On the Continent brings together every single track Cliff Richard recorded for exclusive European release -- that is, those he recorded in each of the four foreign languages deemed representative of his biggest non-English markets: German, French, Italian, and Spanish. And if the idea of hearing "Congratulations" rendered into any one (or, in fact, all four) of those tongues does not immediately strike you as compulsive entertainment, then you probably don't need to know that the collection does not end with released material. Outtakes and alternates also creep in, for a total of 102 tracks spread across four discs (the fifth recalls an early-'60s interview with the German magazine Bravo). And there is also a beautifully designed 96-page hardback book, recounting the singer's European adventures in words, pictures, and record covers, plus a full sessionography covering the collection's contents. It was EMI's German office that first suggested, in December 1960, that Richard record a unique German language version of his latest hit, "Fall in Love With You," as a gift to his local fans; it was the immediate success of the venture that prompted a follow-up just three months later, "Theme for a Dream." Both of these singles, in their original form, have remained Holy Grails of a kind for collectors: "Fall in Love" for its totally rearranged backing track; "Theme" for its exclusive B-side, "Vrenelli." And both remained isolated offerings for another couple of years -- it would be 1963 before Richard again attempted a foreign language, when the unprecedented continental success of Summer Holiday demanded a slew of immediate follow-ups. Comprising a mixture of both new material and re-recordings of familiar hit songs, When in Spain was performed completely in Spanish, When in France in French, and When in Rome in Italian. All three sets are presented here in their entirety, each rounded out by a string of singles recorded and released in their respective territories toward the end of the 1960s: "Questions" (French), a re-recording of "On the Beach" (Italian), and the eternal "Congratulations" included.
The performances are, generally, superb. Unlike such misbegotten renderings as the Beatles' "Sie Liebe Dicht," Bowie's Italian "Space Oddity," and sundry other well-intentioned continental concoctions, Richard usually sounds as assured and unflappable as ever, no matter what tongue he's performing in. It is also interesting to compare the backing tracks with the familiar English language releases. On many occasions, local session musicians would overdub a touch of regional flavor to the original tape, essentially creating a whole new recording. Although all of Richard's foreign language recordings were successful in their intended markets, Germany remained his strongest continental audience, and he constantly rewarded that loyalty in song. Between his return to language classes in 1963 and his career reinvention in 1974, the singer would record 54 songs in German, maintaining an average of two exclusive 45s a year through the 1960s, and topping this impressive record off with a series of German language sessions through 1967-1968. Versions of "Visions," "A Girl Like You," "What Would I Do," "All My Love," "London's Not Too Far," and "Twist and Shout" were all issued, the highlights of which emerge as an incredibly cohesive, and absurdly previously unavailable, album. Other peaks on the German discs, surprisingly, include great swaths of the early-'70s material hitherto overlooked by all but the most devoted fan; titles such as "Anabella Umbrella," "Sally Sunshine," "I'm Not Getting Married," and "Shoom Llama Boom Boom," after all, scarcely bode well for anyone awaiting the next "Move It" or "Dynamite," but Richard acquits himself well, and Norrie Paramor's production, of course, remains sterling. Richard's final foreign recording, appropriately enough, was a German rendering of "You Keep Me Hanging On" ("Es Gehoren Zwei Zum Glucklichsein"), in 1974. It was that song, after all, that announced his return from the directionless MOR that had plagued his early-'70s work; it was that song, too, that reminded him of another foreign market out there, which wouldn't need anywhere near as many language lessons. And one day, perhaps, somebody will compile all of Richard's American releases into one boxed set. Until then, On the Continent stands as the ultimate study of a musical arena into which too few performers ever dared venture...and from which even fewer emerged unscathed. Cliff Richard was one of those who did.