A young person's guide to science fiction by Cliff Richard
"I'm into sci-fi (sci-fi, sci-fi)
I'm into sci-fi, U.F.O
I think that I-Spy, (I-Spy), (I-Spy)
And where I go, the Force will go"
It would have been around this time of the year, 29 years ago, that I first heard Cliff Richard's "Rock'n'Roll Juvenile" album. Back in the late seventies and early eighties, Cliff Richard's albums used to always come out in late September or early October. I'm fairly certain that EMI had their eye on the Christmas present market, but my dad's birthday came at the end of October, and so that is usually when he'd receive the album as a present.
I picked up a copy of "Rock'n'Roll Juvenile" a little while ago, and thought I'd give it a whirl, as I remember it a lot from when I was a kid. The best known tracks are UK #1 single "We don't talk anymore" and the 'aren't-young-people-feckless-these-days' anthem "Carrie".
Unsurprisingly, it sounds very much a product of its time and place and I found I wasn't so keen these days, although two songs grabbed my attention. I was quite intrigued as to how influential they might have been on my fledgeling music taste.
Anyone who read my lengthy 'A lifetime of lost playlists' series earlier this year will know that I am fascinated by how listening to a selection of my parent's old 50s and 60s singles shaped my formative music tastes.
One of the tracks on the Cliff album is called "Sci-Fi", and it represents a genre of song-writing that I thought had died out. Namely, it takes a popular theme of the time (1979 was post "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") and then strings together a series of pop culture references and puns into a song, for example:
"I think a Star Wars headed this way,
We'll go to Mars,
We can work, rest and play"
Well, I say that I thought that this genre of song-writing had died out, but then I heard "Fruit Machine" by The Ting Tings, and I have a hunch that the Girls Aloud albums might do this sort of thing quite a lot as well.
The other track on the album that stood out for me is called "Cities May Fall". They both feature futuristic space-sounding keyboard playing that take a cue from 1978's "Jeff Wayne's Musical War Of The Worlds". Both have heavily phased and treated vocals, and drums with a hint of reverse reverb and a thick wedge of flange on them. All absolute staple production techniques of later favourites of mine like Japan and the early The Cure material.
It was quite bizarre to listen back to these tracks after a gap of nearly thirty years and pick out elements of the recording that have remained 'things I like' about records, even if my days as an eight year old listening to Cliff Richard crooning about science fiction are long over.
"Do you dig Einstein? (Einstein, Einstein)
Yeah, but only relatively"
I was also disappointed to find that I'd suffered from a mis-hearing of the lyrics when I was a kid. I thought the song featured, in an exciting Doctor Who / Dan Dare space adventure style, secret agents from Mars. Actually, I'd mistaken the real words "got a gig" for "got to get", and the verse in question isn't about inter-galactic intrigue at all, but rather less excitingly about Cliff Richard playing a show on the moon
"It's an agent from Mars,
And he's calling me from the moon.
It's there in the stars,
I've got a gig there in June"
Although, I guess as an eight year old, going to a gig on the moon would have seemed cool. Even a Cliff Richard one...