JANE STEVENSON, QMI AGENCY
Sep 25, 2014
Bryan Adams’ image is that of a denim-clad hard rocker from Canada with massive mainstream appeal.
His 65 million in album sales worldwide over the last three-and-a-half decades speaks to that.
So some of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s covers the Kingston, Ont.,-born-North Vancouver-raised musician chose for his new disc Tracks of My Years, out Tuesday, might surprise his hardcore fans. Think the sunny pop of The Association’s Never My Love or the R&B soul of The Manhattans’ Kiss and Say Goodbye.
“I hope there are good surprises,” said the 54-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist in Toronto recently.
“Instead of doing the songs that were the ones that really changed things for me, I decided I would do songs that were also around at the time that I remembered … I used to listen to all the songs (in my little transistor radio) … I used to have one little earplug — you didn’t get two, you got one — so that transistor radio was it for me; it was my connection to the outside world. So I remember all this music.
“And radio didn’t discriminate, it played everything. If it was a hit song, it got played no matter (what); whether it was country, R&B or rock. And so, as a result, you’d have Bridge Over Troubled Water into Mississippi Queen.”
The covers album idea was co-producers David Foster and Bob Rock’s idea and choosing the songs was the most difficult part.
Over a two-year period, Adams ended up recording about 40 tunes, but only 16 made the final deluxe edition track listing including The Beatles’ Any Time At All, Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay, and a drastically reworked version of The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows.
“It drove David out of his mind,” said Adams, a long-time London, England, resident, who gets back to Vancouver a couple of times a year and still owns The Warehouse studio there.
“First of all, I wasn’t sure about making a record like this. It wasn’t something I really wanted to do. It wasn’t on my list of priorities. I had to be sort of talked into it. But once I got into it and decided, ‘Yes, I was going to do it,’ I gave it a 100%.
“I don’t do anything in halves. And I wasn’t going to settle for just, ‘Oh, that’s good enough.’ ‘That’s good enough’ is a phrase that doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.
“The challenge of a good cover is to do it in a way that makes it yours,” he continued. “And, I think, I did it.”
But given Adams knows, and has played with, a lot of the artists whose work he covers on Tracks of My Years, did he have to tiptoe around his treatment of these songs?
“I always do what I want to do,” said the musician. “I mean, I hope, at the end of the day, the other artists will like it. These days (in the music business) I guess it’s OK if someone else records your song, you gotta be happy.”
Also, the cover for Tracks of My Years flips Adams’ image on its ear. The album art is a black-and-white 1975 photo of a REALLY long-haired and smiling Adams at 15. He has his arms crossed over his chest, one hand holding a cigarette, and his stance is defiant.
“I’m at school in North Van, and it was the year I dropped out,” said Adams, whose photography career has grown alongside his music over the years. “And we were in art photography class and we had a little Zenith camera … my friend and I would just take pictures of each other, just goofing off.”
Still, Adams did choose it to be on the cover of Tracks of My Years in all its glory.
“The symbolism of that photograph is it’s the time I was sure that music was going to be what I was going to do. And I mean I had no idea where it was going to take me. Even if I was the roadie for a band, I would have been happy.
“But it was definitely music, somehow or another, (maybe) work in a record shop. I tried that, my hair was too long. I tried to get into A&B Sound at Park Royal (a mall in West Vancouver) and they wouldn’t hire me ’cause my hair was too long and I was too young.”
Turns out Adams wasn’t cool enough.
“You have to be a little bit hipper than that. I wasn’t that hip. I was a serious hippie and I was into heavy rock.”
Speaking of rock, Adams’ most recent photography assignment was shooting the new Status Quo album cover for Aquostic (Stripped Bare) in which the veteran British rockers appear naked behind acoustic guitars.
“It was five guys walking around with their balls hanging out the whole time in my studio,” said Adams with a grin. “It was their idea! I’m a big fan of the band anyway so that was great fun to do.
“I wish I had taken (photography) way more seriously, way earlier,” he added. “But I just didn’t really think it was possible to do two things at once; plus I was super focused on the music so there was no way I could have fit anything (else in).
“I don’t even remember the ’90s. That’s because I was working so hard. It’s like that thing in Star Trek, they go, ‘OK, we’re off.’ ”
You mean warp speed?
“Yeah, warp speed, yeah. That’s what I think of when I think of the ’90s … The gigs are just a blur.”
Still, Adams, who became a parent later in life (to three-year-old Mirabella and one-year-old Lula) with his partner Alicia Grimaldi, said he isn’t necessarily slowing down.
“I try to fill my life with lots of interesting things and family is obviously one of them and it’s probably the most important. But, I think, going away and having a diverse career where I can do both things benefits (everybody) because I’m happy,” he said.
Otherwise, Adams — whose last release was 2013’s Live at the Sydney Opera House — is currently making an original record with producer Jeff Lynne (ELO). Moreover, there’s also the Nov. 24 re-release of his monster album Reckless, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with previously unreleased bonus tracks, and a January-February 2015 tour of Canada to follow.
“It’s such a good record and it’s so different to this (covers record),” he said of his Lynne collaboration.
“It’s going to be one of my best albums, for sure. Jeff’s done an incredible job with the production. It’s just so great. It’s a really rocking (album), really up; you can definitely hear Jeff’s sounds on it. It’s so distinctive; it’s really a fun record. It’s killer.”
Are there any songs that were influenced by fatherhood?
“It’s not going to be about nursery rhymes,” said Adams cheekily. “No, I don’t think so. I have definitely written songs for them, but they’re just sweet little ditties. I think it’s all about the overall happiness factor, about what family brings you. (Fatherhood) doesn’t surprise me because it’s such big love.”
And, now, when he travels the world, does he just have to pack more suitcases?
“Sometimes. It’s tough now that there are two, but I’m looking forward to them coming on the road,” Adams said of his daughters.
“I want them to experience the world. I think it’s a really good thing to be able to see different parts of the world in life ’cause that’s how I travelled as a child (as the son of a British-Canadian army officer-turned-diplomat).
“That was my life. Seeing the world and being in other places … (is) important.”
FIVE BRYAN ADAMS TRACKS OTHER SINGERS SHOULD COVER
Bryan Adams covers other people’s songs on his new album, Tracks of My Years, but here are his five best tunes worthy of coverage by others.
1. Cuts Like a Knife (1983) – From Adams’ third album of the same name, this was the first of the great stadium rockers co-written by Adams and his writing partner Jim Vallance. And it perfectly captured the exquisite torture of being in love: “It cuts like a knife and it feels so right.” The Na-Na-Na chorus was inspired by everything from Hey Jude by The Beatles to Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye by Steam.
2. Run to You (1984) – From his huge album Reckless – whose 30th anniversary is being celebrated on Nov. 24 with a re-release followed by a tour of Canada in January-February – this first single about a philanderer – “ I know her love is true But it’s so damn easy makin’ love to you,” was originally pitched to Blue Oyster Cult. It has since been covered by everyone from Lou Barlow to Bananarama.
3. Summer of ‘69 (1984) – The fourth single from Reckless was completely concerned with sex, nostalgia and rock ‘n’ roll: “I got my first real six-string Bought it at the five-and-dime, Played it ‘til my fingers bled It was the summer of ‘69.” Nuff said.
4. It’s Only Love (feat. Tina Turner) (1984) – One of the great rock duets of all time, Adams was a mere 24 years old when he tapped soul-rock queen Tina Turner to sing on this winning sixth single from Reckless.
5. Can’t Stop This Thing We Started (1991) – Yes, Everything I Do (I Do It For You) was the monster hit from Waking Up the Neighbours, but this uber-confident feel-good track co-written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange is the one that blows the roof off the arenas.
Source: Bryan Adams goes down memory lane with ‘Tracks of My Years’.