248. Cliff Richard – Congratulations (1968)

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Well well well, if it isn’t comeback Cliff. It had been three years since Cliff Richard’s last number 1, the tepid The Minute You’re Gone. Once Britain’s answer to Elvis Presley, he had been considered an actual danger to the country’s youth when Move It became the first rock’n’roll hit by a Brit. Around the time of his last bestseller he had been struggling with the fact he was now a practising Christian. He relented from quitting music to become a teacher, and was working out a way of being a pop star and spreading the word of the Lord.

Fortunately, he still had a loyal fanbase, who stuck with him through Beatlemania and the hippy movement. Richard was still scoring top ten hits and narrowly missed out on the Christmas number 1 in 1965 to Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out (see Every Christmas Number 2). In 1966 he had a top ten hit with Visions, and another two with the Shadows (Time Drags By, and In the Country, which is in fact ace). In 1967 he had a further three with It’s All Over, The Day I Met Marie and All My Love (Solo Tu).

Despite worries it would ruin her credibility, Sandie Shaw had become the first UK winner of Eurovision that year with Puppet on a String, and it had revistalised her career. Cliff and/or his management must have taken note, and perhaps feeling he had no ‘cool’ image left to ruin, repeating Shaw’s feat could help Richard solidify his new Christian family entertainer stylings. And so he appeared on The Cilla Black Show performing six songs that the public would then vote on, with Cliff performing the winner at the event in the Royal Albert Hall on 6 April. Like Shaw the year previous, he wasn’t best pleased with the nominated song.

Congratulations was written by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, the duo behind Puppet on a String. Coulter presented Martin with a melody and song title, I Think I Love You. Nice tune, but Martin argued that you either loved someone or you didn’t. He looked for a five-syllable word for a new title, and there and then created a song that would be used to, well, celebrate stuff for years to come.

The ubiquitous Congratulations has been derided over the years, but praise Cliff’s Lord, it’s better than the incessantly crazed Puppet on a String. Not only that, it’s the singer’s best number 1 since he and the Shadows released Summer Holiday in 1963, shortly before the Beatles changed everything. The lyrics may be on the smug side, but nobody actually remembers anything but the song’s title, and Martin and Coulter really struck gold there, creating a memorable chorus with a theme that everyone can relate to. The oompah slow down just before the end is a bit lazy and clearly designed to appeal to European audiences, and like many pop standards, I’d be happy to never hear it again, but I can’t help but like it at the same time. Incidentally, that’s future Led Zeppelin member John Paul Jones you can hear on bass guitar.

Such was Congratulations‘ potential, the British press got fully behind Cliff, and even ran articles asking which country would come second to it at Eurovision. As you can see in the clip above, he performed on the day with gusto, beaming away and doing some unusual strutting while dressed in the outfit that inspired Mike Myers in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). It looked certain to be two years in a row for the United Kingdom, but then Germany had the penultimate vote, and perhaps in revenge for the World Cup final two years before, they gave Spain six points. Congratulations lost out by one measly point to Massiel’s spectacularly named La, La, La.

Cliff Richard had the last laugh. La, La, La has long since been forgotten (understandable, considering the title) but Congratulations was a hit all around the continent, and became the pop star’s ninth chart-topper. It remains one of his most popular songs, and he often pulls it out of the bag for big occasions, such as outside Buckingham Palace after the Royal Wedding in 1981, and at Southampton Docks the following year when British troops returned victorious after the Falklands war, which is pretty poor taste really. It must have been pretty satisfying to knock the Beatles off their lofty perch for a change, too.

But did Cliff really lose Eurovision? In 2008 a documentary was released by Spanish filmmaker Montse Fernandez Vila that claimed Congratulations was the real winner, and there had been foul play from Francoist Spain. Richard made a meal of this in the press, saying he really wasn’t bothered as his song was better and more famous anyway, but maybe there should be a proper investigation, you know, just in case. Nothing ever came of it.

And so we say goodbye to Cliff Richard once more, as it would be another 11 years before he ruled the singles chart again. He may not have eclipsed Elvis or the Beatles, but he would outlast both. The music world would change several times over before we get round to August 1979 and We Don’t Talk Anymore.

While Congratulations held court at the top of the charts, opinion polls revealed on 11 April showed the problems with the pound had caused a dramatic slump in Labour’s popularity, with Edward Heath’s Conservatives racing ahead with more than 20 points difference. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Tories though, as 20 April was the date of Enoch Powell’s infamous Rivers of Blood speech on immigration. His harsh rhetoric, full of foreboding on the dangers of immigration, was latched onto by racists and the Far Right. He was dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet a day later. Powell had been a popular figure in the Party, and remained so, but many believe his career suffered as a result of his speech, despite the fact many polls at the time suggested the public agreed with him. Years later, Labour’s left-wing leader in the 1980s, Michael Foot, expressed sympathy for Powell, suggesting it was ‘tragic’ that such a colourful figure had been somewhat misconstrued due to his colourful quote (pardon the pun).

Also in the news… 23 April saw the introduction of the new five and 10 pence coins in the run-up to Decimalisation.

Written by: Bill Martin & Phil Coulter

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 2 (10-23 April)

Births:

Actress Amanda Mealing – 22 April 
Actor Ricky Groves – 23 April

 

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