music: Alan Tarney, solid producer

Leo Sayer’s “Once in a While” affected me as much as any other song. His urgent, increasingly desperate vocal stands out against the pleasant pop-rock stylings. After playing it 7 times in a row at increasing volume my landlord called: “There have been complaints…” Here’s the song. There was a music video but it was inappropriately jokey and embarrassing; Leo is singing his heart out.

off Living in a Fantasy album from Rhino/Warners

I’ve remarked before about the vital contribution of the producer, people like Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic, Arif Mardin, and Trevor Horn. Alan Tarney wrote and produced this and he’s little heralded unlike those titans. This effusive Guardian piece reminded me of his songs that really stand out.

Alan Tarney’s first big hit was 1979’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore” that he wrote for Cliff Richard. It’s OK and melodic, but nothing special, maybe because he didn’t produce it. I assume that big hit let him produce his songs. He spent 1979-1981 locked into a certain sound, exemplified by Barbara Dickson’s “January February”. Fairground organ, twelve-string strumming, workman-like drumming, good backing harmonies, and a great vocal performance – gotta be Alan Tarney.

from the Barbara Dickson Album on Epic

Thrice in a while

Alan Tarney liked his own song “Once in a While” so much he recorded it on two more records that he produced for Cliff Richard and Dan Seals.

off Wired for Sound album on Parlophone UK

Cliff Richard’s version gains an extra half-verse, a nice “Digging on this every night” pre-chorus, and he inserts some interesting vocal syncopations, but he doesn’t sound emotionally shredded. “What’ll I do if you walk away, Well I haven’t a chance” needs to leave blood on the floor! Cliff’s version is off his album Wired for Sound, whose title track is a rare piece of music about listening to music.

I like small speakers, I like tall speakers
Wall speakers
but most of all, I like loudspeakers.

Corny, but earnest, a nice fit for Cliff. The music video (on Vevo and pulled from YouTube, but here it is on Tidal) has Cliff roller-skating while listening to his Walkman. Peak 1981!

Why don’t you sell it?!

off unobtainium A&M single!

One lost excellent Alan Tarney song is “Why Don’t You Say It” by Elkie Brooks, another British singer (her biggest hits were “Pearl’s a Singer” and “Sunshine after the Rain”). Fairground organ, good backing harmonies, increasingly impassioned vocal – here we go again. I think I have the 45 RPM single somewhere, but let’s give her and Alan Tarney some money… you can’t! “Why Don’t You Say It” is not available on streaming services, or for purchase and download from any merchant ☹. It seems to be a one-off single release. It isn’t a lost B-side unlike these hidden gems; just another popular single lost in the transition to digital music, along with Prince’s singles on Paisley Park 😢 and so many more. Trying to find it I learned Elkie Brooks recorded a version of Peter Frampton’s wonderful song “Putting My Heart on the Line”; she’s got great taste. I wound up buying a used UK CD of her greatest hits to get the one song.

A-ha, the big kahuna

Alan Tarney is most famous for producing a-ha’s smash “Take on Me” and four of their albums. That’s very different and shows his versatility, but no fairground organ.

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