Review: Cilla Black – Sweet Inspiration / Images (Expanded Edition, SFE Records)

Rock and Pop historians may have us believe that when the 1960s ended on December 31st, 1969 so did much of the great music that contributed to the decade.

Yes, The Beatles had already split up and the 1970s would see a progression of a very different type of rock scene, but several artists who had been established in the 60s would carry on and evolve into the 70s and beyond. One such artist was Cilla Black.

Cilla Black’s Sweet Inspiration and Images Reissued by SFE Records

SFE’s latest release in Cilla Black’s original album series showcase Cilla’s 1970s Sweet Inspiration and 1971s Images respectively and are produced by George Martin with music arranged by Mike Vickers (a previous member of Manfred Mann and already having arrangement credits with Cliff Richard and The Beatles).

Recorded mainly in 1969, Sweet Inspiration was not only a musical turning point for Cilla performing more soul inspired numbers but also with her personal appearance. The Sweet Inspiration highlighted her new nose, a recent result of cosmetic surgery, in a beautifully conceived photo profile.

If Cilla was pleased with the results of her new appearance, she also had every right to be pleased with the Soul Inspiration’s soulful contents, featuring  a collection of  popular songs of the era  including Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, Jackie De Shannon’s Put a Little Love In Your Heart and Lennon & McCartney’s Across The Universe.

Cilla Black’s Sweet Inspiration and  Images  are now available  as an expanded release via Cherry Red Records.Cilla Black’s Sweet Inspiration and  Images  are now available  as an expanded release via Cherry Red Records.

Cilla Black’s Sweet Inspiration and Images are now available as an expanded release via Cherry Red Records.

Early Songwriting Contributions From Elton John on Cilla Black Albums

Both Sweet Inspiration and Images feature two song writing contributions from Elton John, at the time working as a session musician (Elton featured on piano for The Hollies I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top) . Cilla cover’s Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s I Can’t Go on Living Without You for Sweet Inspiration and also Your Song which was held over for Images. Cilla reveals in the sleeve notes from a 2009 interview that she sent a message back to Elton after hearing Your Song that he wrote great songs and that he should record it himself! Elton did, but its still great to hear Cilla’s version.

The quality remains high through both albums and to my listening ear could have made a wonderful double album set at the time. Further highlights include Cilla’s polished version of Paul McCartney’s Junk on Images and giving the legendary Karen Carpenter a run for her money on (They Long To Be) Close To You. Cilla was always prepared to push herself in the studio and you hear that on her version of Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway’s A Street Called Hope (a hit for Gene Pitney).

The Magic of Cilla Black on Album Reissues

There are also throwbacks which stir up memories of Cilla’s many musical performances on TV in the early 70s. A fun version of Rule Britannia recorded at the end of a studio session on George Martin’s suggestion (because he wanted to get his moneys worth from the hired musicians), teases my foggy memory of Cilla and The Young Generation singing and waving Union Jack flags on my parents Black & White TV Screen. Maybe I’m imagining it, but that’s the undisputed magic of Cilla, her soulful spirit remains alive and continues to inspire through these unmissable releases!

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