The Rock Connection
Original album remaster released by EMI in January 2004. Liner notes, interview, recording data and discography (with Peter Lewry).
If Cliff Richard had been asked in 1958 what he would have liked to have been doing in his fifties he would probably have said singing rock and roll. But he could never have dreamed that his wish would come true. Although his first decade was largely spent establishing himself as a singles artist, his second as a serious album artist and his third producing his biggest selling records, he probably had no idea that to mark his twenty-five years in show business he would return to recording a mixture of new and old rock and roll classics.
THE ROCK CONNECTION, released one year after the celebration does exactly that, with all the tracks from the previous year’s ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SILVER added here to the original album, plus a special bonus track. Revisiting this collection of Cliff’s rock ‘n’ roll recordings from the early 1980s represents the textures of the music he loved and which had, for Cliff, started it all off.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this collection is the re-worked, more contemporary versions of Cliff’s own hits that were laid down at Strawberry Studios South in May and June 1983, with a specially assembled band that Cliff named Thunder. One of the first tracks from those sessions was Move It, Cliff’s first single, originally recorded in July 1958 as the b-side to Schoolboy Crush that was eventually flipped to become the hit that gave British rock ‘n’ roll an identity of its own. Others were Willie And The Hand Jive, Cliff’s 1960 b-side of Fall In Love With You, and, two years later, It’ll Be Me, Cliff’s nineteenth single, which was a cover of the b-side of Jerry Lee Lewis’s 1957 hit, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.
Looking back, it is difficult to compare those originals to the new versions. As Cliff correctly points out, in those early days he was recording in mono and then stereo. ‘Although the Beatles complained that they only had four track machines linked together, we didn’t have any. We superimposed, which meant if you put a backing vocal sound onto a track you had just done, you lost a generation in the sound, so you could never do it more than once. If you put a harmony on, you could only do it once, or it would damage the main track. Those early records are good for what they are, which is four guys around four microphones… “Take 52 and try and get it right Cliff!” They were necessary days but I’m glad that we grew from that into what I am doing now.
‘It also meant that we didn’t waste money because we rehearsed before we came into the studio. We would always arrive with three tracks to do in three hours, and because we rehearsed them, we had to get it right there and then. The engineer would tweak the sound, we would check the rehearsal through a few times on the mike, take a listen, and decide if we liked it or not. Sometimes we’d want a different guitar sound so we’d do it again before going on to the next song. We rehearsed, we recorded, and we had our hits. Today of course, you’re drawn into the production much more, so we take more time, and spend more money.’
Whether old or new material, Cliff’s idea for both ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SILVER and THE ROCK CONNECTION was to return to a purely band feel, ‘because my biggest successes have been done with a five- or six-piece band, with no strings or anything else. So it was nice to try and get back to basics.
‘Mostly it was recorded live. I would sing with them while we made the tracks, then I would re-sing it. You need to sing a song over and over again to try out phrasing and stuff like that. Nowadays, we don’t do that. I sing a song through, find a track I like, get rid of the other tracks, and then repair the one I like. I could think it’s a really good track but may want to improve, say, the first line of the second verse, so I simply go back and repair that line or a phrase in the chorus or whatever. I prefer to work that way.’
It is true to say that THE ROCK CONNECTION was not Cliff’s most successful album. It was released in November 1984, and only reached # 43 in the charts, his worst position since the I’M NEARLY FAMOUS comeback in 1976, despite being another of Cliff’s co-productions, this time with sound engineer Keith Bessey.
The singles picked from the album strangely didn’t do much better. Cliff’s favourite, Heart User made # 46 and Shooting From The Heart didn’t even make it that far. Perhaps if Cliff’s preferred choice of Lovers And Friends had been released as a single, the album would have fared better than it did.
Maybe the idea for the album was to continue the same feel that had been started with ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SILVER, but perhaps, because the sessions in the summer of the following year didn’t produce enough tracks, it was decided that one option would be to put out an album with the new recordings, rounding it off with some tracks from ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SILVER that had only previously been available with the SILVER limited edition box set…