Coming soon! The British Elvis

Legendary crooner Cliff Richard will rock the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv this month.

July 3, 2013 14:42
3 minute read.
Cliff Richard

Cliff Richard. (photo credit: Reuters)

I’m sorry, but based on the gooey trifles he served up in the early 1960s such as “Summer Holiday” and “The Young Ones,” it’s totally clear why British singing legend Cliff Richard never made much of a dent in the US.

Right around the same time that every Kink, Stone and Animal was beginning to electrify audiences with their innovative sounds that were based in part on Richard’s groundbreaking roots rock of the 1950s, the man himself was producing prototypical Eurovision fluff. Americans and Brits may ostensibly speak the same language, but no Yankee was going to identify with a song about a “holiday” instead of a “vacation” unless it was referring to the Fourth of July.

It turns out, though, that Richard didn’t need America to become one of the most popular and enduring singers of the last 50 years.

“I’m philosophical about it now. I don’t spend my nights weeping that I didn’t make it big in America. At least I have a place I can go to where I’m not recognized,” said a chipper 72-year-old Richard in a phone interview last month ahead of his two shows in Tel Aviv next week – July 11 and 13 at the Nokia Arena.

He may be relatively anonymous in the US, but in Europe – and Israel – Richard is a household name. Between 1958 and 1969, he scored 43 Top 20 hits and, together with his backing band, The Shadows, he towered over the era before the long-hair Beatles-led group revolution.

"Before Cliff and The Shadows, there had been nothing worth listening to in British music,” John Lennon told an interviewer once. And with his leather jacket, greaser sideburns and a pouty snarl, the early-period Richard swaggered with the confidence of his American counterpart Elvis Presley.

“I wanted to be Elvis, not just be like him. He was the big inspiration for thousands of people like myself, and I was lucky enough to do something about it,” said Richard.

Interestingly, both Presley and Richard went soft around the same time, appearing in series of increasingly hokey musicals in the early 1960s with equally banal music and attempting to cope with the musical revolution taking place around them. For Richard, that meant transitioning for a time into a middle-of-road crooner and a spiritual singer, spurred by a newfound commitment to Christianity.

But by the mid-1970s, he was mixing it up with rock ‘n’ roll again, supported by famous fans like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and most prominently Elton John, who released a Richard comeback album of sorts, I’m Nearly Famous, featuring the hard-rocking “Devil Woman.”

“Elton John called me and asked me if he could release the album in the US on his Rocket Records because EMI wasn’t going to release it,” Richard recounted. “Elton was committed to it, promoted it, and I went out on tour. And to prove my point of the need for backing, we got a number four and a million-selling record.”

Since then, Richard has remained the all-around entertainer – the rocker with the toothy smile and the pop crooner rolled into one. Collaborations over the years with the likes of Mark Knopfler, Freddie Mercury, Stevie Wonder and Van Morrison gave proof to the heights to which he was held by his peers, and his occasional reunions with The Shadows have been marquee events.

That includes Israel, where Richard’s show sold out so quickly after tickets went on sale, that a second show was promptly announced.

“I’m thrilled about the turnout because I was dubious, since it’s been a long time since I’ve had a hit in Israel,” said Richard. “One show would have been fine, and two is great. But even if was a half-filled arena, we would still go out and put on a great show.”

And for Americans, even if it means having to sit through “Summer Holiday,” the show will likely be an eye opener, the final proof that Richard is truly one of the rock era’s greatest entertainers.

Cliff Richard will perform on July 11 and 13 at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv.

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