Abbey Road 90: The Story Behind Cliff Richard's 'Move It' | When UK Rock ’n’ roll was born

24th July 2021

On this day in 1958, Sir Cliff Richard recorded Move It at Abbey Road with his backing group The Drifters, who later became The Shadows.

Move It was Richard's debut single, and was widely credited as one of the first authentic rock 'n' roll singles made outside the United States. He went on to record countless commercial releases at the studio, either with The Shadows, or as solo releases.

As part of our 90th-anniversary celebrations, journalist Naomi Larsson Pineda, who has been helping us to research the Abbey Road story over the last nine months, details what went behind this remarkable session.


The Story Behind Move It

In the 1950s pop music was beginning to flood the corridors of EMI Studios. The pop charts had started in 1952 and two years later EMI had achieved its first number one with Eddie Calvert’s version of O Mein Papa.

The producer Norrie Paramor led EMI’s Columbia label at the time and worked closely with the two pop engineers, Peter Bown and Stuart Eltham. Always on the lookout for new artists, Norrie came across a young singer who fronted a group called The Drifters. He invited the teenager, who called himself Cliff Richard, to audition for a recording contract and soon after Cliff found himself in Abbey Road’s Studio Two recording what would be his first ever single - a record that would give birth to the British rock n roll movement.

Most of the pop songs Norrie and his colleagues were recording at EMI at the time were covers of American compositions. This was a time before the singer-songwriter and before it became normal or even expected that artists would both write and perform.
On 24 July 1958, the newly signed Cliff Richard arrived in Studio Two at 7pm for an evening recording session to cut an American tune called Schoolboy Crush. The song took just under two hours to record and was intended to be the A-side to Cliff’s debut single. Norrie hired a chorus of five singers who got just over £4 each for their time, and a band of four musicians who were paid the standard rate of £6. But for the planned B-side they would do something a little different. The song was written by Ian Samwell, a guitarist in Cliff’s backing group at the time, heavily influenced by the work and style of the likes of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, and the band would be The Drifters, Cliff’s own group (later known as The Shadows).
The young engineer Malcolm Addey was new to Abbey Road, hired to assist engineers Peter Bown and Stuart Eltham with the growing demands of pop. He describes the Move It session as “real rock n roll”. It was put together in the last 40 minutes of the session and they went into overtime – still uncommon in 1950s Abbey Road.

Being so new, Malcolm wasn’t even meant to be on the session that day, but Peter, a veteran engineer, had asked Malcolm to cover as he had tickets to the opera. Though Norrie was wary to have a young engineer on such an important session, Malcolm soon proved his worth.

“Cliff wanted to use amateur musicians, his group The Drifters. The session took place, I did it the way that felt natural to do, and everybody loved the sound,” Malcolm says. “Cliff had a great recording voice, he always did. You put any microphone in front of Cliff and you’d get a good sound, there’s no question of that.”
Move It was fresh, exciting and a perfect nod to the American rock n roll scene that had captured the hearts of British youth. It was originally intended that the A-side was to be Schoolboy Crush and Move It, the B-side. However, before release, pioneering television producer Jack Good invited Cliff to perform on his show Oh Boy, the first teenage all-music programme on British TV. Jack explained that Move It has to be the track he performs, and because of this, Move it was changed to the A-side and Schoolboy Crush to the B-side.

Move It reached number two in the charts in the autumn of 1958. It undoubtedly changed Cliff’s life, having quit his office job to become a full-time musician just a month before it was released. But Move It had far wider implications. It was the first truly British rock n roll song. “The song was written by a Brit, the artist was British, everything about it was British,” says Malcolm Addey.

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