Written by Paul Tingen
Bryan Adam’s fourth album Reckless is several milestones rolled into one. Released in 1984, it was Bryan Adams’ international breakthrough album. It brought big rock songs with guitars back to the forefront, at a time when synth pop was dominating the charts. It was the epitome of the eighties rock sound. And it is an album of big hooks with a big sound, that helped define the classic rock genre.
Reckless was a major artistic achievement for Adams and his co-song writer, Jim Vallance, as well as for mixer and co-producer Bob Clearmountain. Almost all songs on Reckless are today considered classics, which is illustrated by the fact that the record contains six singles that reached the American top 15.
Reckless was a number one in many places, including the US and Canada. It was the first album by a Canadian artist to sell more than a million copies in Canada. It went five times platinum in the US and three times platinum in Britain. The album has to date sold more than 12 million copies, and continues to make it to many best-rock-albums-of-all-time lists.
When Bryan Adams started work on Reckless, in 1983, he was at a critical point in his career. Adams was 24, and determined to get to the top. Reckless felt like make or break to him. With his previous album he had enjoyed his first taste of big success, and it was vital to continue the momentum of a journey that had started many years earlier.
Adams was born in Canada in 1959 to British parents, and bought his first electric guitar when he was 10. When he was 16, Adams became the lead singer for the band Sweeney Todd, which in 1976 enjoyed a hit with the song “Roxy Roller.” It led to the band receiving a Juno Award.
In January 1978, Adams met Jim Vallance at Long & McQuade, a Vancouver music store. It was the beginning of a long-term songwriting collaboration, that saw Adams and Vallance not only writing songs for Adams himself, but later also for artists like Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Carly Simon, and many more.
By the end of the year 1978, Adams and Valance signed a publishing deal with A&M Records. In 1980, the company released Adams’ first solo album, which has been described by Adams as containing “glorified demos.” The album flopped, and for his next album Adams enlisted the services of top producer and mixer Bob Clearmountain.
Adams’ second solo album, You Want It You Got It, was released in July 1981. The album’s opening track and lead single, “Lonely Nights” became a minor hit in the US, and the album made it to the lower regions of the charts in Canada, the US and the UK.
Adams and Clearmountain worked again together on the singer’s third album, Cuts Like A Knife, which was released in January 1983, and signified Adams’ first commercial success in Canada and the US. It reached to number 8 in both countries, and eventually went three times platinum in his home country and platinum in the US.
The album spawned three hit singles, most of all the piano balled “Straight from the Heart,” but also “Cuts Like a Knife, and “This Time.” Cuts Like A Knife has been called Adams’ “first great record,” and it is widely regarded as the musical blueprint for Reckless.
The very first session for Reckless took place in June 1983 at The Power Station in New York, when a song called “Heaven,” was recorded for use in the film A Night In Heaven. The movie flopped, so Adams decided to use the song for his forthcoming album.
To write more material, Vallance and Adams spent a lot of time during 1983 and 1984 at Vallance’s basement studio, that sported an Ampex 1100 tape recorder, a Neve console and Urei 1176 compressors.
New songs came quickly, and were of consistently high quality. Vallance remarked, “It had taken a few years, but we’d finally figured out how to write radio-friendly pop tunes, and for much of 1984 that’s exactly what we did, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. The result was Reckless.”
One of the songs they wrote was “Run To You,” which Adams and Vallance had written for Blue Öyster Cult, at the request of producer Bruce Fairbairn. However, Blue Öyster Cult did not like the song and turned it down. Adams wasn’t sure of the merits of the song either, and played it to Bob Clearmountain, who immediately saw its hit potential and convinced Adams to record it for the new album.”
By March 1984, Adams and Vallance judged that they had written and demoed enough material to start the recordings sessions for the new album. The tracking sessions took place at Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver, owned by producers Bruce Fairbairn and Bob Rock.
At the time, Little Mountain Sound sported a Neve 4048 console and a Studer A80. Adams was keen to replicate the energy of his band in live performance, so most of the tracks were cut live in the studio by the band, with a Linn drum machine providing a click-track for the drummer. In an interview, Adams commented on the live in the studio approach, “I’m proud of that. I remember Bob Clearmountain standing up in the control room and saying, ‘Whoah! You guys have gotta hear this!’”
The microphones Clearmountain used during the sessions included an AKG D12 on the kick, a Shure SM57 and an AKG 451 on the snare, Sennheiser 421s on the toms, and AKG 451s on the hi-hat and cymbals. The room microphones were Neumann U87s. The room was too dead to get good results on the drums, so Clearmountain put large pieces of sheet metal on the walls in the area where the drums were, for more reflections.
According to Clearmountain, the guitars were recorded with a Shure SM57 in front of the Marshall amp, though sometimes other mics and cabinets were used. He also had four Neumann U87 mics on the Hammond organ Leslie, and synths and the bass were DI-ed. Adams’ guide vocals were recorded with a Shure SM58.
After three weeks the company moved to the Power Station in New York, but before serious mixing could take place, there still were a number of overdubs that needed to be done, not least of Adams’ final lead vocals. On a couple of tracks they were again recorded with a Shure SM58, but on songs that required a richer and rounder sound with a Neumann U87 or a Neumann FET 47.
While Clearmountain felt the sessions were going well, by June 1984, Adams was still not sure that what he had was good enough. The pressure mounted so much that he took a month off. Adams eventually played the recordings to his manager, Bruce Allen, who had a famous and very brief reply: “Where’s the rock?” It shook Adams, and gave him new inspiration and focus for the project.
The company returned to Little Mountain Studios for more recordings and re-recordings. One of the songs on the recording schedule was “It’s Only Love.” Adams had the idea that it would work well as a duet with Tina Turner, and in August 1984 she turned up at Little Mountain for a performance that knocked everyone out. The song was eventually nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
Bob Clearmountain mixed all the songs at the Power Station, many of them several times. He explained in Sound On Sound magazine that he had tried to record everything during tracking as close as possible to the way he wanted it in the final result.
“Sonically, I didn’t leave much to the mix. Especially recording on analogue, which is so different to digital. Nowadays you can record pretty much flat with digital and then do everything in the mix, but you couldn’t do that with analogue because you’d just get a load of noise. You’d go to EQ and be bringing up tape hiss, and the more you’d play the tape the duller it would get.”
“So, I would always put extra top-end when I EQ’d, trying to make something sound as if I was mixing it when I was recording it. You know, I’d really crank the treble, because the nature of analogue was that as soon as you played it back it would be missing something. That’s why I was so glad when digital started to sound good!”
“Run To You” was released as the advance single for the album on October 18, 1984, and became a big hit, reaching to number one in the US Top Rock Tracks chart. Reckless was released on November 1984, but it did not become an enormous success until the second and third singles from the album, “Heaven” and “Summer of ’69.” The album went to number one in the US, and in many other countries. It won several awards, including the Juno Award for Album of the Year.
Clearmountain and Adams worked again together on the singer’s fifth album, “Into The Fire,” which was less commercially successful, even as it remains Clearmountain’s favourite. Adams enjoyed his biggest commercial success with his sixth studio album, Waking Up The Neighbours, in 1991. It was produced by Mutt Lange and contained the monster hit “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.”
Adams continues to enjoy a career as a superstar and A-list artist to this day, but, as one critic wrote, “is there any doubt that Reckless is the pinnacle of Canadian rocker Bryan Adams’ career?”
Adams has come to a similar conclusion. In an interview a few years ago, he described Reckless as, “the best album I ever made. It was the culmination of a lot of really good energy and good songs coming in at the right time. Jim and I were at our peak as songwriters, and the record was made with real musicians, which is why it still sounds good. When it was simple, that’s when it was the greatest.”