Getting To The Bare Bones With Bryan Adams
By J.T. Ryder
During the evolution of the 80s, in between Frankie telling us to Relax and Motley Crüe exhorting us to Shout At The Devil, a sound was heard that seemed to cut like a knife through the electronica dance numbers and the ubiquitous power ballads. It was a clean, concise sound, with a finely honed structure that seemed to meld the songwriting skills of past eras and the subject matter that is the essence of rock and roll: sex, love and heartache. All this was held together and delivered by a gravelly young Canadian singer/songwriter named Bryan Adams.
Bryan’s early career began when he was only 15 after he dropped out of school to play in the local clubs and bars, playing with bands like Shock and Sweeney Todd. Bryan’s first recording was with Sweeney Todd on their album If Wishes Were Horses in 1977. Bryan went solo shortly thereafter, meeting up with Jim Vallance, cementing what would become an extensive songwriting career. Adams recorded and released his self titled debut album in 1980 and then another album titled You Want It, You Got It in 1981, but it wasn’t until 1983 and the release of Cuts Like A Knife that Adams’ career took off.
When I spoke with Adams for this piece, we ended up getting on the subject of the song Run To You, which I found that Adams originally tried to interest Blue Oyster Cult and then .38 Special in before recording it himself. I had always thought that the song had been built around the singular guitar solo right before the cascading denouement toward the end of the song. Adams corrected me, saying that the seeds of the song began with the arpeggio guitar heard in the beginning of the song. Bob Clearmountain, the producer of the Reckless album, has contended that he used too much reverb on Adams voice and has always felt that the album, and particularly the song Run To You, needed to be remixed.
“I don’t think so. When I go back and listen to those songs, I feel they were exactly what I wanted them to be,” Bryan said. “Of course producers are always going to want to go back and remix things and adjust things – it’s in their nature.”
While on the topic of the Reckless album, Adams said, “I worked so hard on that record that I think I turned everybody off of me for a while because I insisted on long hours and lots of time spent on remixing and a lot of time on rearranging.
“There are a few of the songs that I recorded two or three times,” he said. “I was right to do it because I needed the challenge and needed to push things as far as they could be pushed.”
Adams said at the time, he wanted to make the best record that he could possibly make, but then clarified by saying, “I mean, you always go into a project wanting it to be as good as you can do, but when you’re 24 and you can feel the tidal wave beneath you … I was compelled to make this record, in every aspect, because it was going to be everything that I was going to be carrying on my shoulders for the next year on tour, so I wanted to make sure that it really, really worked.”
Adams eventually switched producers, from Bob Clearmountain to Mutt Lange. The delineation between the two could be simplistically described as Clearmountain being more technically organic while Lange’s approach was more orchestrated.
“Well, at the time, I didn’t know what I was getting into working with either of them. I started hearing things sonically when I started working with Bob (Clearmountain) that I really liked. I really liked some of the things that he had done, like Jim Carol’s record that really turned me on to Bob, especially this song called, When The City Drops Into The Night and I thought, ‘Wow! That’s incredible!’ Anyway, I found a lot of other things that I liked, so I knew I wanted to work with him and so we met, we got on and that was it.”
Referring to Lange, Adams recounts, “Then with Mutt, his records seem to stand up forever. He just put out such beautiful albums and you were correct about the orchestration, because he does some really interesting things. When we began working together, I started playing the songs that I had and he said, ‘Oh that’s great, but let’s write some more’…so we ended up writing a whole new album.”
Adams had been searching for the next step forward while recording his Into The Fire album and, while happy with the album itself, he still felt restless and compelled to make something completely different. In Lange, Adams found his muse.
“Everything that I had at that time that I thought was going to be my album, we took pieces from and made other songs. We took the demos that I had brought and just took moments from them and I went with it. I just totally went with it,” Adams said.
He said it was at that point in his life when he knew he had to do something really different. “I was looking for [something different] on Into The Fire, which was the previous album, and I had actually asked Mutt to work on that album with me, but he was busy with other things,” he said. “When it came down my next album, I called him up and asked him, ‘Hey! You want to talk about music?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ So I got on a plane the next day after I had talked to him and the next time I was home, I had Waking Up The Neighbors.”
Waking Up The Neighbors introduced the world to Adams in a big way, making the world aware of his previous work for the first time as well.
“A lot of the songs that were hits in the 80s for me became hits during the 90s in the rest of the world. That had a lot to do with Waking Up The Neighbors because that album was such a big album internationally,” he said.
Adams explained that, “What happened was people around the world heard that album and they’d think, ‘I wonder what else he has done?’… so all of a sudden, albums that other countries weren’t aware of before, like Reckless, Cuts Like A Knife [and] Into The Fire, start selling, and suddenly I get a call in like 1994 saying, ‘Hey, did you know that Summer Of ’69 is number one in Holland?’”
Adams has since had a string of hits, like (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman and Heaven, among others. On Adams’ latest project, Bare Bones, he presents some of these hits (as well as songs he has written for others) in a minimalistic arrangement, utilizing only his voice, a guitar and on some tracks, Gary Briet on piano. Referencing some of the songs that he had written for others, Adams told me this anecdotal story;
“During the time that I was writing a lot with Jim Vallance in the 80s, we always used to think about other people to get inspiration for songs. For example, one of the songs on the Bare Bones record called The Right Place is a song I wrote for Ray Charles.”
Adams described that, “It’s all well and fine to write a song for Ray Charles, but it’s a whole other thing to give it to him, so when I worked with Ray Charles, I kind of … forgot to give it to him. I was kind of awestruck. That’s a good example of a song written for somebody else, but there were many, many songs like that.”
In writing for others, I wondered if Adams approached the song with a particular person in mind, or, if after the song was completed, he saw whom it would fit best. He said many times, he was writing with someone particular in mind, which begged the question about how difficult was it to write a song for a woman, like the ones he had written for Bonnie Raitt?
“Oh! But I’m in love with Bonnie though. I remember writing to her and saying, ‘Bonnie, I’ve got this song for you,’ and she said, ‘I love it … but I’m only going to sing it if you sing it with me!’ What do you say to that? ‘You got it!’” Adams said.
“Earlier on, back in 1981, she cut one of my songs called No Way To Treat A Lady. I’ve loved Bonnie for like half my life if not more,” he said.
Before our interview was over, I had to get something off of my chest: I asked him if he was aware that millions of men hated him for recording (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, because it automatically required us to go out and dedicate the song to whomever we happened to be with at the time.
“Yeah, but for all of that hatred, you got a lot of lovin’ back. You ought to be grateful to me, man.” Bryan said jokingly. “You would give them that song and they would think you were really nice and you had a great time afterwards, so that’s how you should look at it.”
Touché, Bryan, touché.
You can catch Bryan Adams on December 3 at 8:00 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre performing his hits in an intimate, unplugged performance in support of the release of his Bare Bone album. Tickets range from $36 to $76. To purchase tickets or for more information call (937) 228-3630 or go online to HYPERLINK “http://www.ticketcenterstage.com” www.ticketcenterstage.com.