As is customary for this potentially career-ruining / friendship-spoiling / reputation kiboshing column, I’ll start with the no-longer-that-secret humiliations that don’t quite sink to the lows of the ultimate shame detailed in the blog title above.
Where to start? Well, after two years of watching early morning TV with my pre-school daughters, I can’t get enough of the themes to pre-school favourites Postman Pat’s Special Delivery Service or In The Night Garden – which actually wouldn’t sound out of place on Florence’s new album. Worst still, covers of the theme from The Bill blare out of my headphones at least once a week.
Then there’s Betty Driver – yep, the hot pot-wielding pensioner in Coronation Street. Don’t ask why I’m drawn to her ’40s big band warbling on ‘The Girl From The Street’ – it’s probably because (whisper it) she was quite a looker in those days. Meanwhile, when I should be listening to the likes Yuck or Sisterland, I occasionally just slip on some pathetic post-grunge from early ’00s clowns My Vitriol. Now that’s shameful.
But nothing can match the sheer, knuckle-gnawing embarrassment of admitting that I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Cliff Richard – specifically his 1976 hit ‘Devil Woman’. It’s a shame I know I shouldn’t really have to feel, but wander over to my desk when I’ve got the track on and I’d rather hastily ping up a page of sickening bestiality than my Spotify playlist.
So to help me avoid an imminent sacking, let’s all agree on one thing right here, right now: ‘Devil Woman’ is a storming track, a roaring slice of MOR FM-rock with spooky slide guitars, ghostly backing vox and one of the greatest rock choruses of all time. If someone came out with this shit now, we’d all be heralding the return of big-time rock’n’roll, rather than feigning interest in The Vaccines or some stupidly-named supposedly zeitgeisty band.
What’s more, its occult-referencing and Beelzebub-baiting lyrics jar spectacularly with the shameless Christian propaganda Cliff has inflicted on the listening public for much of his latter-day career. So much so it’s rumoured he didn’t even want to record the song in 1975, let alone release it – and had to be pretty much cattle prodded into the studio to commit it to tape after initially turning it down (imagine turning down gold like this!).
Ultimately, it’s the turmoil at the heart of the track that makes it so great. Of course there’s the occult angle, but it’s the fact the devil is a woman that makes it genuinely revolutionary, coming from a man who’s usually so afraid of his own penis he moved in with a Catholic priest to doubly make sure he never broke his vow of celibacy.
Sure, outside these three minutes and 37 seconds of pure pop-rock perfection, Sir Cliff’s granny-pleasing, arm-waving abominations are the ultimate in musical shame. Pin him to a cross next time you’re rioting during a break in play at Wimbledon for all I care. But just make sure you’re hammering the nails in to the sound of ‘Devil Woman’ while you do because it’s bloody top.