Musical careers have a tendency to reach a point where the artist goes from trying new things to settling into a natural groove where they deliver what the audience expects, eschewing experimenting and sticking with the tried and true. The latest release in the ongoing Cilla Black reissue campaign exemplifies this trend, as the offering is a freshly-remixed version of her 1980 album Especially For You, paired with a brand new compilation of rarities and odds and ends from the middle point of her long and storied career.
By this time, Black had logged in nearly twenty years as a working musician, and in that time she had become not just a pop chart sensation but also a beloved television personality. As tends to happen, the transition from stage to small screen increased her audience while paradoxically decreasing her record sales, because if you’re on television every week, the audience doesn’t feel the need to buy your new record. Thus, it’s better to make a solid record that gives the audience what they want. Especially For You does exactly that; it offered sixteen tracks of mostly contemporary material performed in arrangements that were largely faithful to the originals.
But that shouldn’t be taken as a sign of mediocrity, though, as Especially For You is surprisingly strong—in the bonus interview included, she credits with her being pregnant at the time–with well-chosen songs that fit Black’s natural virtuosity. One may wonder why the world would need covers of already-ubiquitous hits such as Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now,” Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch,” ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” or Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are,” but when they’re performed by a world-class singer and arranged so impeccably, that question quickly fades away, as Especially For You is an album that delights for its straightforward and unpretentious approach. Besides, show tunes such as “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” were Black’s stock in trade, and she handles them quite well here. In the promo interview, she stated she wanted to record a family-friendly album, and it was a smart move; the album would sell quite well on its own merits, reaching Silver status in the UK.
Classics & Collectibles, the second disc of this set, is a newly compiled collection of rarities from her post-EMI Records era, and it’s equally as strong as Especially For You. Starting with a lovely version of “The Fool On The Hill” and a fun version of “Keep Young And Beautiful” that were taken from a 1976 revue, the album offers up some rare sides, such as “Surprise, Surprise,” her theme song to the British series of the same name, a cover of “I Know Him So Well,” and 1985’s single “There’s A Need In Me.” Also featured are a number of fine duets she recorded in the early Nineties, including “Heart & Soul” with Dusty Springfield, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with Barry Manilow, and “That’s What Friends Are For” with Cliff Richard. A three-song live set from 1980 features three of her biggest hits from her early years, “Alfie,” “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” and “You’re My World,” and all fine, strong performances delivered with the confidence of someone who’s comfortable singing them nearly two decades on. Two types of remixes conclude the collection; considering the inferior nature of a remix album that would prove to be her final lifetime release, the new club versions here are surprisingly good, most notably Bronski Beat’s disco turn on “When Will I See You Again” and the “Get Lucky”-ish Club Junkies remix of “Baby Don’t Change Your Mind.” The final three tracks are stripped down versions made at the same time as Ted Carfrae’s Especially For You remix, these done by Jerry Stevenson, and don’t sound all that different from the versions on the first disc.
Especially For You was a fine album that showed Cilla Black was far from washed up when her long-term contract with EMI ended. It’s a delightful, family-friendly, easy-on-the-ears collection from a truly talented vocalist, and though her later years may have been marred with less-than-stellar releases, Especially For You wasn’t one of them.