Cliff Richard on Elvis Presley: "His voice carried an enigmatic quality that beckoned you to uncover its hidden mysteries

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Cliff Richard on Elvis Presley: "His voice carried an enigmatic quality that beckoned you to uncover its hidden mysteries
Terry Smart, Norman Mitham, and myself took the walk on a Saturday in May 1956. We had planned the typical activities: hanging out in the park, browsing a few stores, having a cup of tea in a cafe, maybe stopping by Marsden's to hear a new song or two. Then we noticed the parked automobile outside Aspland's, the newsagent.

It was a green Citroën, a French vehicle with an interestingly curved back. In rural Hertfordshire, you didn't see many of those, so we went to have a look. And then we heard the tune from the car radio, drifting through the open front window. "Ever since my baby left me, we-e-e-e-ll..."

What? What? Is it so? Terry, Norman, and I exchanged a look of open mouth staring. As we were leaving Aspland's, a man ran out, hopped in the car, tossed his newspaper and cigarettes over the front passenger seat, turned on the engine, and drove off. The sound of the alien music disappeared along the road alongside the Citroën.

Whoa! It was unlike anything I had ever heard in my life! For the entire afternoon, Norman, Terry, and I talked nonstop about how wonderful it sounded and how we wanted to find out what it was. Norman was beaming with pride the Monday morning when I saw him at school. He said, "I heard that song again, on AFN!" "The song is called Heartbreak Hotel, and Elvis Presley wrote it!" We all laughed a lot at what a ridiculous name Elvis was. More importantly, though, I knew I had to get the song. After all, who gets called Elvis?

Elvis seemed to be performing a song just for me. for me. No teenager, or anyone my age, could have ever aspired to be like Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra. Elvis was unique. His voice broke through everything else, and he sounded so young, so cool, and so today. He had a strong, passionate voice. It sounded as though you had to discover his secrets.

Strangely, Heartbreak Hotel's lyrics didn't really distress me. Like many great rock 'n' roll songs, it was exactly what it stated on the tin: a heartache ballad. However, it was the beats, mood, attitude, and rhythms of the music that really caught my attention. the impression that something is emerging. Here, before my very eyes, Elvis was reinventing rock 'n' roll.

He quickly became my obsession. I began my quest to learn everything I could about Elvis. I was amazed by his appearance when I first saw a picture of him—that quiff! That lip curled! And I wanted to have his CD as soon as I found out that it was already released.

Cliff Richard, first seen in 1963.

Cliff Richard, first seen in 1963. Image courtesy of Mirrorpix/Getty Images

I was hired for a holiday job on a nearby farm to pick potatoes. For a shilling an hour, I was bending over and pulling potatoes out of the ground all day long. When I finally had enough money saved up and was back down Marsden's to get Elvis Presley, the boredom and back pain were all worthwhile. I didn't mind that Heartbreak Hotel wasn't on the LP because there were so many amazing new songs.

With its frenzied rhythms and impassioned chorus, "Blue Suede Shoes," was a great way to start the song. I loved Elvis Presley's I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone, where his tremulous voice conveyed stories of abandonment. With its wild twang, honky-tonk piano, and sad singing, Lawdy Miss Clawdy was a song I worshiped. Hell, I cherished every single track on the album.

It wasn't only me in the family who had an Elvis obsession. My thirteen-year-old eldest sister, Donna, loved him. I took her to the movies at the end of 1956 to watch him in Love Me Tender. She cried. "Harry, may I take your handkerchief please?" It was more than simply soaking through when she returned it. It was ripped.

I embarked on a resolute solo quest to emulate him in every way that was humanly feasible. Naturally, the quiff came first. I wasn't the only boy in Cheshunt who spent hours in front of the bathroom mirror trying to straighten my hair and sweeping it to the back of my head with Brylcreem. I was really happy with my Brylcreem application, but it never looked as nice as it did when Elvis had a few strands hanging over his forehead from his quiff. I was never able to duplicate that.

Cliff Richard, approximately 1959, attempting to polish his Elvis hairstyle.

Cliff, approximately 1959, attempting to polish his Elvis hairstyle. Pictured by Redferns/Beverly Lebarrow

My diet was even impacted by my adoration for Elvis. I started eating my toast this way too after reading in Girlfriend magazine that he like spreading peanut butter and jam—or "jelly," as it is known in the United States—on it. I was able to develop the taste, though it was an acquired one. Elvis eats it like this! I said to myself. It HAS to taste amazing!

I began to be referred to as the "English Elvis" or the "British answer to Elvis" once I made my breakthrough. That second description, as I have always stated, disregarded one fundamental truth: Elvis was not a question. When faced with a major decision, I no longer ask myself, "What would Elvis do?" as I used to in my early years. I have experienced that. A long time ago, I gave up being the "English Elvis" and became Cliff Richard.

Still, though, I feel like I owe him everything. In Barbados, there are plenty of mornings when I wake up, look out my bedroom window onto the Caribbean, and think to myself, "How in the world did I get from Cheshunt to here?" And Elvis Presley is the response.

 Cliff Richard's book A Head Full of Music, published by Ebury Spotlight, is currently available. Purchase a copy at to help the Guardian and the Observer. Delivery fees can be incurred.