Why have a top ten when you can have one more? This week, we're running through the best songs from Canada's biggest rock export
Let’s get two things clear from the start. Bryan Adams is not Bruce Springsteen. Bryan Adams is not Jon Bon Jovi. As titans of 80s mainstream rock, the three tend to get tied together, bound up in the same guitar cable, but there’s a lack of nuance there. Adams has never been political like Springsteen, nor an aspiring hard rock cowboy like Bon Jovi. But then, who is he?
Bryan Adams is a pop star with a loud guitar. His songs are almost exclusively about love and nostalgia, played loud with big bright melodies and bigger, brighter choruses. There’s overwhelmingly a place for that in this world. He’s a blockbuster, a leather jacket, a red Stratocaster, a cold beer, an unabashed great time in human form. Here are his 11 greatest songs.
11. ‘When You’re Gone’ (feat. Melanie C)
(On A Day Like Today, 1998)
A Spice Girl/Bryan Adams combo was on nobody’s 1998 musical bingo card, but there’s no denying its power. Rumour has it that the song was initially written as a duet with Sheryl Crow in mind, but Adams ran into Melanie C – who he’d first met on Top Of The Pops – and serendipity took over. The result is a sure-fire grin-inducer of a song.
Adams had been catapulted from big fish in a small pond to bigger fish in a huge pond with 1983’s Cuts Like A Knife. He seized his moment with both hands, delivering a killer blow a year later with Reckless. Of the album’s ridiculous number of hits, ‘Somebody’ best fits the role of ‘monster pop song’. That chorus, in particular, is an irresistible, shout-along beast.
9. ‘It’s Only Love’ (feat. Tina Turner)
Adams is a keen collaborator, but he’s never sounded better with anyone than he does with Tina. Her soulful scream counters his blue jean growl and the result is 80s rock perfection. Tina out-screaming Keith Scott’s guitar solo is a particular highlight.
8. ‘Lonely Nights’
(You Want It, You Got It, 1981)
The song that launched Adams outside of Canada. Those gorgeous ringing guitars would be emulated five years later by Tommy Keene on his excellent ‘Places That Are Gone’, but Adams’ song goes for the heart in a way that Keene probably would have balked at. Uriah Heep would later cover it but nobody sells lovestruck desperation like Bryan Adams.
7. Can’t Stop This Thing We Started
(Waking Up The Neighbours, 1991)
Adams’ sixth studio album was dwarfed by ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ and its chart-conquering 16-week reign. But there are greater riches to be found on Waking Up The Neighbours, and none richer than this ultra-catchy rocker. Mutt Lange’s production and flanged guitars turn Adams into a poppier Def Leppard circa-Hysteria and that’s only a good thing.
6. ‘Into The Fire’
(Live! Live! Live!, 1988)
Adams doesn’t often get his due as a live performer. His 1988 live album Live! Live! Live! catches him at the peak of his powers, walloping the rain-soaked crowd with full-throated performances that often dwarf the studio recordings. The moody, solo version of ‘Into The Fire’ that closes the show is a true spine-tingler. It strips the song down to its essence and highlights Adams’ talent as both a songwriter and performer.
I think you’d get drummed out of the Bryan Adams fanclub if you didn’t include a power ballad on this list. There can’t be any argument that this is his absolute best, if not one of the best rock ballads of all time. Remember all those compilation CDs that would come out every Christmas and Father’s Day? Good luck finding one without ‘Heaven’ on it.
4. ‘Cuts Like A Knife’
(Cuts Like A Knife, 1983)
‘Cuts Like A Knife’ is prime Bryan Adams to the point that it feels like a blueprint for all his best songs. It’s heartbroken but energised by the heartbreak to the point that it’s vibrating with the hurt. If there was any doubt that he was about to become huge, this song blew it to smithereens.
3. ‘Summer Of ‘69’
Last week, we talked about songs like ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’, songs that exist beyond their creators. You might not like the bands but you are going to get up and air guitar like a madman when they come on at your sister’s wedding. ‘Summer Of ‘69’ is one of those songs. And it deserves to be one of those songs. It’s sweetly nostalgic and it has a melody to die for. And is there a better opening line than “I got my first real six string”? No, there is not.
2. ‘Run To You’
‘Run To You’ has a darkness and tension to it that sets it apart from most of Adams’ other rockers. It also goes against the grain by setting him up as a cheating scoundrel who can’t control his urges, rather than his usual role of loved up or lovelorn. That opening riff is so delightfully ominous that more than a few people have borrowed it over the years. And who’d blame them?
1. ‘Hearts On Fire’
(Live! Live! Live!, 1988)
The original on Into The Fire is great but Adams’ live performance takes this up several notches. That opening guitar line is so evocative, a proper shiver-up-the-spine moment, only topped when the crowd take over, screaming “Fire”. Then the drums kick in and the whole thing goes into overdrive. If I had a time machine, I’d use it to travel back to this gig at this moment.
Bryan Adams is currently on tour from 6 July to 11 July and returns in December 2022 to play London’s O2 Arena. Get tickets here.