Bryan Adams became famous and successful as a rock everybody. Even when he was number 1 in the UK for 16 weeks with “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”, the clip has that top of the pops kept showing Adams looking less like a rock star and more like a man who has realized he needs to return to B&Q for some more creosote. In the ’80s, when a gruff North American man (Adams is Canadian) was a desirable trait in a rock star, he became something of a force – his 1984 album reckless sold five million copies in the US alone – but he never seemed like a rock star. He was tall; he just didn’t project it.
The irony is that Adams isn’t and wasn’t everyman. His life was not and is not like yours. As a child, he was an army brat and lived all over the world to follow a father he previously said had a violent temper. He started following rock ‘n’ roll as a kid and never stopped. He puts it politely: “I didn’t actually have any other job. So I had to make it work” – but you can be sure that most Jedermann would have taken that other job, because that is what Jedermann does. Also now in his sixties, a reliable arena-filling brand, he’s also a well-known photographer, and he also writes musicals. This isn’t a man who just randomly got into things with an “Aw Shucks” shrug.
He’s not an everyman, so when asked what he had to do for a living that he actually didn’t want to do, he can’t think of anything. That makes him either the most affable man alive or someone so successful he doesn’t have to waste time on trash.
You get an idea of his determination when he talks about wanting to work with producer Bob Clearmountain after his first album failed. He arranged a meeting. “I went into the studio and waited around, and this guy came by on his bike. And it was Bob. “Hi Bob, I’m Bryan.” He looked at me perplexed. He said, ‘I’m about to start a session, but come on up and let’s talk.’ So I went up there and played him a few songs. And he said, ‘Well, look, I really have to go, I’ve got work to do, but I’ll take you downstairs.’ As we were taking the lift down Ian Hunter, who he works with, walked in. And I was a huge Mott the Hoople fan, so I was like, ‘Wow, Ian Hunter!’ Bob says, ‘Ian, that’s… what’s your name again?’” But Clearmountain worked with Adams throughout the ’80s, though A&M declined Adams’ requests to credit his second album Bryan Adams hasn’t heard from you either.
Adam’s fame in the ’80s and ’90s was the kind that laid the foundation for a long career. Even now – he is 62 – if you look for books about him on Amazon, you won’t find any gloomy biographies. You’ll find plenty of Bryan Adams calendars for 2022. To this day, many people wish they had it in their kitchen (“I didn’t know that. Probably because of my love of food”). When you see him live the audience is really all age groups, from older people who bought reckless for the first time to their grandchildren, through their mid-twenties and thirties, for whom his songs have always been part of the cultural ether.
Part of that, he concedes, is due to the success of “I Do It for You.” He suggests that there are songs that appeal to people who otherwise don’t like music. “This song was one of those songs. It appealed to people who never buy records. This song was so big everywhere that some people, although they didn’t understand what was said in the song – people from other languages and cultures – understood the emotion of the song. The lyrics are fairly simple in mood, but it was a mood that went around the world. It was all pervasive.”
I mention that between “I Do It for You” hitting the charts in June 1991 and leaving it in December of that year, graduating from college, abandoned by the woman I loved, going to grad school, dropping out of grad school , had my first anxiety attacks and then found out my father had terminal cancer. How has his life changed in the same period?
He laughs. “I was on tour. People were always saying, ‘You’re number one in England’, but I wasn’t there to see it. I played gigs, nonstop. I’ve been touring for literally four years. So it suddenly changed, I was playing a lot more places, to a lot bigger audiences. And for much longer tours. I don’t think I’ve ever really enjoyed the surreal aspect of being #1 for four months. I was only told about it. And I remember there was a joke about Terry Waite back then [the British envoy who was held captive in Beirut for almost five years]. And like the first thing he said after being released as a hostage was, ‘Is Bryan Adams still number 1?'”
Is it possible to consciously write such a universal song? He says yes, but only because he’s worked with legendary meticulous songwriter/producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, the man responsible for big hit albums like AC/DC’s Back in blackDef Leppards hysteria and Shania Twains come over. “When he gets involved with you and your work, he wants it to happen at a certain level. That’s why you hear stories about him, how he works really hard and pushes people hard. Because he wants to bring out the best in you. He only works with certain people because he sees something in himself to add to. We got on really well from day one. And we still work together. I have to say that I have the same infinite awe of his talent. Because he can take my little idea and turn it into something pretty epic.”
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Lange returned to help Adams work on his 15th studio album. So happy it hurts, although Covid said he had to record everything himself. It’s a lovable record – there are nods to Buddy Holly, as well as the heartland rock that still forms the basis of Adams’ musical identity, despite living in London for donkey years now. One effect of his consistency is that his music sounds timeless, unbound by time and place, as are fleeting fads. He says he and his on-off writing partner Jim Vallance have always strived for that. “We have relied on the test of time. We hoped things would live on beyond the release days.”
And they did. Adams notes that the song “Summer of ’69” (“I Only Wrote That Track Because It Made Me Laugh”) wasn’t a big hit in Europe when it was released as a single in 1985. Most of a decade later, he got a call from his label. “They said, ‘Did you know that ‘Summer of ’69’ just went to number 1 in Holland?’ Although the song had a bit of life in North America, it took 10 years for it to become popular. It didn’t even chart in the UK. And maybe there’s something about the songs that we write that isn’t necessarily immediately appealing. But in the long term, they climb out of the rubble.” (With more than 735 million streams on Spotify, it’s now conveniently his most popular song.)
You wouldn’t call Adams a soulless. Or even someone pretending to bare their soul. Contrary to the blunt image suggested by his infamous Instagram rant against “bat-eating animals sold at the wet market, virus-producing greedy bastards” in China as the cause of Covid, he speaks softly and cautiously. He’s not a laid-back interviewee (although we’re doing it via Zoom, he leaves his camera off). There are those who pour out their souls to interviewers and there are those who want interviewers to be their friends. Adams is neither: He’s always said he didn’t make too much of a fuss about being a rock star, and he certainly doesn’t act like one. Perhaps the best way to put it is that he’s cautious. (He later apologized for that Instagram post, by the way.)
He gets irritated easily when we talk about the most difficult point of his career. He says it was after the resounding success of reckless, but even then only very vaguely – “People start looking at you differently, talking to you differently. There’s no manual for that.” I say I thought he’d found the second half of the ’90s difficult when his US album sales plummeted, never to recover from the 1991 smash hit Wake up the neighbors.
And then he takes offense. No, he insists, the two albums that followed were big hits in America. But they weren’t: 18 until I die reached 31, MTV unplugged peaked at 88; actually none of his albums since Wake up the neighbors – including live records and compilations – reached the US Top 30. But he won’t fight back. We politely move on. He doubts my facts and says his real problems in the US came a little later, when his record deal was sold and he ended up with Interscope. He remembers a label executive coming to him with a big plan to make him big again in America. “And he says, ‘We’re going to do it MTV unplugged!’ I said, ‘Ah, yeah, that’s a really good idea. Except my last album was MTV unplugged. I think next time you come by, man, you should do your research.’”
Adams knows there will never be another “I Do It for You” again. He knows nothing about So happy it hurts will go on Radio 1 (“People on radio stations don’t judge music by the song; they judge it by how old you are”). He understands that his albums are now more of an excuse for him to go out and fill the arenas again. He’s got his career under control now and he’s content: he’s got his solo career, he’s got his photography, he’s got his Pretty Woman Musicals in the West End. “It’s taken me years to get to this point,” he says, “but I’m pretty glad I made it.”
So Happy It Hurts is out March 11th through BMG Rights Management
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/bryan-adams-interview-b2030380.html Interview with Bryan Adams: “It took 10 years for the summer of ’69 to be known”