In a perfect world, which this clearly isn’t, Martin Briley would be a household name, putting his album out every 18 months or so to the delight of his several hundred thousand fans (we would have said millions, but we didn’t want to be greedy). Instead, he practices his songwriting craft in a tiny home studio on behalf of others, and most of the recordings he makes these days are demos heard only by other artists and their managers. Now that’s not exactly digging ditches, so don’t cry for him, Argentina. But in the early Eighties, there was a perfect moment when public taste intersected with a tasteful musician for an MTV-driven Top Fifteen hit called “Salt In My Tears.”
Mind you, Briley had already had a decent career by the time “Salt” hit the video screens. Starting off in a band called Mandrake Paddle Steamer, Briley segued into Dave Greenslade’s eponymous prog-rock outfit for what was arguably their best album, Time and Tide. Following that, he moved to New York City and ultimately lined up a gig playing bass with Ian Hunter’s band, contributing bass and vocals on the Short Back And Sides album as well as touring.
In 1981, opportunity, in the form of Mercury Records, knocked: Martin issued his first solo album, Fear Of The Unknown. Looking not unlike a British Jackson Browne on the back cover, Briley’s arch sense of humor rocketed over the heads of the American public. Nonetheless, he made a second album. 1983’s One Night With A Stranger contained what every successful artist in 1983 needed: an MTV hit. The song, “Salt In My Tears,” was a middle finger in the rear view mirror of a failed relationship, and Briley, for his part in the video, played it with laconic ease, most of it supine on a couch. It wasn’t that he had intended it that way, but food poisoning had overcome him on the day of shooting, so the director was forced to improvise around Briley’s wooziness. The mother of invention spawned a beautiful child, and the single climbed the chart in tandem with its rotation on the tube. The single peaked at 15, the album at 55.
As you might expect, the anticipation for Dangerous Moments, Briley’s third album, was extra-high. Producer Phil Ramone, known for his work with Paul Simon and Billy Joel, was brought on board. It was a marriage made on Jerry Springer’s stage. Briley, ever the gentleman, obliquely suggests that they had different musical visions, but it’s clear that the magic of One Night With A Stranger was not in evidence. The album peaked at 85, and while the title track grazed the top forty of the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, the ride was over, and Briley left Mercury.
Briley is considered by many to be one of the most prominent songwriters in America today, writing for such artists as Celine Dion, N'SYNC, Jessica Andrews, 5-Star, Willy Nile, Michael Bolton, Pat Benatar, Gregg Allman, Kenny Loggins and Barry Manilow, to name just a few. In fact, he was recently presented with an RIAA award for Celine Dion's "A New Day Has Come" for worldwide sales of 8 million.
Two of Briley’s three albums (One Night With A Stranger and Dangerous Moments) were nominated for Grammys for art direction.
“His debut solo work is varied, certainly not
boring and quite possibly worthwhile.”
–Cyndi Astie Clearwater Sun
“This song (One Step Behind) is laced with silvery tendrils of piano,
billowing silken sheets of electric guitar and vocals that echo from
the painful, cobwebbed corners of everyman’s suppressed regrets.”
–Gene Triplett The Daily Oklahoman
“It should go over quite well with fans of
Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Illych.”
–Gary Peterson The Capital Times
“Frighteningly misanthropic...I wouldn’t suggest you listen to him
if you’re going through emotional turmoil.”
–Joel Vance Stereo Review
“... dark, brooding, passionate and yet oddly inspiring.”
–John Philips Midland Ont. Canada
“The Frederick Wiseman of rock.”
–David McGee The Record
“Briley’s voice is similar to Phil Collins’, I don’t think even Phil’s
mother could tell them apart on the phone.”
–Carl Bauer The Tech
“Confusion of reality and desire is seldom seen as clearly.”
–Sheldon L.Rosenzweig The Alabama Graphic
“...I think he (Martin Briley) and Germaine Greer
would make a great parley.”
–Cindy Adams New York Post