Exactly a year to the day since Cliff had last held the top spot in the singles chart, the boy wonder scored his fifth number 1 with one of his most memorable songs. The Young Ones was the title track to his latest film, released at the end of 1960. After aping Elvis with his music, Cliff’s management had decided he should also become a movie star, and this was his third feature film.
The musical revolved around his character Nicky, an aspiring singer whose youth club was threatened by the millionaire property developer Hamilton Black (Robert Morley), who planned to replace the youth club with an office block. The youth club members decide to put on a show to save the club, but guess what? Nicky is Hamilton’s son! Families, eh? In the end, Hamilton is so proud of his son’s burgeoning success, he decides to join the young ones singing and dancing on stage. Lovely. The cast also featured Carole Gray as Cliff’s romantic interest, and the Shadows were also on board, although it was decided they weren’t very good at acting, so they were relegated to non-speaking roles, and Hank Marvin and Jet Harris’s roles were taken by future sitcom stars Richard O’Sullivan (Man About the House) and Melvyn Hayes (It Ain’t Half Hot Mum).
The film’s title track was written by Sid Tepper and Roy C Bennett, who were behind the group’s second number 1, Travellin’ Light. They also had experience in writing for Presley’s films. The Young Ones is a pretty successful attempt at defining the spirit of teenagers, which let’s not forget were still a pretty new concept back in 1962. Some critics take exception with Norrie Paramor’s strings, and I can see their point. He certainly was guilty of over-egging things when producing (see Walkin’ Back to Happiness) at times. However, I feel the arrangement works and adds to the air of wistfulness in the lyrics. As is often the case, the star of the show is Hank Marvin, who provides yet another memorable guitar line. Although Cliff was adored, I do wonder how successful he would have been in the early years without such a great guitarist behind him. Incidentally, the drummer on the soundtrack is Tony Meehan, who by the time of this release was no longer with the Shadows – he had been replaced by Brian Bennett.
It seems to me that The Young Ones is the first number 1 that revealed pop was becoming aware of the passing of time; recognising that youth is only temporary and will soon be in the hands of another generation. It was one of Cliff’s biggest ever hits, becoming the first British song to shoot straight to the top, and is certainly among his best work. I may look upon it favourably because it’s caught up in childhood memories. I recall playing my parents’ record – it must have been one of the earliest pieces of vinyl in the family collection (it probably belonged to my mum, she was a Cliff fan, and by coincidence has the same name as his 1980s romantic interest, Sue Barker) – and comparing it to the version I preferred. I’m referring of course to the fact that 20 years after its release, Tepper and Bennett’s song became the name of one of the most influential sitcoms of all time – BBC2’s The Young Ones.
I was only three when Rik, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike first burst onto our screens in 1982, so it’s unlikely I can remember that far back, but I can still remember wanting to cry when the final episode was first shown, and I was only five then! I’m not sure it’s right that my parents should have let me watch such a show so young, but I’m forever grateful they did. Of course, I didn’t know just how brilliant a show it was, I was just laughing at the cartoon violence, but there had never been anything like it. The theme tune was a suitably anarchic version of the original, sang by the cast, with Rik Mayall’s voice the most notable. Rik’s character was the Cliff fan, so this made sense. It was also entirely appropriate because if there was ever a comedian who realised the importance of staying young, it was Mayall. I grew up watching him on The Young Ones, remember his reading of George’s Marvellous Medicine on Jackanory, became an awkward teenager when Bottom arrived on TV, and like so many others, was shocked when he died in 2014. He was 56, which is no age to go, but he seemed so much younger than that, because he kept that spark of life that usually dims over time. I still can’t believe he’s gone, really, and the photo of his comedy partner Ade Edmondson helping to carry his coffin is such a tragic sight. Hearing a snotty Mayall singing ‘Cos we may not be the young ones very long’ now sounds desperately sad to me.
This won’t be the last time this blog notes the connection between Cliff and The Young Ones, of course – unless something happens and I don’t get as far as 1986. That year they collaborated on the first Comic Relief single, recording a new version of Cliff’s first number 1, Living Doll. Special mention should also go to Viv Stanshall & Kilgaron’s 1976 version of The Young Ones, in which the eccentric former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band singer played it surprisingly straight. Another hero who went far too young, Stanshall was only 51 when he died in 1995 in an accidental fire while asleep in his flat.
My apologies for having mentioned death so much in a blog concering a song about youth! I’ll endeavour to completely avoid it next time…
Written by: Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett
Producer: Norrie Paramor
Weeks at number 1: 6 (11 January-21 February)
Broadcaster Emma Freud – 25 January
Comedian Eddie Izzard – 7 February
Comedian Hugh Dennis – 13 February
Presenter Vanessa Feltz – 21 February
Historian RH Tawney – 16 January