Stronger

Original album remaster released by EMI in January 2004. Liner notes, interview, recording data and discography (with Peter Lewry).

Stronger

By the time STRONGER, Cliff’s follow-up studio album to ALWAYS GUARANTEED, reached the stores in October 1989, two singles from the album had already placed Cliff at number two and three in the singles chart, during May and August of that year. With some of the tracks premiered at Cliff’s June 1989 Event at Wembley Stadium, the first of these was The Best Of Me, which as Cliff’s 100th single sold over 750,000 copies and introduced keyboard player Paul Moessl as the guest arranger alongside Cliff’s credit as producer. Cliff had chosen the track as his 30th anniversary milestone single because he considered the lyric spoke volumes about his longevity and would communicate the same to his fans, something that they could identify as their own Cliff Richard anthem.

In the lead up to the celebration, other songs had obviously been considered. One of those was Just Don’t Have The Heart, Cliff’s dance-floor hit, produced and written by the Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Peter Waterman team. The track, released as the second single off the album did wonders for Cliff among the so-called Smash Hits generation.

Stock, Aitken and Waterman, of course, had been dominating the charts with danceable pop tunes with programmed drum beats and vocals by singers such as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Rick Astley ever since the late eighties. For a while they seemed invincible. Music critics hated their formula-laden music and dippy lyrics but they sold by the truck load. By 1991 they had produced or written 106 titles and seen fifty-two of them enter the top ten, making them the most successful team of producer-songwriters in British chart history.

As chart-orientated people the SAW team and Cliff understood each other. Whereas Cliff couldn’t see himself replicated in Mick Hucknell of Simply Red or INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, he could see himself in Jason Donovan who presented a cheerful image, had an interest in musical theatre and made hit singles.

Stock, Aitken and Waterman met Cliff for the first time at the Ivor Novello Awards in April 1989 where they had won an award for writing Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up. Cliff was at the next table and he leaned over and said ‘If you ever come up with another song like that – give me a call.’ They told him they’d love to work with him and took it from there.

‘Usually we know the singers we work with very well but we didn’t know Cliff and there wasn’t time to find out what made him tick,’ says Peter Waterman. ‘We had to imagine we were Cliff and dream up an appropriate story. I came up with the title. I said, just imagine Cliff had fallen in love with this girl and then met someone else. What would he do? We thought, well, he’s such a spiffing chap he wouldn’t have the heart to tell her and that’s where it came from. That’s what the song was all about.’

With another unsuitable song rejected, Just Don’t Have The Heart (with the working title of Harry) proved, if anything that Cliff was the consummate British pop singer, able to take on any trend. The technology had changed but pop music, at heart, remained the same: it was melodic, rhythmic music, usually about love and usually with good harmonies. One sign of the new technology was that for Just Don’t Have The Heart, Cliff was taped doing his warm-up vocals exercises, then a sample of this was used effectively throughout the track. ‘When Cliff heard it,’ says Waterman, ‘he had no idea whose voice it was.’ He told them it wasn’t meant to be on there, as it was just something he does every time he records to ensure he is in tune, but it sounded so good, they decided to leave it. Cliff agreed.

There were a few other contenders for singles. Joanna, another track arranged by Paul Moessl, was among the favourites, and ended up on both the album and b-side to the fourth single from the album, the title track Stronger Than That, giving Cliff another top twenty hit.

Moessl was spotted playing in the house band at Blazers Club in Windsor when Cliff’s manager David Bryce went along to see Jimmy Tarbuck. He thought he sounded innovative and arranged for him to deputize during Cliff’s year-long spell in Dave Clark’s West End musical Time at the Dominion Theatre. Then when Cliff formed a new band in 1987 for his Beyond Time tour, he retained Alan Park as his musical director, Mark Griffiths on bass and John Clark on guitar, and recruited the rest of the musicians from the ranks of the Time musicians, including Paul Moessl on keyboards. The same musicians appear on this album, with the addition of Alan Tarney on all but three tracks, Aswad on Share A Dream, and Cliff’s sound engineer Keith Bessey on drum programming for The Best Of Me, Joanna and Wide Open Space.

A year after Moessl was spotted at Blazers, he was invited to produce Mistletoe and Wine. At the time, Moessl was completely taken aback with the invitation. ‘I don’t know why they chose me,’ he told biographer Steve Turner. ‘I put it down to youth. Cliff will always take a chance. I think he susses out young people and if he trusts that they’ve got an idea about what’s going on he’ll try and tap into that.’

As if to prove a point, after Mistletoe and Wine went to number one, and became the best-selling British single of 1988, Moessl was introduced as someone who could continue to carry on bringing new life to Cliff’s recording career, even though it was during this time that Cliff increased his credibility with the rock audience by helping Van Morrison back into the charts…