It’s 1970, and Cliff Richard faces up to the challenges of a new decade and a less than inspiring recent sales record by teaming up with his old pal Hank Marvin and releasing a single that is not only rockier than his usual output, but also exploits a topical theme: the unstoppable rise of the car, and the damage pollution is doing to the environment.
Written by Hank, ‘The Joy of Living’ features an interesting guitar effect that seems to evoke the grinding futility of a traffic jam, and lyrics that are both deeply sarcastic and rather angry and are redolent of J.G Ballard (who would have thought lots of big, sexy, deadly cars a good thing) or even Patrick Hamilton (who would have thought it disastrous*). In this dystopic version of the future where the motor car is King, man is reduced to living in state appointed high rises, looking down on the world and remembering what it felt like to breathe clean air, like a scene from the credit sequence to 'Soylent Green' come to life.
In the end, however, a strong ecological message and a jaunty chorus were not enough to propel the song higher than number 25 in the charts and the backlash against the dirty bastard car didn’t take place after all. As someone who was stuck in a lovely multi coloured crocodile for twenty minutes this morning, I wish the world had listened to Cliff more closely. He was also right about young ones not being young for very long.
* Hamilton had more reason than most to hate the motor car, having been knocked over and nearly killed by one in the late 1920's. In 'Coleoptera', the last chapter of his 1953 novel 'Mr. Stimpson & Mr. Gorse', he predicts a Britain over-run by cars, created by man to serve but now completely in charge of their inventors and 'pitilessly exacting' in their demands. 'The beetles were not magnanimous in victory', he notes.