Tarney/Spencer Band

The Tarney–Spencer Band (alternately billed as Tarney & Spencer) was the Australian pop-rock duo of multi-instrumentalist Alan Tarney and drummer Trevor Spencer. They released a self-titled 1976 album on Bradley’s, followed by the 1978–79 A&M albums Three’s a Crowd and Run for Your Life. “No Time to Lose” remains an FM wildcard in select US markets.

As songwriting partners, they wrote for numerous UK and Australian pop singers, including Peter Doyle and Olivia Newton-John. In 1979, Cliff Richard scored the biggest hit of his career with Tarney’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore.” Alan and Trevor supplied material and instrumental backing on 1980–81 Tarney-produced albums by Richard (I’m No Hero, Wired for Sound), Barbara Dickson (The Barbara Dickson Album), and Leo Sayer (Living In a Fantasy). Tarney’s production later rocketed Norwegian new wavers a-ha to international stardom.

Members: Alan Tarney (guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals), Trevor Spencer (drums)

Early Bands

Alan Tarney and Trevor Spencer first partnered in the James Taylor Move, an Adelaide pop-psych band that released two 1967 singles on Festival Records.

Tarney (b. November 19, 1945) was born in Workington, a coastal town in Cumberland in northwest England. As a child, he settled with his family in Adelaide, where he first recorded with Johnny Broome & The Handels, a beat group with guitarist Kevin Peek.

Spencer (b. May 21, 1947) drummed in various Adelaide bands from age fourteen. In 1967, he co-founded the James Taylor Move with Tarney, Peek, and singer Robert JT Taylor, who left after the two singles. In 1969, Peek, Tarney, and Spencer went to England and formed Quartet with fellow Adelaide rocker Terry Britten, recently of Aussie stars The Twilights. Quartet cut two singles on Decca.


Songwriting

By 1972, Tarney and Spencer formalized their writing partnership with songs supplied to the New Seekers (“For You We Sing”), Olivia Newton-John (“Living In Harmony”), and Marvin Welch Farrar (“Marmaduke”). Tarney joined MWF’s parent band, The Shadows, whose erstwhile employer, Cliff Richard, recorded “Living In Harmony.”

In 1973–74, the Tarney–Spencer partnership supplied songs for Christine Holmes (“Ain’t It Funny”) and Pat Carroll (“Now I’m Stuck On You,” also recorded by the Nolan Sisters). Cliff Richard recorded the Tarney–Spencer song “You’re the One” as the b-side to his March 1975 single, “It’s Only Me You’ve Left Behind,” a Marvin–Farrar song produced by erstwhile Shadow Bruce Welch.

On Februrary 27, 1976, Tarney and Spencer debuted as a pop-rock duo with “I’m Your Man Rock n’ Roll,” a harmony number backed with “Guitar Slinger,” both co-written originals.

A. “I’m Your Man Rock n’ Roll”
B. “Guitar Slinger”

Tarney and Spencer mimed “I’m Your Man Rock n’ Roll” on the April 1 episode of the BBC music program Top of the Pops, which also featured in-studio numbers by Fox (“S-S-S-Single Bed”), John Miles (“Music”), and Sailor (“Girls Girls Girls”), plus videos by ABBA (“Fernando”) and Diana Ross (“Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”).>


Tarney and Spencer

Tarney and Spencer released their self-titled debut album in 1976 on Bradleys. It features two covers and ten originals, including the singles “I’m Your Man Rock N’ Roll” and “I Can Hear Love.”

Alan Tarney wrote three songs (“I Can Hear Love,” “Be Mine,” “We’ll Believe In Lovin”’) and co-wrote six with Trevor Spencer, including “I’m Your Man Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the later re-used songs “It’s Really You” and “Give Me Love Your Way.” Tarney co-wrote “Hey Mr. Dream Maker” with Shadows rhythm guitarist Bruce Welch.

Tarney and Spencer re-recorded two songs (“I Can Hear Love,” “It’s Really You”) for their second album. “Hey Mr. Dream Maker” inspired 1976–77 covers by Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard, who also recorded “Give Me Love Your Way.”

A1. “I Can Hear Love” (3:36)
A2. “Need Your Lovin’ (Oh So Bad)” (3:33) originated as a July 1959 b-side by Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks; co-written by Hawkins and one Jacqueline Magill (the purported girlfriend of label boss Morris Levy). Original Manfred Mann frontman Paul Jones guests on harmonica.
A3. “Sea of Heartbreak” (3:12) originated as a 1961 Billboard No. 2 country hit for singer Don Gibson; composed by Paul Hampton with lyrics by Hal David. Covered in the Sixties by The Searchers, The Spotnicks, The Everly Brothers (a subsequent Tarney|Spencer source), and Danish beatsters The Matadors.
A4. “It’s Really You” (4:55)
A5. “Breakaway” (3:52)
A6. “Give Me Love Your Way” (3:12)
B1. “I’m Your Man Rock ‘n’ Roll” (3:03)
B2. “Be Mine” (4:53)
B3. “We’ll Believe In Lovin'” (2:55)
B4. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame” (3:37)
B5. “Hey Mr. Dream Maker” (4:25)
B6. “You’ll Never Know How Beautiful You Are” (1:03)

Sessions took place at four London studios (Audio International, Central Sound, R.G. Jones, Roundhouse), where Tarney and Spencer co-produced the album with fellow Aussie David Mackay, a onetime Twilights soundman who also worked with the Belgian bands Waterloo and Wallace Collection.

Roundhouse staffer Ashley Howe engineered Tarney and Spencer in sequence with albums by Babe Ruth, Colosseum II, Easy Street, Osibisa, Real Thing, and Uriah Heep.

As on future releases, Tarney and Spencer is the self-contained work of Tarney (guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals) and Spencer (drums). Their onetime James Taylor Move bandmate Lance Dixon plays the album’s saxophone parts.

Tarney and Spencer sports a sepia portrait of the duo by photographer Brian Moody; enframed in graphics by Art In Heaven, the design firm responsible for concurrent album art for Charlie (Fantasy Girls, UK) and A Raincoat.

In late August, Bradleys lifted “I Can Hear Love” as the duo’s second single; backed with “The Real Thing,” a non-album Tarney–Spencer co-write.

B. “The Real Thing”

In November, Tarney and Spencer released “If You Knew,” a non-album a-side backed with the pre-released “It’s Really You.”

A. “If You Knew”


1976–77 Outside Credits

Olivia Newton-John covered “Hey Mr. Dream Maker” for her eighth studio album, the October 1976 MCA release Don’t Stop Believin’, produced by her main writer John Farrar, a cohort of Tarney and Spencer on the Sixties Aussie rock scene (as a member of Melbourne beatsters The Strangers).

In November 1976, Cliff Richard released his version of “Hey Mr. Dream Maker” as an advance single from his March 1977 album Every Face Tells a Story, named after the title track by the writing team of Michael Allison and Peter Sills, who also co-wrote the title track to Cliff’s prior album, I’m Nearly Famous. “Every Face Tells a Story” is another shared song with Don’t Stop Believin’; Olivia released her version as the album’s second single.

Tarney plays bass on Every Face Tells a Story, which also contains a version of “Give Me Love Your Way” with Alan’s most suggestive lyric (“turn out the light”) modified to Cliff’s born again sensibilities (“forever is right”). Meanwhile, the New Seekers released a both-gender version of “Give Me Love Your Way” as a 1977 CBS single.

Cliff’s version of “Hey Mr. Dream Maker” reached No. 6 in South Africa. The song’s co-writer, Bruce Welch (Olivia’s ex-boyfriend), produced Cliff’s albums from this period. German schlager singer Bernd Clüver released a spoof version titled “Hey Mr. Disc Jockey.”

Tarney and Spencer earned an early outside production credit on the 1976 Easybeats cover “Friday On My Mind” by Peter Doyle, a Sixties Australian pop singer who arrived in the UK as a member of the New Seekers. The duo produced and played on his 1977 solo album Skin Deep, which features one Tarney composition (“Shangri-La”), one Tarney–Spencer co-write (“Harlem Dream”), and six Doyle originals, plus the Marvin–Farrar title track. Musically, Skin Deep resembles the gritty West Coast-inspired harmony pop of the first two Tarney and Spencer albums.


Three’s a Crowd

Tarney and Spencer released their second album, Three’s a Crowd, in May 1978 on A&M. It’s their first of two albums produced by label exec David Kershenbaum, who imparts a US West Coast sound.

Three’s a Crowd features five new Alan Tarney compositions: “Capital Shame,” “We Believe in Love,” and the single sides “Easier for You,” “Bye Bye Now My Sweet Love,” and “Magic Still Runs Through Your Head.” Trevor Spencer co-wrote the lead single, “Takin’ Me Back.” They wrote “Set the Minstrel Free” with additional input from Kershenbaum.

They also include a Linda Ronstadt cover (“Maybe I’m Right”) and two reused songs from the 1976 Tarney and Spencer album: “I Can Hear Love” and “It’s Really You,” the latter radically rearranged with American singer–songwriter Tom Snow listed as a third-writer.

A1. “Bye Bye Now My Sweet Love” (3:20)
A2. “Takin’ Me Back” (3:04)
A3. “It’s Really You” (3:53)
A4. “We Believe in Love” (3:51)
A5. “Maybe I’m Right” (3:35) originated as a deep cut by Linda Ronstadt on her 1977 album Simple Dreams; written by her guitarist Waddy Watchel.
B1. “I Can Hear Love” (3:27)
B2. “Set the Minstrel Free” (4:02)
B3. “Magic Still Runs Through Your Head” (3:05)
B4. “Capital Shame” (5:09)
B5. “Easier for You” (3:11)

Sessions took place at AIR Studios, London, and Producers Workshop, Hollywood, with Kershenbaum, who produced Three’s a Crowd in sequence with 1977–78 albums by Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, and ex-Vinegar Joe frontwoman Elkie Brooks.

Three’s a Crowd was engineered by AIR staffer Peter Swettenham and Producers Workshop staffer David Ruffo. Swettenham prior credits include 1973–75 albums by Caravan, Cockney Rebel, Mott the Hoople, Tempest, Thin Lizzy, and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. He also has peripheral credit on Ronstadt’s 1974 breakthrough solo album, Heart Like a Wheel. Most recently, Swettenham engineered the first two Deaf School albums, 2nd Honeymoon and Don’t Stop the World. Ruffo engineered 1977–78 albums by Fandango, Firefall, Jacki DeShannon, Margie Joseph, and Rinder & Lewis.

Tarney and Spencer self-performed Three’s a Crowd with unspecified backing by the Climax Blues Band (listed individually), keyboardist Peter Filleul (Parlour Band, A Band Called O), and Cliff backing vocalist Charles John Perry, a onetime bandmate of Swettenham in Grapefruit. Three’s a Crowd features string arrangements by onetime Affinity keyboardist Lynton Naiff.

Three’s a Crowd appeared in a die-cut cover with rounded yellow corners designed in emulation of a diner tabletop.

“Takin’ Me Back” appeared on March 17, 1978, as an advance single (b/w “Set the Minstrel Free”). In late May, A&M lifted “Easier for You” as the second single (b/w “Magic Still Runs Through Your Head”).

In the Netherlands, “Bye Bye Now My Sweet Love” became the first single in July 1978 (b/w “Set the Minstrel Free”).

In October, “It’s Really You” reappeared as the third single (b/w “Bye Bye Now My Sweet Love”).


1978 Tarney Credits

Before the release of Three’s a Crowd, Tarney partook in the sessions for Cliff Richard’s September 1978 album Green Light. It spawned three singles, including the Tarney-penned title track, which Cliff mimed under green lights on multiple UK music programs.

Tarney also wrote and produced both sides of the 1978 WEA single “The Shape I’m In Tonight” (b/w “It’s Much Too Late Tonight”) by Tony Rivers, the one-time singer of Harmony Grass (a parent band of Capability Brown). Rivers, who sang backing vocals on Three’s a Crowd, performed with Swettenham in Sixties beatsters The Castaways.


Run for Your Life

Tarney and Spencer released their third album, Run for Your Life, in April 1979 on A&M. It opens with “No Time to Lose,” an epic rocker revived multiple times on music television and FM radio.

Run for Your Life features four lone-writes by Alan Tarney: “Won’tcha Tell Me,” “Don’t,” “Far Better Man,” and “I’m Alive.” Side B contains a rearranged version of the Sixties American beat classic “Lies.”

Trevor Spencer co-wrote the five remaining songs, including “The Race is Almost Run” and the title track. They would re-record the album’s emotional ballad, “A Heart Will Break Tonight,” the following year with Cliff Richard.

A1. “No Time to Lose” (4:43)
A2. “The Race is Almost Run” (2:51)
A3. “Won’tcha Tell Me” (3:46)
A4. “Live Again” (4:05)
A5. “Run for Your Life” (4:36)
B1. “Don’t” (4:18)
B2. “Far Better Man” (3:18)
B3. “Lies” (3:06) originated as a 1965 hit by American garage-rockers The Knickerbockers; written by members Buddy Randall and Beau Charles and recorded in emulation of the 1963–64 Beatles sound. Covered by Styx on their 1974 album, Man of Miracles. Linda Ronstadt did a subsequent version for her 1982 album, Get Closer.
B4. “A Heart Will Break Tonight” (3:44)
B5. “I’m Alive” (3:53)

Sessions occurred in the winter of 1978–79 with David Kershenbaum, who produced the album in sequence with Philly new wavers The Reds and the first two Joe Jackson albums, Look Sharp! and I’m the Man.

Sound City’s Mark Smith engineered Run for Your Life ahead of albums by Sad Cafe (Facades) and 1979 A&M titles by label co-founder Herb Alpert, his wife Lani Hall, and recent Weather Report percussionist Manolo. The assistant engineer, Ed Schaff, worked concurrently on Walter Egan‘s Not Shy followup and I Loved You Then…I Love You Now, the singular album by Chic Corea‘s wife, Gayle Moran.

A&M in-house illustrator Chuch Beeson designed the canonical Run for Your Life cover, which shows four copies (three spines, one display) of a paperback thriller titled Run for Your Life with illustrations that depict a love triangle involving a young suburban man, his beautiful wife, and her playboy sugardaddy. The flipside shows the four copies from the rear view with hyperbolic “press quotes” (“Thoroughly engrossing!… A sweeping saga…”). The three-dimensional title letters appeared in multiple metallic colors (red, green, gold).

Early European copies have a different cover: a zoomed action image that captures the left headlight of a red convertible near the red slingback foot of a walking female.

In advance of Run for Your Life, Tarney and Spencer released the epic “No Time to Lose” as a March 1979 single (b/w “Live Again”). It reached No. 66 on the US Cashbox Top 100 and No. 84 on the Billboard Hot 100. A&M also included “No Time to Lose” on a promotional EP with three album tracks (“Won’tcha Tell Me,” “Lies,” “Run for Your Life”); housed in a 10″x7″ cover that replicates the album art.

The video to “No Time to Lose” intercuts soundstage footage of the Tarney–Spencer Band with clips of roller skaters in shorts and tube socks on the streets near the Santa Monica coast.

More than two years after the single’s release, the video went into medium rotation on the new US cable music channel MTV. In response, A&M re-released the single, which charted ten places higher on the Hot 100 (No. 74). In Australia, the 1981 release of “No Time to Lose” reached No. 66 on the Kent Music Report. The song became a huge hit in select US markets (Chicago, St. Louis) and had a 1999 resurgence in Portland, Oregon, after its inclusion on a CD sampler by the PDX classic rock station KGON (92.3 FM).


1979 Production and Backing Work

In early 1979, Island Records summoned Alan Tarney and Bruce Welch for a partial re-recording of Where to Now?, the debut album in-progress by English singer–songwriter Charlie Dore. The label first paired her with producer Joe Boyd (Fairport Convention, Nick Drake) in the US, where Nashville session musicians backed her on the first tapes, which Island deemed “too country.” Tarney and Spencer backed her on the seven re-recorded songs (Side A and the bookends of Side B), which Alan co-produced with Bruce.

Where to Now? appeared that autumn on Island and Warner Bros. Its lead single, “Pilot of the Airwaves,” was a big hit in the US (Billboard No. 13), New Zealand (No. 12), and Canada (No. 3). “Fear of Flying” became the album’s second single. Tarney previewed his subsequent production signature on multiple tracks, including the deep cut “Sad Old World.”

During the Where to Now? sessions, Tarney played Welch the demo of a new song, “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” intended for a fourth Tarney and Spencer album. Welch recommended the song to Cliff Richard, who later said he had a “gut feeling” upon hearing Tarney’s demo. On May 29, 1979, Welch produced Cliff’s version of the song with backing by Tarney and Spencer. In July, it appeared as a stop-gap single (backed with the Green Light cut “Count Me Out”).

In late August, “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart. This was his tenth UK chart-topper and first since his 1968 Eurovision entry “Congratulations.” It also topped charts across Europe and reached the Top 5 in Canada and the Global South. In the US, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 — his second US Top 10 single (after his 1976 breakthrough hit, “Devil Woman”). EMI tacked “We Don’t Talk Anymore” at the end of Cliff’s September 1979 release Rock n Roll Juvenile, a project begun long before the single with Tarney’s ex-Quartet bandmate, producer–songwriter Terry Britten.

Meanwhile, Tarney and Spencer backed a phantom singer named Blackie on the 1979 RAK single “Making a Bad Boy Good” / “Can’t Get By Without You,” both Tarney originals later added to CD reissues of Three’s a Crowd.


“Cathy’s Clown”

On October 26, 1979, Tarney and Spencer released “Cathy’s Clown,” a radically rearranged Everly Brothers cover backed with “Anything I Can Do,” a Tarney original. The duo self-produced this non-album single, which appropriates the sound and arrangement of Welch’s production work on their recent hit with Cliff Richard.

A. “Cathy’s Clown” was a 1960 Billboard No. 1 hit by the Everly Brothers, written by Don Everly. Covered in the mid-Sixties by beat groups in Australia (The Rajahs) and Sweden (Tages, The Shanes, Jack & The Rippers).

B. “Anything I Can Do” is a medium-uptempo pop song that Tarney re-recorded with Cliff Richard.


Career as Producer / Backing Musicians

In light of their chart success behind Charlie Dore and Cliff Richard, Tarney and Spencer ceased their function as a performing unit and placed their talents behind established singers. A&M released them from their contract. However, “Lies” reappeared in April 1980 as a final single for the Dutch market (b/w “A Heart Will Break Tonight”).

In late 1979, they linked with Scottish singer Barbara Dickson, a prior folkie who edged into the MOR pop market. In January 1980, she released the timely “January February,” a Tarney ballad with backing by the duo. It reached No. 11 on the UK Singles Chart and appeared on her sixth solo album: the April 1980 Epic release The Barbara Dickson Album, which contains two additional Tarney originals (“I’ll Say it Again,” “Now I Don’t Know”) and re-arranged versions of “It’s Really You” and “Can’t Get By Without You.”

Tarney and Spencer then backed Leo Sayer on his August 1980 Chrysalis–Warner release Living In a Fantasy, the singer’s eighth album. It features six Tarney–Sayer co-writes and three Tarney lone-writes, including “Once in a While,” a much-covered single. Side A includes a cover of “More Than I Can Say,” a 1962 Bobby Vee hit written by Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison (formerly of Buddy Holly’s Crickets). Leo’s version went Top 5 worldwide (Top 2 in most nations).

Tarney reteamed with Cliff Richard on the singer’s September 1980 release I’m No Hero. It continues the sound established on the 1979 hit single with five Tarney compositions, including “Everyman,” “Take Another Look,” and a remake of “Anything I Can Do.” Side B contains the Spencer co-written title track and a rearranged version of “A Heart Will Break.” Cliff scored his third US Top 10 hit with “Dreamin’,” a product of Tarney’s writing collaboration with Sayer. Tarney’s “A Little In Love” became Richard’s fifth and final US Top 20 hit (released as a single after his 1980 Olivia duet “Suddenly”).

They relinked with Barbara Dickson for her May 1981 album You Know it’s Me, which features six Tarney compositions, including the singles “Only Seventeen” and “My Heart Lies.”

Tarney stuck behind Cliff for his September 1981 release Wired for Sound. Alan co-wrote the title track (UK No. 4) with B.A. Robertson (Britten’s co-writer on Rock n Roll Juvenile). The album includes four additional Tarney compositions, including “‘Cos I Love That Rock ‘n’ Roll” and Cliff’s version of “Once in a While” (covered a third time in 1982 by Dan Seals). Spencer plays on only three songs: “Once in a While”, “Summer Rain,” and “Young Love.”


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