August 29 – The Day Britain Learned To Rock

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

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9 thoughts on “August 29 – The Day Britain Learned To Rock

  1. To me it sounds somehow British, though it was sung trying to sound American! Cliff’s been around sooo long. Just when you think he has finally faded away he pops up with another interminable treacly Christmas song that becomes another addition to the cheery(?) Woolworths/Walmart ‘muzak to buy Chrissy presents by.’ To give credit he has had a hit from the 50s through to at least the10s, if my memory serves me well. Haven’t ever bought me a Cliff disc though; there are plenty of others who still do however.

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    1. Yep, he coulda been a poster boy for British rebel rock and for Final Net hairspray! It’s astounding how long he’s been around and how popular he has been over there. I like the song ‘Dreaming’ too and his few other hits from 70s or 80s that made their way over here. I’d never heard this one before actually and it sounds pretty good for the time period.

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  2. “Move It” is a cool tune and frankly not the type of music I commonly associate with Cliff Richard. It’s so funny, instead it’s songs like “The Young Ones”, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and “Green Light”. Richard has been active for nearly 65 years – kind of mind-boggling!

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    1. I guess his music changed quite a bit through the years, but over here we just associate him with those somewhat catchy pop singles like ‘We Don’t Talk anymore’. Makes you wonder what Elvis himself would have been doing late in the 20th Century had he lived.

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  3. Some might say Cliff’s ‘only’ rock n roll record, given the easy-listening schmaltz he soon slipped into. That would be harsh, though. The man’s a living legend, and his longevity not be sniffed at. In my blog I’ve reached 1986, and the next #1 I’

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    1. no argument there, he puts Cher and Madonna to shame in that respect – being around over 60 years and remaining relatively popular and not only as a nostalgia act. I don’t mind what I have heard of his but its highly limited compared to British listeners!

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