this list is really just a drop in the ocean…
20: Move It (single A-side, 1958)
Hungry Cliff. He was just a fresh-faced youth when he made Move It in 1958, and his backing band, The Drifters, were equally inexperienced. But Cliff’s debut single rocks. It was credible, rough-hewn rock’n’roll, and if Cliff resembled his (and everyone else’s) hero Elvis at times, there was enough of his own character to make it clear he’d follow its own path. But surely even the wide-eyed star-in-the-making could not have guessed just how far that path would take him.
19: In The Country (from ‘Cinderella’, 1967)
Pastoral Cliff. Our man escapes the pressures of workaday living and flees to the country in this ebullient, heart-lifting hit from 1967. Written by The Shadows – at this time Brian Bennett, Hank B Marvin, Bruce Welch and John Rostill – for the London Palladium’s 1966 pantomime, Cinderella, in which Cliff was inevitably cast as Buttons. Cheerful, strummy, as catchy as Velcro, In The Country is a fan-favourite among the best Cliff Richard songs. Though it was regarded as a “typical show tune” by one critic, there was more to it that that: the song is a perfect example of innocent 60s pop. As such, it caught the attention of indie kids The Farmers Boys, who landed their biggest hit with a cover version in 1984. The panto may be long forgotten, but In The Country is not.
18: On The Beach (from ‘Wonderful Life’, 1964)
Coastal Cliff. Cliff an The Shadows were never reluctant to celebrate the fun things in life, and this toe-tapper from their 1964 movie romp, Wonderful Life, could not be perkier. While it has a buoyant, loosely Latin feel, emphasised by Hank Marvin quoting La Bamba at the end of his fine guitar solo, it’s swinging beat music, beautifully driven by The Shadows. The single release made No.7 in the UK – not as high as the similarly sunny Summer Holiday, but On The Beach shines just as brightly among the best Cliff Richard songs.
17: Throw Down A Line (single A-side, 1969)
Stomping Cliff. He expresses bleak emotions in Hank Marvin’s powerful song about feeling overwhelmed. The Shadows’ guitar star does not just provide those cutting lead lines, he offers strong vocal support, though Cliff doesn’t sound like he’s in need of it: it’s often forgotten just how powerful and emphatic he can be when the material demands it. A cracker from 1969.
16: High Class Baby (single A-side, 1958)
Rockabilly Cliff. Here he is in 1958 with The Drifters (aka The Shadows) sounding as urgent as any 50s British rocker ever did. Young, lean and hungry, Cliff had plenty to prove here, and was determined to rock just as hard as his idols from across the pond. One of the best Cliff Richard songs of the era, High Class Baby is proof there was plenty of gutsy British rock before Merseybeat.
15: Jesus (single A-side, 1972)
Vertiginous Cliff. Wow, what an ambitious record. Other contemporary hits made mention of Jesus, such as The Doobie Brothers’ Jesus Is Just Alright and Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky, but Cliff’s aspiration reached to the heavens here. A Top 40 single in 1971, Jesus was certainly an artistic success: opening with what would now be called a breakbeat, the record builds to become a funk-rock monster, with jagged glam-rock guitar, gospel choral vocals, a fascinating phased sound and a groove which The Rolling Stones or Rare Earth might have been proud of. It’s now a cult record, adored by DJs who specialise in remarkable early-70s dancefloor rock.
14: Blue Turns To Grey (single A-side, 1966)
Rolling Cliff. From Keith Richard to Cliff Richard: it’s not often remembered that Cliff covered a Jagger-Richard composition, Blue Turns To Grey, as early as 1966, long before the duo’s songwriting chops were highly regarded. The song had already been tried by several other acts, but Cliff was the one who made it a hit, his interpretation rising to No.15 in 1966. Thanks to The Shadows’ meaty, beaty backing, with superb jangly guitar any indie band would have been proud to deliver, it was a far more assertive version than the Stones’ own; Cliff sounds more certain of himself singing it than Mick Jagger did. Proof that the best Cliff Richard songs were always attuned to developments in pop.
13: Living Doll (from the ‘Serious Charge’ EP, 1959)
Defiant Cliff. One of the songs Cliff’s more mature fans love most, this simple, country-ish hit was penned by Lionel Bart, composer of hits for Tommy Steele and several smash musicals. Living Doll had been written for Cliff and The Shadows’ first movie, Serious Charge, but Cliff disliked its pseudo rock’n’roll arrangement, considering it inauthentic. He had not realised there was a clause in the movie contract to record the song, and defiantly refused to do so, holding out for weeks until The Shadows’ Bruce Welch suggested giving it a light country feel to make it more fitting for Cliff and the group. Reworked, the song became the biggest-selling British single of 1959. However, Cliff’s tangle with these toys was far from over: he re-recorded Living Doll with the cast of The Young Ones in 1986, and covered Wreckless Eric’s far darker Broken Doll on his Wired For Sound album in 1981.
12: Ease Along (from ‘Green Light’, 1978)
Cult Cliff. Cliff’s 1978 album Green Light was one of the best mature rock albums of the year, but it delivered no hits. Perhaps Ease Along could have been one, but it was never released as a single, unless bootleg pressings count. Bootlegs? That should tell you Ease Along has been in-demand on the dancefloor for years; it fits the mellow disco-funk vibe of the Balearic scene, with that mysterious intro like a mist blowing in, a snaking groove, wispy guitar and Richard Hewson’s dreamy orchestration, which offers a hint of the Far East. Let’s not overlook Cliff’s dynamite singing: he is really soulful here, without falling into that trying-too-hard trap that other rock’n’rollers sometimes resort to when faced with a dancefloor groove. He takes the title as his methodology and the result is a wonderful entry among the best Cliff Richard songs. Ease Along should be far more than a cult track.
11: From A Distance (from ‘From A Distance: The Event’, 1990)
Faraway Cliff. Composed by Julie Gold, a North American part-time tunesmith, From A Distance is a broadly religious song first recorded in the US as a country ballad. With its reassuring message, reminding us that while we may seem like insignificant individuals, we still matter to The Creator, it could have been written for Cliff. The song resembles his Christmas records, but wasn’t one: this building ballad charted in October 1990 and gave its title to the live album it came from, From A Distance: The Event.
10: The Day I Met Marie (single A-side, 1967)
Passionate Cliff. Or should that be psychedelic Cliff? This Hank Marvin song fits the “baroque pop” style of 1967 – it takes the form of several clearly different sections and styles, perfectly fitted together, with dynamic orchestration from Norrie Paramor. The Day I Met Marie’s Spanish feel, emphasised by the nylon-strung guitar and brass, suited the increasing trend among British people to take Mediterranean package holidays; you could certainly perform a sangria-charged conga to the thumping Euro-pop chorus. The tenderness of the opening lines, with Cliff’s voice like a summer breeze, does not even hint at the cacophony to come. Then suddenly it’s over – like a holiday romance extinguished the moment you fly home.
9: Silvery Rain (single A-side, 1971)
Eco Cliff. A song about insecticides destroying wildlife. Really. And Cliff’s no latecomer to green issues: he released this deliciously baroque, dramatic, lyrically hard-hitting single in 1971, before most folk in the UK had considered such matters. Silvery Rain is the product of the aware mind of Hank Marvin, who also recorded it with his deeply underrated vocal group Marvin, Welch & Farrar. It takes some time to get going, opening with birdsong that halts when the roar of a plane soars across the stereo spectrum. Cliff’s clear diction puts the message across loud and clear, and the fluttering trumpet, suggesting desperate flight, brings extra emphasis to the chorus. The single made No.27 in the UK but did better in Europe, where green issues were rapidly becoming more mainstream. A curious gem in the diverse array of recordings that make up the best Cliff Richard songs.
8: Time Drags By (from ‘Finders Keepers’, 1966)
Folky Cliff. Written by The Shadows for the final movie they made with Cliff, 1966’s Finders Keepers, this lazy-sounding acoustic ditty brings a different brand of Richard magic. Time Drags By finds him bored in a backwater, longing to get out. The song would have been assumed to be “beatnik” had it appeared a few years earlier, and Cliff’s vocal style is unusually tangy and suitably cynical here. In one of those unlikely combinations the pop world sometimes conjures up, the honking harmonica is blown by Jimmy Page. Contemporary thinking might have you believe that The Shadows would have considered it an honour to have worked with the future guitar icon of Led Zeppelin, and perhaps they did, but at the time it was probably the other way around: Hank Marvin had been a hero of the teenage Page, and the session probably gave the brilliant young session player a thrill. One thing’s for certain: Time Drags By record does not drag, all these years later.
7: The Young Ones (from ‘The Young Ones’, 1961)
Classic Cliff. The Young Ones was Cliff’s biggest-selling UK single. Anticipation had built for it in the preceding months, because it had been featured in Cliff’s hit movie of the same title, and it entered the charts at No.1 in 1962 and stayed there for six weeks. The song’s impact was so strong, it remained part of popular culture to the point where it was used for both the title and the theme tune for the BBC’s riotous “alternative sitcom” of the early 80s, starring Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. Though the use of the song appeared to be parodic, and the comedy was criticised for its violence – albeit slapstick – among other issues, Cliff took it sportingly. He appeared with the show’s cast members to sing Living Doll for Comic Relief in 1986. A beloved entry among the best Cliff Richard songs, The Young Ones was written by Sid Tepper and Roy C Bennett, who also wrote for Cliff’s original rock idol, Elvis, and Cliff never forgot how pivotal the song had been for him, inviting Bennett to perform it as a duet at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena in 2002.
6: Devil Woman (from ‘I’m Nearly Famous’, 1976)
Entranced Cliff. Never let it be said that Cliff Richard doesn’t have a sense of irony: Devil Woman came from the 1976 album which changed his career path, I’m Nearly Famous. The wry title was particularly apposite in the US, where Cliff had teetered on the verge of stardom for years. Devil Woman broke that spell, soaring to No.6 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The single is a cracker, Cliff’s perfectly judged vocal sitting atop a stripped-down backing – electric piano, rhythm section, filled out by some overdriven guitar – while he tells a tale of getting in over your head amid some mystical jiggery-pokery. It’s metaphorical, of course, but some listeners didn’t understand that, believing the song was connected to devil worship – an utterly risible thing to think Cliff would do. A more relevant point is that this sort of spooky story of being entranced by a mysterious woman goes back to early days of rock’n’roll, and the likes of The Coasters’ Love Potion No.9 and The Impressions’ Gypsy Woman. Cliff, a true rock’n’roll scholar, no doubt saw the song in that tradition.
5: Mistletoe And Wine (from ‘Private Collection: 1979-1988’)
Santa Cliff. In 1988, Cliff suddenly became Mr Christmas. The song that started it was Mistletoe And Wine, a lilting tune which, swimming against pop’s usual tide, Cliff amended in order to add more religious meaning. Penned by Jeremy Paul, Keith Strachan and Leslie Stewart, the song had initially appeared in the musical Scraps, sung ironically while the main character was being mistreated; it was also delivered in a bawdy manner by Twiggy in a TV production of the play. Cliff realised if it was sung straight, it had massive potential to become one of the best Christmas songs of all time, and he was proved right when, in December 1988, his recording topped the charts, taking its place in the long lineage of beloved UK Christmas No.1s. Easily one of the best Cliff Richard songs of all time, his version of Mistletoe And Wine acquired the power to save lives when it was used for an anti-drink-driving campaign. Like the gift that keeps on giving, Cliff enjoyed further Christmas hits, such as Whenever God Shines His Light (with Van Morrison, 1989), Saviour’s Day (1990) and the massive charity single The Millennium Prayer (1999). He also participated in Band Aid II in 1989.
4: Wired For Sound (from ‘Wired For Sound’, 1981)
High-tech Cliff. Today, it would probably be called Bluetoothed For Sound, but music obsessives can still identify with Cliff’s joyous celebration of the then recent phenomenon of carrying music with you everywhere – and how music can carry you through life. The title track from an album that was thoroughly contemporary in 1981, Wired For Sound’s agreeably tidy sound suggested it was more electronic than it really was: compare this with The Human League’s early hits and it isn’t so different. But it is rhythmically complex in a way sequencers struggled to create back then, and this aspect asks a lot of Cliff in the choruses. Did anyone really notice just how remarkable Wired For Sound was when it went Top 5, or did they just enjoy it because it sounds ecstatic, as the lyric suggests?
3: Carrie (from ‘Rock’n’Roll Juvenile’, 1979)
Mysterious Cliff. Our hero turns detective on the third single from 1979’s dazzling Rock’n’Roll Juvenile, which also brought us We Don’t Talk Anymore. Written by BA Robertson and Terry Britten and based on a riff like the wallflower cousin of the guitar lick on The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s The Faith Healer, Carrie casts Cliff as a man turning detective in search of… who, exactly? His daughter? Girlfriend? A stranger in trouble? The song doesn’t say. Whoever Carrie may be, she has vanished into the city streets, probably forever. One of the most affecting entries among the best Cliff Richard songs, the lyrics are as evocative as the arrangement, which throbs along tensely, the sound of an unconfident man stuck in a long, possibly fruitless search for someone who has probably met a bleak fate. The mood eventually breaks, briefly allowing Cliff to express himself more, climaxing in a typically distinctive sax solo from Mel Collins, who also graced Tina Turner’s Private Dancer. But this relief doesn’t last long; the darker mood swiftly resumes and Cliff returns to the measured, fretful vocal style he’d previously deployed in a deeply affecting manner. A perfect record, complete in itself, Carrie gives us a snapshot of the darker side of life then goes on its way, slowly fading, as if we’re watching the searcher walking away down the street, doomed to continue his futile mission…
2: Miss You Nights (from ‘I’m Nearly Famous’, 1976)
Intimate Cliff. The first single from I’m Nearly Famous, Miss You Nights was released in November 1975 and, unusually for a Cliff Richard single, got lost in the Christmas rush. However, the song was a “sleeper”; it gradually picked up sales and eventually made No.15 in the UK in March 1976. Written by Dave Townsend of the Alan Parsons Project, the motivation for the song was simple: Townsend’s girlfriend was on holiday, and Townshend missed her. Cliff’s naturally unfussy way of singing pays extra dividends on an intimate production like this: he sounds like he’s opening his heart in front of you, free of contrivance and any considerations of what might be commercial. The record is lush, warm, gentle and unafraid to be utterly romantic. The next generation knew it for Westlife’s version, but Cliff’s interpretation cuts deeper.
1: We Don’t Talk Anymore (from ‘Rock’n’Roll Juvenile’, 1979)
Mature Cliff. No disrespect to ABBA, but Sweden did not have a monopoly on fantastic pop songs about grown-up relationship problems circa 1979. Topping our list of the best Cliff Richard songs, We Don’t Talk Anymore was a No.1 in many countries and went Top 10 in the US – deservedly so. Beautifully put together by writer-musician Alan Tarney, and produced with admirable economy by Bruce Welch of The Shadows, practically anybody might have hit with a song like this. But when Cliff’s voice suddenly soars into a higher register, suggesting that the calm manner in which he delivers the verses isn’t how he feels inside, it’s clear nobody else could have done it quite like this.
More Like This
Best Songwriters: 30 Great Artists Who Have Soundtracked Our Lives
Penning timeless songs that have lasted the ages, the world’s best songwriters continue to inspire all who follow in their footsteps.
Best Chaka Khan Songs: 10 Unstoppable Funk Belters
Connecting the past and future of Black music, the best Chaka Khan songs stride from empowering anthems to straight-up floor-fillers.
Be the first to know
Stay up-to-date with the latest music news, new releases, special offers and other discounts!