“Living Doll” is a song written by Lionel Bart made popular by Cliff Richard and the Shadows (then still ‘the Drifters’) in 1959. It was the top-selling single in the UK in 1959. It has topped the UK charts twice: in its original version in 1959 (their first number 1 single) and a new version recorded in 1986 in aid of Comic Relief. It is one of the few songs released by an English singer to chart on the American Billboard charts before the British Invasion occurred.
Background and composition
“Living Doll” was written for the film Serious Charge. Lionel Bart had been approached by film producer Mickey Delamar to write songs for the film. The idea for the song came on a Sunday morning in October 1958 while reading a newspaper and seeing an advert for a child’s doll. The doll was said to “kneel, walk, sit and sing”. Bart recounted, “I was looking at the back pages and there was a small advert for a doll which could apparently do everything. I wrote the song in ten minutes.” The song was written as an up-tempo light rock and roll song (rather than a ballad), and this is how Cliff Richard performs the song in the film.
Unbeknown to Richard, his contract to appear in the film required that there would be a single of one of the film’s songs released. Richard recounts, “I remember passionately refusing to record ‘Living Doll’. There was a day of telephone calls from Norrie Paramor, with me saying I hated the song and that it wasn’t right for us.” Richard did not like what he called its “pseudo-rock” beat. “It did not sound like real American rock ‘n’ roll to us,” said Richard. Paramor told Richard “Change it. Do it any way you like, but do it”. While sitting around one afternoon before a show, thinking about what they could do with the song, Bruce Welch, while strumming a guitar, suggested they do it like a country song. Richard and his band agreed and duly rerecorded the song with the slower tempo.