Cliff Richard

Good News

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Although Cliff Richard's last few albums had indicated that any musical hiccups created by his conversion to Christianity had now been overcome, he remained uncertain about the suitability of pop as a career. His friends all seemed to be teaching religion in schools, or devoting their lives to charity, and he admits, "I thought 'oh dear, there's them being proper Christians, and here's me rocking it up and having a great time.' So I thought I'd get out." He wrapped up his business affairs, closed down his fan club and took a course in Religious Education. "And suddenly, just when I thought I couldn't do anything [with music] for my faith..." a plethora of fresh projects fell into his lap. The BBC offered him a six-part TV series in that Sunday evening hour known to British viewers as "the God slot"; the media began recruiting him every time a religious topic arose elsewhere in the world of pop and rock; and long-time producer Norrie Paramor suggested they cut a gospel album. "And I realized, 'hang on, I can be a Christian in my business. I can make use of my business.' So I stayed." Recorded with long-time accompanist Bernard Ebbinghouse's orchestra, Paramor and arranger Mike Leander, Good News was the first-ever British rock album to seriously broach religious music -- and it is a rock album. The arrangements may be flavored by American concepts of gospel, but they have a frenetic air which is descended directly from the sounds which thrilled Richard's original audience, a decade earlier -- and which would return to favor half a decade later. Leander would subsequently find superstardom as Gary Glitter's leading co-conspirator, and while one would never suggest that Good News has anything in common with "Do Ya Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)," rock & roll has had stranger bedfellows. Leander's treatment of "Go Where I Send Thee" has all the pounding flavor of the vintage Spencer Davis Group (or a particularly moody Motown chestbeater), while "Get on Board Little Children" rattles along like an express train. Arranged by Paramor, a dramatic reading of the "23rd Psalm" and a gently balladic "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" are probably the most traditional performances here. A vigorous "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" (with Ebbinghouse) and another Leander effort, "We Shall Be Changed," on the other hand, not only prove that the Devil doesn't have all the best tunes, he doesn't have a monopoly on serpentine rhythms either. Lyrically, of course, Good News makes no bones about its maker's beliefs, and that's how it should be. Of all Cliff Richard's virtues, his refusal to proselytize has proven one of his most important. "When I do gospel concerts, I actually advertise them as gospel concerts. And when I make gospel albums...I don't get people in thinking they're going to hear "'Devil Woman'" and then sing them a hymn." But if this is his idea of hymns, they wouldn't need "Devil Woman."

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