In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” was almost too stupid to come out. This is one of those classic cases where the fucking-around-in-the-studio song — the song that the band bangs out while procrastinating on doing their real work — becomes the song that defines the band. Randy Bachman never even thought of releasing “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” He thought the song would have an audience of one: his brother Gary, the band’s original manager. Gary had a stutter, and Randy wanted to make fun of him. That’s it. That’s the entire point of the song.
Randy Bachman left Winnipeg dumb-rock greats the Guess Who shortly after he co-wrote “American Woman,” the Guess Who’s sole #1 hit. Bachman had converted to Mormonism, and the life of a traveling rock star suddenly didn’t agree with him. So he returned to his Winnipeg hometown, intending to make laid-back, country-leaning music. He and the former Guess Who singer Chad Allan started a new band, Brave Belt, which recorded a couple of albums but didn’t really go anywhere.
Eventually, Allan left Brave Belt, and the band went through some lineup changes. Randy’s drummer brother Robbie had been in the band since the beginning, and another Bachman brother, guitarist Tim, eventually joined up. (Gary, the brother with the stutter, was never in the band, but he was their manager from the beginning.) Randy noticed that Brave Belt were getting bigger reactions when they played rock covers, so he overhauled Brave Belt, turning it into a rock band. Possibly at the suggestion of Neil Young, Randy hooked up with Fred Turner, a local Winnipeg bassist and singer, and the new band became Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
It took a while for BTO to get signed, but when they did, they went the Grand Funk Railroad route. They toured hard and got love from rock radio stations in neglected Midwestern markets. BTO first got their foothold in almost-Canadian cities like Detroit and Buffalo, and they spread quickly but organically, making simplistic and revved-up blooz-rock for the kids who wanted to party. Basically, Randy Bachman ended up filling the same role he’d abdicated when he left the Guess Who a few years earlier. Like Grand Funk, BTO weren’t really a pop-charts presence in their early years. They sold albums and concert tickets, but they didn’t have any songs in the top 10 before “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” (The closest thing was “Taking Care Of Business,” a rewritten Guess Who song that BTO used on their second album, which peaked at #12 earlier in 1974. Good song!)
Third album Not Fragile was generally more of the same: a whole lot of fired-up and vaguely bluesy arena-rock songs that seemed engineered to sound good on road trips. But Charlie Fach, the band’s A&R guy, said that he liked the album but didn’t hear a hit. At their engineer’s suggestion, the band played him “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” and he loved it. Fach had to plead with Randy Bachman, first to release “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” at all and then to make it a single. The song embarrassed Randy; he didn’t want it out there. Eventually, though, Randy assented, and his dumb joke-song about his brother’s speech impediment became the biggest thing his band would ever make.
There is a beautiful irony in Randy Bachman, the guy whose religious principles wouldn’t let him remain in the Guess Who, forming yet another quintessential hesher band and coming up with one of the most giddily horny classic-rock anthems of the ’70s. On the road, Randy had strict policies about how nobody in the band should drink, do drugs, or have premarital sex. (Randy was married.) He enforced those rules to the point that he fired his brother Tim from the band, possibly for breaking those rules, before they even made Not Fragile. And yet “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” is a song about a guy who’s so overcome by having the best sex of his life that he basically loses his mind. When Randy, who sings lead on “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” starts stuttering, the implication seems to be that he’s jizzing, or maybe that he’s in some kind of post-fuck stupor.
Bachman has freely admitted that “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” is a song of stitched-together parts. The grand guitar melody comes from Traffic guitarist Dave Mason’s solo song “Only You Know And I Know.” The bright, sparkly beat comes from the Doobie Brothers’ “Listen To The Music.” The heavy cowbell comes from Free’s “All Right Now.” (“All Right Now,” from 1970, peaked at #4. It’s a 9.) And the surging rhythm guitar is, obviously, from the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” That guitar, combined with the “My Generation”-style stuttering, makes it sound like BTO is simultaneously ripping off two different eras of the Who, which is kind of cool even if they didn’t intend it. And Randy has even described his lead vocal as “an awful Van Morrison impression.” So it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a song. But all those things combined turned out to be greater than the sum of their parts. Because “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” doesn’t sound anything like any of the artists that Randy Bachman was attempting to bite. Instead, it sounds like new wave, about five years before the fact.
That Van Morrison impression is key. Bachman sings the song in a high, weedy voice. He’s playing a character, a nerd who’s suddenly having great sex and getting his mind blown. But that voice — stiff, adenoidal, slapstick-level horny — turns out to foreshadow a whole coming wave of guys like Ric Ocasek or Mark Mothersbaugh, singers who turned their gawkiness into a selling point. And the mathematical precision of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” fits with that, too. It’s a shameless hook-montage, like a ’60s garage-rock song, but BTO capture it with ’70s studio craft. So all those hooks sound bigger and grander than they otherwise might. When the band lurches into that glorious hammerhead chorus crunch-riff, it’s pure idiot euphoria. It’s the best.
When “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” blew up, Randy Bachman was humiliated. He’s said that he’d turn the radio down whenever the song came on. Eventually, he learned to accept that he’d done something bigger than himself. Meanwhile, his brother Gary went to speech therapy. Randy has claimed that Gary had lost his stutter by the time the song hit #1. These days, Gary is apparently a successful realtor in Winnipeg. Go buy a house from him.
BONUS BEATS: In the early ’90s, the UK sketch comics Paul Enfield and Paul Whitehouse created BBC DJ characters called Smashy and Nicey, and they played them on a series of sketches on Harry Enfield’s Television Programme. They had a running joke where they ended every sketch by playing “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” They’ve brought the characters back a few times in the years since. I have no fucking idea what’s going on in any of these things, but here’s one of those bits:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Yo La Tengo’s version of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” from their 2006 benefit covers collection Yo La Tengo Is Murdering The Classics: