Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Bryan Adams - Into The Fire (1987)

Aaayyyyy! Did Bryan Adams once know how to rock? Correctomundo!
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A few months back on the finale of American Idol, a craggy Bryan Adams came running out during the male singer medley section to sing a slew of his hits. Adams, guitar in hand, led a sing along of his early and mid 80's rock hits-even dishing out one of his medium sized hits "Somebody". What was notable about this and other recent Adams appearances is an attempt to return to his Arena Rock roots. The memory of Pop music is often brief and for what seems like eons now Bryan Adams name has been synonymous with mushy movie soundtrack ballads.

But there was a time when Adams was not mushy. A time when he was a meat and potatoes pop rocker. He sang guitar based rock with pop hooks big enough for Arenas and instrumentation plain enough for the Springsteen / Petty crowd. He was young, but his pockmarked visage made him seem older too. All the while, his Rod Stewart style rasp commanded attention. Teaming up with songwriter Jim Vallance, Adams released a steady stream of rousing, inoffensive rock that culminated in the monster success of Reckless (1984). By the mid 80's, Adams was one of the biggest rock stars on the planet. A multitude of chart hits, sold out tours, platinum records and a slot on Live Aid placed Adams in that upper echelon of Pop Rock. He had millions of fans and I was one of them.

Yet something was missing for Bryan Adams: Respect. Adams had none, no respect from critics who slammed his hamfisted anthems and Stewart-lite voice. Adams dressed in blue jeans, white shirt and black leather jacket wherever he went making him the equivalent of Fonzie. He was a rock and roll rebel, he was cool - if cool is someone who rebelled through food fights and chaste kisses with your daughter. Sure, Adams would puff up his chest and talk about the "Summer of '69" but I'm sure he returned every car he borrowed with a full tank of gas. Probably cleaned the windows too.

So Adams and Vallance teamed up for what would become the last album to have Vallance's full participation. Bryan Adams was going to be serious. He had...stuff...on his mind that he was going to tell you about. He was going to bring the party down and take you to school. Bryan Adams = deep thinker, he was going to solve the worlds problems and rewrite the theory of relativity. Or at least write a song about it. Bryan Adams was going Into The Fire and you were going with him!

1. Heat of the Night - The first cassingle I can ever remember, it had a simple red, black and white design and a sticker that said Bryan Adams Heat of the Night. "Night" had all that Reckless momentum going in and it pushed this lumbering, bluesy rock number into the Top 10. Featuring one of Adams' most memorable guitar licks, his band lays down a thick groove thanks to bassist Dave Taylor and drummer Mickey Curry. It had a claustrophobic fever dream atmosphere to get the record off to a tense start.

2. Into The Fire - A mission statement for the record, there was a sort of U2 quality to it with the smooth strumming guitars and worldly tone. "Fire" is about putting yourself and your beliefs on the line. About the same time, U2 was conquering the world with The Joshua Tree so Adam's commercial instincts weren't too far off. On an unrelated note, I usually associate this song with living at my Aunt's house that summer while working a summer job. She lived in a beautiful glass house on the California coast. This song sounded great on her stereo system.

3. Victim Of Love - Adams was going to be so serious, even his love songs were going to be sad. "Victim" was all about being broken hearted and had one of Adam's best vocals-there's a part of the bridge where his voice intentionally cracks to display emotion. When I saw Adams live on this tour, this song was my favorite part as he gave a committed vocal. I like the glassy keyboards on this as well. Lead guitarist Keith Scott tears it up at the end of the track. This was the third single from the album. The anti - "Heaven".

4. Another Day - In Paradise, Adams beat Phil Collins to the punch by singing about the plight of the homeless here. But Adams couched his concerns in a fast blues rock song making it entirely noncommercial. Pretty good song, but not terribly memorable.

5. Native Sons - Not only was Adams concerned about the homeless, but he apparently felt badly about the plight of Native Americans too. Predictably, lyrics about Great Spirits, Hearts beating like a drum, wagons, broken promises and Eagles flying abound. The problem when an artist of Adam's Arena Rock style tackles weighty subjects is a lack of subtlety. I'll say it again, A LACK OF SUBTLETY. "Native Sons" pretty much eulogizes the Native American race - it's well intentioned but doesn't really go anywhere.
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6. Only The Strong Survive - The second fast paced blues rocker, this track moves quickly with a jumpy beat. There's a strong "live band" feel to this track. I gravitated toward "Strong" after it became the theme of San Francisco Giants commercials at the time, I started to associate the song with baseball highlights. When you've got the weight of the world on you, only the strong survive.

7. Rebel - It's probably unfair to make this comparison, but I'll do it anyway. A film critic, I think it was Richard Roeper, said if a character has to say in dialogue that he / she "lives on the edge and is dangerous" it immediately makes them not so. Show don't tell in other words. "Rebel" sort of tells a story about a, uh, rebel who leaves his town and family with some kind of military background behind him. Why? Because he's a rebel, no other reason is needed. In my bizarre mind, I picture this song backing the end of some C level 80's movie where an actor like Judd Nelson has beaten the odds after returning to his small home town that he wasn't initially wanted in to prove he is...The Rebel! And yes, Ally Sheedy is by his side. You mess with the bull, you get the horns!
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8. Remembrance Day - We're almost out the woods, Adams salutes the Canadian soldiers of World War I on "Remembrance Day" (aka Veterans Day in the U.S.-I just learned this. Thank you Wikipedia!). So, to summarize so far be a Rebel, feed the hungry, feel sad for Native Americans and remember War Veterans because Only The Strong Survive. Nothing to really argue against, but it doesn't really pose a point of view that is new or interesting either. Sort of the equivalent to sleeping in history class.
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9. Heart's On Fire - Finally, Adams loosens up with a chunky guitar heavy rock anthem. This was the second single from the album. "Heart's On Fire" is my favorite Bryan Adams song period. More cowbell please!

10. Home Again - The closing number finds Adams wishing to go "Home Again". Can you blame him? It's a big bad world out there. I shouldn't be so strident, the song ends the record well following the serious topics that shake out of going "Into The Fire". Pensive with ominous bell sounds, "Home Again" takes the listener back to the security of home.

Released in 1987, Bryan Adams saw his career grind to a near halt with the release of this album. Even though it went Platinum and had three Top 40 singles, it wasn't Reckless. Fans couldn't handle or (if like me) were a little bored with the new Bryan Adams. All of the good times seemed to go out the window, even live on this tour the music was played with dry sincerity. Though Adams does deserve credit for trying something different, the Adams juggernaut was temporarily suspended.

And in reaction, Adams stopped working with Jim Vallance and hooked up with producer Mutt Lange to record basically a Def Leppard album (Waking Up The Neighbors in 1991). A power ballad for a Kevin Costner movie became a massive best selling hit, starting Adams on the path to becoming the Kenny Loggins of the 90's with one syrupy movie love song after another. The continued weakening of Adams rock image eroded completely after he dueted with Barbara Streisand.
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Just think, if we had embraced Into The Fire all of this could have been avoided. Or maybe not, maybe I just like to imagine it could have been. Once "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" from the Don Juan De Marco soundtrack became a huge smash, I stopped caring. It wasn't that the song was bad, it's a good song, it just neutered Adams to the point I didn't want to hear him anymore. If he had started out wussy that would have been fine but its sort of like when The Fonz stopped protecting Richie Cunningham and started helping out Ted McGinley while taking ownership of Arnolds. It's OK to hit the jukebox now because he owns part of it. Any pretense of cool had been dropped and all that was left was a soft hearted dude with a haircut.

15 comments:

Some Kinda Wonderful said...

You are so right on about Adams. I started out loving him. The guy was just killer, then... altho I have to admit that I do like his "Have you ever really loved a woman" song. Its a lovely tune. But still... you are right. I agree with you 100%.

Mr. Mike said...

Hi Some Kinda Wonderful! My wife loves that song as well, it's very pleasant.

Frontrow said...

Remember that song, "Diana" which was a B-side off the Reckless album? Bryan Adams was a great rocker for that period in the 80s, then he got all Phil Collins-like with the ballads.

Mr. Mike said...

Hi frontrow! Wow, I remember the song title from seeing the back of the 45 but never heard the actual song. I found it online and really liked it. Back then, it seemed like Adams and Vallance had a bottomless bag of songs to pull from.

Some Kinda Wonderful said...

I think I told you before, I saw Bryan Adams twice in 198... 3, I think it was. Might have been once in 83 and once in 84. I can't remember that far back. :) But I do remember that he put on a whale of a show. The dude totally rocked back then. First show he opened for Aerosmith and Journey and there was someone else between Adams and Aerosmith, but I forget who. That was in Orlando, FL. Then I saw then in Memphis with Journey again in the summer. I guess the Orlando show must have been spring of 84 and the Memphis show was summer, cause I went for my birthday which is in July. Oh well, anyway... the dude could rock with the best of them back then. I think that was the point of my comment. :)

Mr. Mike said...

I agree Some Kinda Wonderful, in the 80's Adams rocked live. I did see Adams on the Reckless tour and he was really good. In '87 I saw him again and he was still strong, but more downbeat. He played almost all the songs on Into The Fire that time.

I think I remember you mentioning seeing Adams with Journey because that meant it was the Journey Frontiers tour, the last tour to have the early 80's Journey lineup. Sounds like an awesome show!

Frontrow said...

I was at a Bryan Adams show at the Concord Pavilion in 85 or 86? seemed like a down to earth guy, even though he was on top of all the charts. He encored with Diana.....when some guy ran up on stage and security started the beat down, Adams actually told them to go easy on the guy. that was cool!

Drat the Robin Hood soundtrack!

Mr. Mike said...

Hi frontrow! That's amazing, I went to the Bryan Adams show at the Concord Pavilion for the Reckless tour, could have been the same show! I was a little distracted at the concert, I probably heard the song and didn't remember it. I just found the ticket, it was August 7, 1985 in the lawn for $13.50!

While writing the post, I remembered an Adams / Vallance song that Joe Cocker sang called "When The Night Comes" for a Tom Sellick movie where he was in jail. I think the movie was called An Innocent Man. That was a great song!

Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Tom Selleck again? You really must do a post on him, Mr. Mike, he seems to keep popping up in comments on your blog and on Jeannie's blog. :)

Arsenette said...

LOL I admit.. mid to late 1980's is when I started really getting into radio stuff (behind my Dad's back of course :p) and I found Bryan Adams.. I remember then and now.. "wow that's what a 6 pack of cigs does to your voice.. " lol.. I never really listened to his old stuff.. I remember getting his greatest hits on Cassette and learning new songs.. and yes.. later on I had the Robin Hood Album :p and the Don Juan DeMarco album :p

pamwax said...

"Have You Ever Loved A Woman" from the Don Juan De Marco with Johnny Depp. Loved Johnny, loved the movie and Loved the song.

Mr. Mike said...

Hi Some Kinda Wonderful! A Tom Selleck post? Sounds good!

Hi Arsenette! That 6 pack of cigarettes part is great. That reminds me, Adams dueted with a lot of people but never Stevie Nicks. That would have been interesting.

Hi Pamwax! I've never seen the Don Juan movie, I'll have to check it out sometime!

pamwax said...

Make sure if you watch the movie you watch it with the wife. It is definitely a chick flick.

I am with SKW lets hear all about Tom Selleck.

Jeannie said...

Hey, remember when Bryan Adams hit you in the face? Sorry 'bout that.

Arsenette said...

Do tell do tell :) LOL

Omg.. Stevie and Bryan.. wow.. hmm if they had kids it'd sound like Joe Cocker?