The title says it all. When Cliff Richard first burst upon the scene, 18 years old and fresh as a daisy, rock & roll was still regarded as a passing phase, a musical convolution that would be swept out of sight the moment the record-buying public tired of it. They said it wouldn't last. Half a century later, it's still going strong and so is Cliff; indeed, one would be hard-pressed to think of any other artist who has lasted as long without really seeing any deterioration in either fame or fortune. Even Elvis had to die to ensure his immortality, but Cliff keeps right on rolling, and this lavishly packaged box set pays tribute to his longevity...by making his fans pay through the nose for a copy. Yes, it's an expensive box, make no mistake. But it's also a masterpiece, eight discs arranged by theme, and documenting every aspect of his stellar career. Individual discs are dedicated to The Early Years, a hits-heavy gathering of late-'50s/early-'60s material; Rare B-Sides, covering the period 1963-1989; the self-explanatory Rare EP Tracks; Stage & Screen, detailing Cliff's soundtrack work; The Hits -- Number Ones Around the World; Faith & Inspiration, cherry-picking his religious recordings; a full 25-song recounting of a 1972 Japanese concert; and, finally, Lost and Found, a 21-song sweep through the archives in search of previously unreleased material. Further bonuses include a marvelous book and a genuine 78-rpm pressing of his first ever single, "Move It." There's also a specially struck gold medallion, but the less said about that, the better.
Of the eight discs, there's little here that the average fan won't already own in one form or another. The first CD, for instance, simply distills an earlier box set, The Rock 'n' Roll Years 1958-1963, from four discs down to one; the hits and B-sides discs likewise boil down the six-disc Singles Collection. Most, if not all, of the EP tracks have turned up on a variety of past collections, as have the contents of the soundtracks disc, which leaves just the live show, the religious disc, and -- of course -- the rarities to tempt the purchaser. And it has to be said that all three are largely disposable. There are several infinitely better live recordings already in circulation, including a recently discovered Dutch show dating from 1964, which packs all the excitement you could wish for. The sacred songs have always been very much a take it or leave it proposition, and the rarities collection offers little that is genuinely essential listening -- compare it to the similarly themed disc that arrived with The Rock 'n' Roll Years, and you'll understand why. Nevertheless, there remains a "must-have" factor to the box set that is hard to resist, regardless of how ultimately redundant the bulk of it is: 50 years at the top of one job is a remarkable achievement in almost any field, but when you consider how notoriously fickle pop fans are, it's little short of miraculous. Yes, die-hard fans would undoubtedly prefer to have seen the anniversary marked by a series of smaller packages, each one dedicated (à la The Rock 'n' Roll Years) to one particular era. But still, EMI must be congratulated for creating such a magnificent package.