Bryan Adams was born nearly 55 years ago in Kingston, Ont., but, musically, it's never been all that clear where he comes from. You might think Tracks of My Years, his new album of cover tunes, would nail down his influences once and for all. You might think that – I certainly did – but you would be wrong.
"If I were to record the songs that were the real influences in my life, I would be recording a lot of hard rock from the 1970s," Adams says. "And most of those songs are untouchable."
For our interview, we've settled into the cushioned leather seats in the screening room of a Yorkville hotel, where Adams presents as a spry, fit, middle-aged man who looks as if he like could run a marathon. (In his younger days, the Run to You singer would run all night, but only if the feeling was right).
Adams has a reputation for not always being the most sociable of interview subjects. "He doesn't suffer fools gladly," says his publicist. He also doesn't take kindly to questions about his personal life, from what I understand. Which is fine, because I wasn't interested in which model he's dated or not.
We talked rock 'n' roll.
"There are many reasons why I wanted to pick up a guitar," Adam says. "One of them was the album Machine Head, by Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple."
He proceeds to rattle off a list of his influential albums, including the rugged likes of Led Zeppelin II, Humble Pie's Performance: Rockn' the Fillmore, Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen, the Who's Who's Next, Alice Cooper's Killer and Black Sabbath's Master of Reality.
It wasn't just the sounds which Adams was digging back then. It was visuals, it was the mystique – it was the Janis Joplin. "I'd never seen anything like her in my whole life," says the part-time photographer, referring to the album cover for 1971's Pearl, with funky Joplin in full feather-boa glory. "I had no reference point of ever seeing anything quite that."
Never saw anything like Joplin before? Join the club, man.
Actually, joining the club was exactly what Adams did. His father was a foreign service diplomat who had postings in Europe when Adams was a teen. "You couldn't get music in Portugal," Adams says. "But I could get records sent to me by Columbia House record club. It was a lifeline."
If you grew up in the predownload era, you're likely aware of the Columbia House mail-order scheme. The business model involved negative option billing. Each month subscribers would be sent an album (and the bill), unless you expressly informed the club you didn't want them. It was a bit of a scam, and I've still got the Rita Coolidge albums to prove it.
But my own Columbia House relationship also brought me Reckless, Adams's hit-stacked classic from 1984. With its songs One Night Love Affair, Run to You, Heaven, Somebody, Summer of '69, the album was successful immediately in North America, but not in Europe. That changed, thanks to Tina Turner.
"The phone rang," Adams recalls. "Tina wanted me to open for her, on her comeback tour, with Private Dancer." During Turner's 1984 concerts, she would invite Adams back on stage after his opening set for a duet of Adams's It's Only Love. "She would have been on stage for 90 minutes at that point in the show. She's this crazy person, the audience is at a fever pitch, and I'm coming on cold," Adams says, smiling at the memory. "You had to be right on 10, because she was on fire."
The resulting video for It's Only Love, filmed in Birmingham, England, was a video-television hit. "It changed everything," says Adams, who'll celebrate Reckless's 30th anniversary with a Canadian tour in early 2015.
Explaining the song choices for Tracks of My Years – a pun on Smokey Robinson's Tracks of My Tears, which is covered on the album – Adams says they were simply the "songs that were around at the time." So we hear versions of everything from Dylan's Lay Lady Lay and Lennon and McCartney's Any Time at All to John Fogerty and CCR's Down on the Corner.
These are homages to songwriting heroes, and Adams received something of a tribute himself this summer when the similarly named Americana singer-songwriter Ryan Adams released a self-titled album with cover art seemingly inspired by the Reckless album cover. As well, Ryan recently covered Bryan's Run to You during a concert.
Seems as if Bryan Adams has left some tracks of his own.