Cliff In Japan
Original album remaster released by EMI in March 2007. Liner notes, recording data and discography (with Peter Lewry).
It is perhaps surprising that a couple of months before Cliff Richard reached the end of his first decade as a recording artist, there had been no real “live” concert album until this, CLIFF IN JAPAN, was released in May 1968. Purists may argue that CLIFF IN JAPAN was actually Cliff’s second live album, and whereas that is true to a certain extent, his previous live and debut album, almost ten years before, had been a recorded in front of an invited audience when 200 fans crammed into Abbey Road Studios. It could hardly be called a truly live album, unlike this one, which was indeed, Cliff’s first in-concert recording to be released.
Even though two identical concerts had been recorded in 1962 at the ABC Theatre in Kingston for potential album release that same year, that project never saw the light of day until 2002, the 40th anniversary of the two shows that had been taped! Those who have that album will know that several theories abound why it was never released at the time. In some quarters, it was presumed that producer Norrie Paramor felt the recordings were not quite up to scratch, and in others, that a summer release would have been too close to Cliff’s then next studio album 32 MINUTES AND 17 SECONDS appearing that October.
Although for this, as he had done at Kingston, Cliff included some cover versions of other artists’ hits such as Lulu’s Shout and the Beatles Twist and Shout, most of the songs performed during the concert (at the Shibuya Public Hall in Tokyo in October 1967) were culled from Cliff’s own hits and album material, such as Angel from CLIFF RICHARD, La La La Song from FINDERS KEEPERS and Spanish Harlem from 32 MINUTES AND 17 SECONDS, but now with considerably different arrangements. Replacing the familiar rock‘n’roll group sound that Cliff had created with his regular backing of The Shadows, he was now backed solely by the Norrie Paramor Orchestra.
It probably didn’t help that Congratulations, Cliff’s Eurovision entry for Britain, in the same year, was a massive hit, selling over two and a quarter million copies. It was unfortunate that it nailed Cliff to a jaunty Eurovision sound at a time when rock was actually returning to its roots with the re-release of Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock, Lady Madonna from the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Even Elvis was on the comeback trail with Guitar Man, US Male and his imminent 1968 television special.
To this day, Congratulations is one of the most recorded songs in Britain with over 1,000 versions. It was played outside Buckingham Palace after the wedding of Charles and Diana, and on the dockside at Southampton when British troop ships returned from the Falklands War.
And even though it was not recorded at the time until after CLIFF IN JAPAN, it was probably because of Congratulations that Cliff ended up with a musical middle-of-the-road tag that had his records labelled bland, boring, and no longer of what hits are made of. If he was conscious of that, then for this album and concert, Cliff played safe and decided on a repertoire that concentrated on a string of rock‘n’roll favourites such as Move It, Living Doll, We Say Yeah and What’d I Say. They didn’t sound like the originals due to the simple fact that the arrangements were now orchestrated, but love it or loathe it, that was the sound that Cliff had adopted in the late ’60s to early ’70s.
To many, it seemed as if Cliff was losing touch with a market that was being flooded with new musical influences and new technology. While bands like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience spent days over one song, experimented with new instruments and stretched recording techniques to their limit, Cliff was still turning up for vocal sessions to get at least five numbers recorded in one session. He had also changed his image. No longer too sexy for national television, he was now dressed as if he was suppressing the instinct he’d once had to be dangerous and exciting. While the younger generation indulged in a riot of kaftans and afro hairstyles, Cliff sported a Beatles circa 1962 fringe, tortoiseshell-framed specs and elephant cord slacks. And nothing on the original sleeve for CLIFF IN JAPAN would have told you that it was a live album.
So was it any wonder that by the end of the 1960s, the main requirement for a Cliff Richard single seemed to be that it should be catchy enough for your postman to whistle? According to Cliff biographer Steve Turner, ‘they certainly didn’t have soul or musical innovation.’ He even asked whether it ‘was really possible to be moved by Good Times? Did anyone care who played guitar on Big Ship or what the lyric of Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha was attempting to describe?’ The answer to all the above would probably be pretty negative. All the same, whatever Cliff turned out, it would still sell well enough to score him some points on the Top 20.
Although Cliff’s career had entered a period of musical predictability, and had allowed challengers such as Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck to snatch his crown as Britain’s most popular male vocalist, Cliff still managed to turn out hits and still managed to orchestrate females into a complete frenzy. This album is a timely reminder of that…