Bryan Adams talks about his new album, Tracks Of My Years
Bryan Adams is taking a panoptical view of his life and career on a trio of upcoming recordings. For an album of brand-new material, slated for fall of 2015, he's recorded six songs with producer Jeff Lynne, the results of which have the Canadian superstar more than a little stoked. "I say this with great trepidation," he begins, "but if it turns out any better than it already has, it could be the best record I've ever done."
In November, Adams will celebrate the 30th anniversary of his breakthrough 1984 album Reckless by issuing a four-disc deluxe package of the set, complete with a newly remastered version of the original disc, a 1985 BBC concert, Reckless: The Movie, a Blu-ray audio disc and seven previously unreleased tracks.
Before then, however, Adams surveys his teenage years on what is hands-down one of 2014's brightest releases, Tracks Of My Years, due out September 30. Although the album contains one new original, a sterling Adams/Jim Valance composition called She Knows Me, the bulk of the record sees Adams paying homage to classic tunes he heard on the radio while growing up.
“I have this kind of thing where I consider the songs that I grew up with are kind of untouchable."
“AM radio was king in the ‘70s," Adams explains. "Back then, there was no discrimination between genres, so you’d get Ray Charles or a song like Kiss And Say Goodbye into The Beatles – easy. If it was a good song, it was gonna get played. So I just thought, ‘OK, let’s do songs that were on the AM radio and stick a picture of me on the cover from the time when I decided that music was what I was going to do.’”
Adams puts his own stamp on Charles' I Can't Stop Loving You, The Manhattans' Kiss And Say Goodbye and The Beatles' Any Time At All, along with 12 other radio gems (such as Bob Dylan's Lay Lady Lay, the Beach Boys' God Only Knows and The Association's Never My Love, among others), on Tracks Of My Years, which he produced with fellow Canadian hit makers David Foster and Bob Rock.
“I have this kind of thing where I consider the songs that I grew up with are kind of untouchable," Adams observes. "You wouldn’t even consider doing them because it would be sacrilegious." To that end, in some cases, Adams, Foster and Rock employed a more bare-bones approach to the new versions, with the emphasis on the singer's voice rather than an attempt at re-creating the production of the original recordings.
“What unified everything was my voice and the way I produced it," Adams notes. "The key was to not have anything on it. There’s no reverb, no echo – it’s raw and right in your face, off the microphone. It didn’t matter who produced it; I decided that my voice should have that quality of production throughout the record, and that’s what tied it all together. I'm really pleased with the results."
Tracks Of My Years will be released on September 30 in the US and Canada, and on October 6 in Europe and other territories. You can pre-order the album at this link. On the following pages, Adams discusses six songs from the set.
You Can't Do That
“It’s really hard to do a Beatles song without fucking it up. [Laughs] I have a song called Back To You on my MTV album [Unplugged], and I thought that Any Time At All could work the same way – very strummy. And it did. It worked out beautifully.
“Everybody knows the song, but it’s not like one of the Beatles songs that gets played all the time. Because it was a little more off the radar, that’s why I was interested in it. I wanted it to rock out a bit more. One of the things about this record that I wanted to do was not do a pastiche of the original track; I wanted to do my own thing as best I could. I think I accomplished that.”
She Knows Me
“Jim Vallance and I didn’t work together for a while, but we started again in the 2000s. We would bounce things off of each other through e-mails. That’s how this song came about: ‘I’ve got this chorus…’ ‘Really? Well, I’ve got this verse.’ It was just like that.
“We stuck two things together, and then I sent Jim some lyric ideas. He’d either improve upon them or tell me they were crap. [Laughs] We did that until we got it finished, and then I did a really loose demo. After that, it kind of got forgotten in the computer files of my archives.
“David asked me to give him an original song, so I played him a few things, and with this one he went, ‘That’s it! I want that one.’ I’ve gotta give him a lot of credit; he took this song and really did a job on it. He’s a master producer, just amazing.”
I Can't Stop Loving You
“You can’t try and do Ray Charles, so you have to be yourself. On the original, there’s that top line – ‘I can’t stop loving you’ – and that was a choir singing that part. I felt like my version was different enough from what Ray did.
“Like with so many of them, you can’t do these things ‘on the nose.’ You can’t do them like the original. You have to take it somewhere else, and that’s what we did here.”
Lay Lady Lay
“A great song, a sexy song. It’s funny, though: If I sing any Dylan song, I start to sound like Bob in about two phrases. It just happens, and that’s the problem – he’s so identifiable. The minute I sing, ‘The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,’ it’s like, ‘OK, you sound like Bob.’ [Laughs]
“Singing this song an octave higher than Bob sort of puts it in a new place. I hope he likes it. It’s me and Keith Scott on guitars, along with a guy named Michael Thompson. Keith kind of does an E-Bow guitar line in the background. I love that.”
Never My Love
“I heard this one on the radio as a kid, for sure. Jim Vallance reminded me of it. When we tried it, it came together pretty quickly. There were two songs that were sort of benchmarks in terms of production, this one and Kiss And Say Goodbye, which might be my favorite track on the record.
“I did this one sort of the same way I did God Only Knows – there’s no harmonies. There’s maybe a third here and there for a couple of lines, but generally speaking, I just let the voice be the glue. I just didn’t want to cloud up the voice with echo and reverb and all kinds of stuff. And that’s Michael Thompson doing the guitar solo. He’s a great guitar player.”
God Only Knows
“I wanted to do this song, but when I mentioned it to Foster he said, ‘No, no, no.’ But then I said, ‘Well, what if we did it like Bill Evans and Tony Bennett?’ He looked at me and he literally jumped off the sofa. He went to the piano and shouted to his assistant, ‘Get me the chart!’ [Laughs] We did a few takes of it, and that was that.’
“There’s such a great vibe on those records Bill Evans did with Tony Bennett, and that stayed with me. Because you can’t do God Only Knows like the Beach Boys; again, it would have been a pastiche, and that wouldn’t have worked. So we took it somewhere else. It’s a beautiful song, very moving, but it can be a little hard to sing. I’m happy with what we did with it.”