It was a pivotal day in British rock history in 1958. In Liverpool, a 15 year-old George Harrison joined a group called the Quarrymen… a group that already featured John Lennon and Paul McCartney. As we know, before long they’d change their name and change the face of popular music for the rest of the century. Meanwhile, closer to London, Columbia Records would put out what Lennon called “the first British rock’n’roll record” . That was “Move It” by Cliff Richard and the Drifters.
Richard wasn’t an old-timer himself then; in fact he was only 18 and had just ditched his real name (Harry Webb) in favor of the new one the record company suggested. “Cliff” was to them representative of “rock”, for the type of music, and “Richard” was a tip of the cap to his personal idol, Little Richard.
Cliff had started the band the Drifters (which, it should be noted are not the same as the American group of the same name) and aimed to create a British version of the rock music that was starting to sweep America. He loved the energy of Little Richard but, as the video shows, fashioned himself a little as a “rebel rocker” in the image of Elvis.
“Move It” was written by Ian Samwell of the Drifters, apparently while on a bus one day going to visit Richard. Although Columbia liked the song well enough, they weren’t fully confident in the Drifters, so while a couple of them did play on it, they brought in a couple of session musicians including guitarist Ernie Shears to fill in the sound. And they had it picked as the B-side to Richard’s debut single, with a cover of Bobby Helms song “Schoolboy Crush” as the A-side that was going to be noticed. That changed quickly though when BBC teen-oriented show Oh Boy offered to have him on…but only if he played “Move It.” Columbia quickly flipped the labeling and “Move It” was on its way. Although appearing confident and almost arrogant on stage, the young Cliff recalled feeling “it’s wonderful to be on TV for the first time, but I feel so nervous I don’t know what to do…I shaved off my sideburns last night, Jack Good said it would make me look more original.”
The song took off, as apparently many people felt the same as Lennon at the time. He said “before Cliff…there had been nothing worth listening to in British music.” The song got to #2 there, and also was a hit in Norway though it seemed to be ignored elsewhere. However, the next year he’d have a bit of a breakthrough with a #1 hit at home, “Living Doll” that even made North American charts.
Richard of course went on to be massively popular for decades in Britain, although primarily only remembered for a trio of soft rock songs from the ’70s and early-’80s over here – “Devil Woman”, “Dreaming” and “We Don’t Talk Anymore.” He calls “Move It” “my one outstanding rock classic” and to whit, has recorded it several times on live records and once in 2006 with Queen’s Brian May on an album of duets. And he might be right calling it a rock classic. Not only did Lennon applaud it, but so did Led Zeppelin who included it on a compilation album they released called The Music That Rocked Us. m