When it was Cliff versus Elvis

Oct 2019 When it was Cliff versus Elvis

By Pat Murphy

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember when the pre-eminent chart rivalry was between Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley.

From the time Elvis came out of the army in early 1960 until the Beatles arrived in 1963, schoolyard debates about pop music invariably gravitated towards the question of who you were for: Cliff or Elvis?

So we’re going to take a retrospective look at those popularity battles. Focusing on situations where they had singles competing head-to-head – defined as released within three weeks of each other – we’ll recount how it went down.

All chart references are to the New Musical Express, which was the most cited chart of the day and also the source for Radio Luxembourg’s iconic Top 20.

1960: Fall in Love with You/Willie and the Hand Jive vs. Stuck on You

There was a major buzz around the first post-army Elvis record. What would he do? How would he sound? As things transpired, some people were disappointed with Stuck on You, but I thought it was pretty good.

Released two weeks earlier, Cliff’s competing entry was a double-sided hit. The A – Fall in Love – was a catchy Ian Samwell beat ballad while the rockin’ B was a stage favourite.

Neither record hit the top, both peaking at No. 2. Let’s call this one a tie.

1961: Theme for a Dream vs. Wooden Heart

Just a week separated these two releases. Cliff’s Theme for a Dream was a pretty tune, retrospectively marred by the incorporation of a twee girl chorus. Wooden Heart was derived from a German folk song and boosted by inclusion in the popular GI Blues movie. It was also one of the best Presley ballads.

With Wooden Heart hitting the top while Theme for a Dream peaked at No. 2, it was definitely advantage Elvis.

1961: When the Girl in Your Arms/Got a Funny Feeling vs. His Latest Flame/Little Sister

Double-sided hits from both this time out.

Cliff’s had the distinction of coinciding with his 21st birthday and being his first single to feature an orchestral accompaniment. Impressed with the waltz tempo of the A-side, a hitherto jaundiced national newspaper critic saw hints of maturity.

For its part, the Elvis offering was a terrific coupling, featuring two contrasting rockers. You couldn’t get much better.

And as relative chart positions were a repeat of the previous, advantage Elvis.

1962: The Young Ones vs. Rock a Hula Baby/Can’t Help Falling in Love

When The Young Ones powered in straight to No. 1, it reputedly had the largest advance order in hitherto UK recording history. And it’s still Cliff’s biggest- ever UK seller. Of course, it had a blockbuster movie to drive sales and it stayed at the top for six weeks.

The Elvis disc also came from a popular film, in this case Blue Hawaii. It was a bona fide double-sided hit, both sides making a major splash. And although Rock a Hula Baby’s charms were ephemeral, Can’t Help Falling in Love has demonstrated staying power.

Advantage Cliff.

1962: I’m Looking Out the Window/Do You Wanna Dance vs. Good Luck Charm

These were released on the same day – May 4, 1962 – thus providing a picture perfect head-to-head.

Cliff’s was a double-sided hit, combining a slow, bluesy treatment of a song he’d picked-up from Peggy Lee with an exuberant revival of Bobby Freeman’s Do You Wanna Dance. Over the years, Do You Wanna Dance has become a concert staple while I’m Looking Out the Window – treated as the A-side at the time – has long disappeared from the repertoire.

Both made the NME’s Top 10, the A peaking at No. 2 and the B at No. 10.

However, that wasn’t enough to overcome Elvis. With its easy shuffle rhythm, Good Luck Charm hit the top in its second week and stayed there for five. It was really big.

Advantage Elvis.

1962: It’ll Be Me vs. She’s Not You

I was staying with my aunt and uncle in the north-west of Ireland when I first heard these.

She’s Not You was featured on Jukebox Jury and my immediate reaction was twofold: it was surprisingly similar to Good Luck Charm and it was bound to go all the way to the top.

Several days later, Cliff introduced It’ll Be Me via an unannounced guest spot on a Shadows TV special. It was good stuff, but I knew it wouldn’t beat She’s Not You.

Advantage Elvis.

1962: The Next Time/Bachelor Boy vs. Return to Sender

Both chart-toppers and both huge sellers, these were the dominant records over Christmas 1962.

Elvis was first to the summit and then toppled over the holidays. Cliff actually put both sides independently into the Top 3, The Next Time at No. 1 and Bachelor Boy at No. 3.

Advantage Cliff.

1963: Summer Holiday/Dancing Shoes vs. One Broken Heart for Sale

In what was perhaps an omen of the changes to come, One Broken Heart for Sale shocked pretty much everyone by peaking at No. 8. Before that, the conventional wisdom held that almost any Elvis record would reach the top. Beginning with 1960’s It’s Now or Never, there’d been nine NME chart-toppers.

Meanwhile, Cliff was on a roll. The Summer Holiday movie was packing them in and the catchy title track was an obvious No. 1. And having the tasty Dancing Shoes as the hit B was icing on the cake.

Advantage Cliff.

1963: Don’t Talk to Him vs. Bossa Nova Baby

The pop revolution launched by The Beatles was in full swing by the Autumn of 1963. So Bossa Nova Baby’s failure to make the Top 10 – it peaked at No. 11 – wasn’t as big a shock as One Broken Heart for Sale’s performance earlier in the year.

It was actually a pretty decent record, one that remains eminently listenable over 50 years on. But cloistered in Hollywood, Elvis was increasingly out of touch with the changing UK market.

Cliff, on the other hand, had his ear close to the ground. Co-written with Bruce Welch during an extended summer season in Blackpool, Don’t Talk to Him was a melodic piece taken at what the NME’s reviewer called a “slow cha-cha tempo.”

It was also given a slightly harder sound than would have been the case had it been recorded a year earlier. It went to No. 2.

Advantage Cliff.

The end of an era

Although both men remained extremely popular and were to have many more hits (chart-toppers included) over the coming years, times had changed. From Cliff vs. Elvis, the schoolyard battles had morphed into The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones. A page had been turned.

A native of Ireland, Pat Murphy now lives in Toronto, Canada.