It’s fair to say 1964 was the year that launched Liverpool singer Cilla Black into the pop stratosphere.
Buoyed by the success of the Beatles, the girl who grew up on Scotland Road notched up two Number One hits, a movie role and a coveted spot on the Royal Variety show.
Just for good measure, she celebrated her 21st birthday too!
Life was a blur in 1964 for the hat-check girl from the Cavern Club who always dreamed of being an entertainer. Fortunately, many of the moments were captured forever by Liverpool Echo photographers.
Born Priscilla Maria Veronica White in Liverpool’s Vauxhall district in May 1943, the young Cilla turned her back on her office training in the early 1960s to try her luck as a singer.
Her impromptu performances impressed the bands at the Cavern club, including the Beatles. The Fab Four even formed the backing group for Cilla’s audition with their manager Brian Epstein.
Much to everyone’s dismay, it proved a disaster. The Beatles played in the wrong key for Cilla who felt ‘destroyed’ by the experience. She thought her career was over before it had begun.
She needn’t have worried. Epstein saw her again at the Blue Angel jazz club and signed her as his first female client in September 1963.
A recording contract with Parlophone and Beatles’ producer George Martin swiftly followed and her first single was released – the Lennon and McCartney number Love of the Loved.
Like her first audition, early reactions were disappointing. Love of the Loved peaked at No. 35 in the singles charts. It was not what Epstein was used to – or had expected.
But then came the New Year – and new fortunes. Cilla’s second single, the Burt Bacharach-Hal David composition Anyone Who Had a Heart, hit the Number One spot in the UK in February 1964.
American singer Dionne Warwick released her own cover of the song at the same time, but Cilla’s version stayed at Number One for three weeks. It sold 800,000 copies in the UK alone.
Cilla’s third single, You’re My World, was released in May. An English version of the Italian tune Il Mio Mundo by Umberto Bindi, it went to Number One in the UK as well as Belgium, Holland, Mexico, Australia and South Africa.
Cilla was now firmly established as one of Epstein’s leading artists, along with the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer, the Fourmost and Tommy Quickly.
She worked with two of the bands – Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Fourmost – on the film Ferry Cross the Mersey in 1964.
Cilla played herself performing the song Is It Love? at the Locarno ballroom. In the film’s plot, she had to go on stage early to give Gerry and the Pacemakers time to recover their instruments which had been wrongly taken to an airport.
It all came good for the band in the end as they won the contest. The final scene saw the two stars, Gerry Marsden and Julie Samuel, celebrating on the ferry with the rest of the cast.
The icing on the cake for Cilla in 1964 was appearing at the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium in October.
Other stars on the bill included Millicent Martin, Kathy Kirby and American singing legend Brenda Lee.
Nicknamed Little Miss Dynamite, Lee was the top-selling female vocalist of the 1960s with 47 US chart hits.
Cilla didn’t know it at the time, but she had more in common with Lee’s track record than she thought.
BBC Radio 2 research published in 2010 showed Anyone Who Had a Heart was the UK’s biggest selling single by a female artist for the whole of the 1960s.
*Hundreds of pictures from an unforgettable decade are packed into Clive Hardy’s fascinating book Around Merseyside in the 1960s. It’s available at £9.99 plus postage and packaging.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or ring the hotline on 01928 503777.