by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
There’s no shortage of British acts that have fared substantially better on the charts at home than in the United States. Roxy Music, for instance, were commercial powerhouses in the U.K. during the ‘70s while only placing one Top 40 hit (“Love Is the Drug”) Stateside. New Order have a massive cult following in the U.S. but have technically only managed two minor Top 40 hits on this side of the Atlantic (“True Faith” and “Regret”) while reaching the U.K. Top 40 twenty-seven times and reaching the Top Ten eight of those times. Robbie Williams is nothing short of an icon at home, with over thirty Top Ten hits to his credit on the U.K. charts, but he’s never come anywhere close to reaching the Top 40 in the U.S.. Sir Cliff Richard is perhaps an even stranger example: he’s sold over 21 million singles in the U.K. alone – and more than 250 million records worldwide – and he’s the third most successful artist in the history of the U.K. singles charts, next to Elvis Presley and the Beatles. He’s also had 14 Number One hits in the U.K. and is the only person in the history of the British singles charts to have Number One hits in each of five consecutive decades. [Even his backing group in the ‘50s, the Shadows, would go on to become superstars in their own right, scoring over sixteen Top Ten hits on the British charts on their own, band members John Farrar, Bruce Welch, and John Rostill all going on to pen the overwhelming majority of Olivia Newton-John’s hits.] And yet, in the U.S., he only reached the Top 40 a total of nine times over a total of four decades, only three of those singles reaching the Top Ten (“Devil Woman,” “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” and “Dreaming”). While he’s still releasing hit singles abroad, Richard hasn’t had a Top 40 hit over here since 1982. Go figure.
Richard very rarely writes himself, preferring to be an interpreter, and doesn’t play an instrument, either, but he’s blessed with one of the most pleasing singing voices in all of pop music [just listen to his smooth crooning on the Olivia Newton-John duet “Suddenly” from Xanadu as perfect proof of this] and he also has a remarkable gift for surrounding himself with all the right up-and-coming songwriters and producers, his ‘70s and ‘80s albums in particular benefitting a great deal from the presence of talents like Terry Britten (with Graham Lyle, later the co-writer of many Tina Turner hits, including “What’s Love Got to Do with It”), B.A. Robertson (later the co-writer of many Mike + the Mechanics hits, including “The Living Years” and “Silent Running”), and Alan Tarney (later the producer of a-ha’s “Take on Me” and The Dream Academy’s “Life in a Northern Town”).
So what makes I’m No Hero so irresistible? Besides Richard’s ever-pleasant and impressive pipes, the full disc is both produced and almost entirely written by Tarney, who is a master pop craftsman. (There’s a reason a-ha recruited him to cut a new version of “Take on Me” after the first version stiffed on the charts. Go listen to the two versions of that song side by side to get a full appreciation of what Tarney brings to the table as a producer.) Tarney also enlists the co-writing help of his client – and ‘70s pop star – Leo Sayer for the album’s majestic first single, “Dreaming.” Like most of Sayer’s best and biggest hits (“When I Need You,” “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” “More Than I Can Say”), the song is just overflowing with hooks from start to finish, and Richard injects it with the same passion that he brought to the table on “We Don’t Talk Anymore.” The single also benefits from some clever drumming from Trevor Spencer, who brings some extra energy to the song by providing cymbal accents and snare fills in some unexpected places.
The album also boasts two other very impressive singles in the devastatingly pretty, Tarney-penned mid-tempo pop of “A Little in Love,” one of the most underrated adult-contemporary Top 40 hits of the early ‘80s, and the wildly fun “Give a Little Bit More,” penned by Andy Hill (later the producer and songwriter for British pop band Bucks Fizz and also the songwriter of Peter Cetera’s “Restless Heart,” Cher’s “Heart of Stone,” and Eddie Money’s “Peace in Our Time”) and bursting with all kinds of fun musical and production touches, from the handclaps in the mix to the playful, word-packed pre-chorus. The single sadly stopped shy of reaching the Top 40 in the States, but it’s every bit as good and catchy as any of Richard’s biggest American hits.
Tarney also does a fine job of making sure that the album is still entertaining even in between the scattered singles, and it’s impressive just how catchy a lot of the regular album tracks are, be it the album-opening “Take Another Look,” which boasts the same playful vibe as “Give a Little Bit More” and “Dreaming,” or the album’s fantastic and punchy title cut, which boasts a slight rockabilly flavor [it’s actually vaguely similar to Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” from National Lampoon’s Vacation] and a killer minor-key chorus, Richard sounding like he’s having the time of his life taking on the deceptively complex yet still commercial song, while Spencer, who co-wrote the track with Tarney, once again turns in a great performance on drums here.
Unfortunately, the album has never been issued on CD in the U.S. and is only available on CD as an import sporting the album’s cartoonish original British album cover, which was wisely substituted by a portrait shot of Richard for the disc’s American release. Album artwork aside, though, this is a fine and fun album and one worth checking out if you want to understand why the man is a pop music icon in his home country.