Cilla Black – Surround Yourself with Cilla [Parlophone, 1969]

Cilla Black - Surround Yourself with CillaCilla Black, aka Priscilla White, aka The Coat Check Girl at The Cavern, aka A British Institution, aka Our Cilla is a bit of a rare egg like that other British Institution Cliff Richard.

Between them they’ve sold 17 trillion records and have achieved the status of National Saint, and yet no one outside of Great Britain knows who the hell they are.

And, as far as Cilla’s concerned, that’s a damn shame.

For a start she had the kind of career that would make the current tabloids weep.

Plucked from obscurity in the bowels of The Cavern Club in the early 60s, she became one of hundreds of Fifth Beatles. Proper working class Liverpool lass with an accent that could peel paint and Friend of Fabs, she was carefully nurtured by Brian Epstein who cannily recognised the winning combination of her girl-next-door appeal coupled with a surprisingly booming blues voice.

For a good decade she had Top Ten hits and a string of successful TV shows, once even duetting with Marc Bolan in the kind of surreal light entertainment way that Blighty seemed to excel at in the Golden Age of Television in the early 70s.

Now, she’s practically the Queen Mum and a Gay Icon to boot.

“Surround Yourself with Cilla” hails from the point in her career when the girl next door was doing some very odd things career-wise. She’d upped and made a very psychedelic oddity of a film in “Work is a Four Letter Word” with David Warner in 1968 which features a magic mushroom scene that simply has to be seen to be believed.

She’d done Bacharach covers. I once lost money in a bet because I truly believed that her version of “Alfie” was the one on the movie soundtrack.

She’d done Beatles covers.

She had even started to dabble in cabaret, that most un-Fab of things to do in the Swinging 60s.

And yet here is an album that is so utterly groovy and so terribly out there in a way that should be celebrated. For starters there’s the delectable “Surround Yourself with Sorrow”, the kind of booming pop ditty that builds and builds and then explodes out of your stereo. I defy you not to be dancing by the end of it.

Her version of “Aquarius” is a joint stunner; sounding like the Eurovision Song contest dropped a tab of acid and headed for the Northern Soul clubs in an MG driven by Merry Clayton. The drum beat is simply irresistible – you’d be hard pressed to find a DJ who wouldn’t be tempted to sample it.

And “Red Rubber Ball” is yet more psych Eurovision beat: proper banging, as the youth of today would have it. ‘Now I know you’re not the only starfish in the sea’, she sings. Indeed. And why oh why did you never represent us to Eurovision glory?

Even the fillers are great, from “Only Forever Will Do” with its meandering Hammond underscoring and sub-Dusty flourishes, to “Forget Him” which throws us back into the Northern Soul clubs with a genuine foot stomper complete with wonderful vocal stylings and a full-on Motown bridge.

Other highlight tracks are “I am a Woman” – just the sort of fey psychedelic pop that the Brits were so nifty with in those halcyon days, with sub-feminist lyrics and a space rocks kind of fizz about it. “It’ll Never Happen Again” is a husky down tempo jazz café number that sounds remarkably contemporary belying its origins as a Tim Hardin cover, and “Think of Me” is a proper Bond shebang of a track that evokes jags coasting along Italian mountains and dolly birds brandishing guns.

Track it down and surround yourself with Cilla!


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