Bryan Adams never thought he’d do an album of covers.
Until uber-producer David Foster hit him up with the idea.
Or as Adams puts it with just a hint of laughter, “After much coercion and bribery, I did it.”
The result is the Canadian singer’s “Tracks of My Years” (Verve), featuring a selection of classic hits that “fit his voice best” and that filled the AM radio airwaves of his youth. The album marks his first release in four years.
“For me a lot of the songs are untouchable,” Adams said during a recent phone call from London. “I’ve heard covers of songs that are really nasty covers. For me, if I was gonna do this I would have to be really thoughtful and considerate about what’s covered and whether or not my version of the song sounded like me.”
Songs include heavy-hitters such as the Miracles classic that inspired the title, the Beatles’ “Anytime at All,” the Association’s “Never My Love” and the Beach Boys'”God Only Knows.” The album also features a new song, “She Knows Me,” penned by Adams and his longtime collaborator Jim Vallance (“Summer of 69,” “Run To You”).
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Adams said the project is not what listeners have come to expect from Foster, either, the powerhouse producer behind Celine Dion, Michael Buble, Whitney Houston, Josh Groban); arrangements are sedate and relatively bare.
“David’s mandate was that the songs had to be Billboard hits,” Adams relates. “I narrowed the focus down to a certain degree because a lot of the songs that were influential songs in my career I couldn’t really do. I decided to focus on the songs of the early ’70s, which of course in the early ’70s radio stations were playing stuff from the ’50s and ’60s anyhow, so that’s what influenced me.”
The album’s spartan arrangements were a mandate of sorts from Adams.
“I didn’t want to do the songs like I was just trying to copy them. What’s the point of doing that? So there’s no reverb, no echo. It’s dry and upfront and in-your-face. My records are always very sparse [when it comes to the arrangements]. My first album was bare-bones acoustic. I think David, given his druthers, would have had a lot more musical stuff on it, maybe a full orchestra. But I wasn’t into that. That’s not me. I love working with David; he’s an incredible musician. We stayed true to the original arrangements on one level, but musically we took it somewhere else. That’s the only way covers make sense.
“One by one we picked a bunch of songs but there were a lot of really great songs that didn’t make the grade. I can kind of sing them because it’s not difficult for me to jump into any song and make it happen. Much more interesting in trying to make a record like this is to pick things that weren’t always expected and so something different. At the end of the day they have to sound like me.”
Interestingly, Adams says as much as the songs influenced him musically, he was not exactly addicted to them.
“The only song on the album that would have been on my turntable would have been ‘Down on the Corner.’ Maybe the Beatles song. The rest were just songs I heard on the radio.”
One of the most eclectic arrangements on the album is featured on “God Only Knows,” and Beach Boy fans of the iconic tune (perhaps one of the best songs of all time), will never see this one coming.
“There was a record done back in the ’70s by Tony Bennett and Bill Evans [“The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings]; it’s such a cool record. I think that’s Tony’s best album. So I suggested to David [Foster] that we do this song just like that. And he said, ‘somebody get me a chart.’ And we went for it.”
As much as he likes making music, Adams’ other passion remains photography; his work and exhibits have received critical acclaim, and some of his selections are featured in the National Portrait Gallery.
“I still do a lot of it [photography],” he said. “I like making beautiful things. I like to fill up my day with stuff to do. A beautiful photo is like a beautiful song. I love making stuff from nothing.”
Speaking of photography, much has been made of the album’s cover art, a black-and-white photo of Adams from his teen years.
“Yes, that’s me wanting to be in a rock band when I was 15,” Adams said. “That was my own hair. I couldn’t get a job because of that hair. Nobody wanted to hire a hippie. Nowadays they’re like, ‘sign up right here!”
Much ado has also been made of that other Adams — as in Ryan Adams’ cover of Bryan’s “Run to You.” For years, Ryan made many a concert scene when fans would scream out requests of Bryan’s songs (resulting in many a tirade by the American alt-country rocker). So what does Bryan think of Ryan’s cover?
“It’s great. I met him the other day and we did a show together here in London,” Adams said. “I heard he did the song at one of his shows. I thought to myself, ‘that’s interesting.’ He gets way more hassle about the connection. I feel more sorry about him for that. People go to his show and shout out my songs to him.”
Is Bryan going to reciprocate perhaps?
“Right now I’m up to my eyeballs in covers,” Adams said. “I think I’m OK for the minute. We’ll see what happens.”