The Number Ones

July 27, 1991

The Number Ones: Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”

Stayed at #1:

7 Weeks

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.


I can’t tell you why everyone in the world decided that they needed to see Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. I can only tell you why I decided that I needed to see Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. In the trailer, there’s a quick shot where the camera seems to be riding on the tip of Robin Hood’s arrow, and I thought this was the coolest fucking thing I’d ever seen. I was 11, and that shot was reason enough for me to demand that my parents take me to see Kevin Costner attempt to swashbuckle.

It has been many, many years since I saw Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. (I did not rewatch it in preparation for this column. Sorry.) I remember the movie being OK? Some of it was boring, and there was more kissing stuff than I wanted. But there were also some battle scenes that impressed me, and I liked Alan Rickman playing the Sheriff Of Nottingham as Hans Gruber. Sean Connery showed up at the end; that was cool. In my memory, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves exists as a pretty decent Saturday-afternoon watch. Maybe it was that. But Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves was also some kind of cultural phenomenon.

Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves earned $165 million at the domestic box office — more than any non-Terminator 2 movie in 1991. Prince Of Thieves outgrossed The Silence Of The Lambs and City Slickers and, at least in the moment, Beauty And The Beast. (Beauty And The Beast has now made more box-office money than Prince Of Thieves or T2, but it needed a few re-releases to get there.) Abroad, Prince Of Thieves doubled its haul. It made so much fucking money that four years later, two Kevins, director Reynolds and star Costner, got to make Waterworld, a widely mocked disaster that was, in its moment, the most expensive movie in history.

Why did the world go so crazy for Kevin Costner as Robin Hood? This role had been played by Errol Flynn, by Sean Connery, and by one very dashing cartoon fox. But for whatever reason, the entire planet decided that the real Robin Hood was a tan, brow-furrowed Kevin Costner with an extremely inconsistent English accent. Costner was coming off of dad-movie hits like Bull Durham and Field Of Dreams, and he’d just won an Oscar for Dances With Wolves, so this was a career-peak moment in a time when movie stars really could sell movies. Still, it’s a weird one. Maybe Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” helped. Or maybe the movie helped the song. With things like this, you never can tell.

A quick digression: I don’t want you to have to experience “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” as a Facebook video with an inexplicable Public Enemy logo in the corner, but I’m at a loss here. The version of the “Everything I Do” video that everyone remembers, the Julien Temple-directed clip with the extremely denimed-up Bryan Adams wandering through a forest, simply does not exist on YouTube. Instead, the version on Bryan Adams’ YouTube is the one with all the live footage, and that one’s got the album version of the song, which is six and a half fucking minutes long. To that, I say: No. Absolutely not. Are you serious? Fuck you. No. Thus: A Facebook video with a Public Enemy logo in the corner.

“(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” started out as a melody in Michael Kamen’s head. Kamen, a New York native, went to Juilliard and did orchestral arrangements for rock bands like Pink Floyd and Queen, but he’s mostly remembered as a film-score guy. Kamen really hit his stride by writing music for ’80s action movies: Highlander, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Road House. Decades before getting the job to score Prince Of Thieves, he came up with a melody and kept it in his back pocket. When he saw Kevin Costner making eyes at Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in Prince Of Thieves, Kamen thought of that melody and realized that he had the movie’s love theme.

It wasn’t that simple, though. Kamen simply couldn’t find anyone who wanted to sing this melody. At first, Kamen thought that a woman should sing this song, that it should represent Maid Marian’s feelings for Robin Hood. But women kept turning Kamen down. Kate Bush wasn’t interested. (In the US, Bush’s highest-charting single is 1985’s “Running Up That Hill,” which peaked at #30.) Annie Lennox was interested, but she wanted to sing the song in Olde English, and that wasn’t going to work. (As a Eurythmic, Lennox has been in this column. As a solo artist, Lennox’s highest-charting single is the 1989 version of “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” that she recorded with Al Green for the 1989 movie Scrooged. That one peaked at #9. It’s a 6.) Lisa Stansfield was also willing to sing the song, but Kamen claimed that Clive Davis shot it down for whatever reason. (Stansfield’s highest-charting single, 1989’s “All Around The World,” peaked at #3. It’s an 8.)

When Kamen decided to work with a male singer, he actually got former Number Ones artist Peter Cetera to write a song to his melody. But Kamen thought Cetera’s song was too sickly-sweet to work in the movie. Kamen realized that he needed somebody rougher. Enter Bryan Adams. At this point, Adams was years removed from Reckless, his hugely successful 1984 album, and from its chart-topping ballad “Heaven.” Adams followed Reckless with 1987’s Into The Night, which had only sold a fraction of what Reckless had done. Only one of the singles from Into The Night had made the top 10. (“Heat Of The Night” peaked at #6. It’s a 4.)

After Into The Night underperformed, Adams realized that he needed a hit. He split from his longtime co-writer Jim Vallence, and he went to work instead with Mutt Lange, the maximalist rock producer who was coming off of world-wrecking success with Def Leppard’s Hysteria. When Adams got the call to work on this soundtrack song, he and Lange were deep into their work on Adams’ album Waking Up The Neighbors. Together, Adams and Lange turned Kamen’s melody into the big, workmanlike power ballad that we know today. The terrible and convoluted title of “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” was inspired by a line of dialogue from Prince Of Thieves, but Adams doesn’t sing anything specifically Robin Hood-related in the song.

Michael Kamen mostly liked Adams’ take on the melody. In Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book Of Number 1 Hits, Kamen says, “[Adams has] got a lot of integrity. He’s a genuine rock ‘n’ roller, so there’s no question of it being a soppy ballad.” (I might quibble.) But Kamen didn’t like that Adams used contemporary production on the song. He didn’t think it would fit into the movie unless Adams was singing over medieval instruments. Adams thought this was stupid: “We don’t want lutes and mandolins on this! This is a pop record!” As a result of that disagreement, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” doesn’t appear in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves until partway through the end credits.

It’s funny to think about that back-and-forth, but Michael Kamen and the Prince Of Thieves producers got a serious sales tool out of Bryan Adams. “Everything I Do” — I’m not typing out that full title every time — is a big, heart-swelling silver-screen love ballad, and those things have historically done extremely well on the pop charts. (Those movie ballads have become an endangered species in recent years, but they still pop up from time to time.) If Kamen was actually worried about the song being soppy, then he was overthinking things. “Everything I Do” is extremely soppy, and that’s why it did so well. (“Heaven,” Adams’ previous chart-topper, was also a soppy love ballad from a movie soundtrack. He had a few more of those left in him, too.)

In all of “Everything I Do,” there’s not one single line that would be out-of-place on a Hallmark card. Lyrically, the song is about as generic as a love song can be. Maybe there’s a hint of courtliness in Adams’ tortured syntax on the intro — “Search your heart/ Search your soul/ And when you find me there, you’ll search no more” — but he probably just sang it like that to force the quasi-rhyme. Everything else is smotheringly basic. Look into Bryan Adams’ eyes, and you will see what you mean to Bryan Adams. You can’t tell Bryan Adams it’s not worth tryin’ for or dyin’ for. Take Bryan Adams as he is; take his life. Bryan Adams would give it all. He would saaaaah-crifice.

That deep basicness is probably Bryan Adams’ main selling point. In a glamorous ’80s pop era, Adams played the everyman. Bruce Springsteen played the everyman, too, but he was an exceptional everyman. Adams, by contrast, projected averageness. He was this blandly handsome Canadian guy who sang subgenre-free rock songs and who might not have one single non-denim item in his entire closet. That’s the quality that he brings to “Everything I Do.” There’s a bit of rasp in Adams’ voice, but it’s not a Rod Stewart-style theatrical rasp. Instead, Adams sounds sincere and weary — an inarticulate man doing his very best to convey his depths of feeling. Maybe there’s something disarming about that. It definitely makes Adams hard to hate.

Given that averageness, though, Bryan Adams and Mutt Lange are a strange pairing. Lange always thrived on stadium-sized pomp, and he’s done his best work with larger-than-life figures. That’s not Bryan Adams. “Everything I Do” is light on the glittery-whizjet Mutt Lange shit that I love. The song plods along without much purpose. The tinkly piano on the intro mostly makes me sleepy. The keyboards and guitars are so clean and glassy that a bird might smack into them. Bryan Adams softly moans during the guitar solo, which should not be allowed.

There’s only one bit on “Everything I Do” where the song reaches full Mutt Lange liftoff: the final bridge, where a power chord suddenly revs up and Adams growls that he would fight, lie, walk the wire, and die for you. That part kicks ass, and it’s over way too quickly. The rest of the song is just sort of boring, but it’s boring in a relatively unobjectionable way. In the summer of 1991, the song was all over the radio, and I usually didn’t lunge to change the station when it came on. I was never happy to hear “Everything I Do,” but I usually just let it ride. It would be, what, four minutes? And then maybe there’s be a Guns N’ Roses song? I could live with that.

I guess a lot of other people lived with it, too, since “Everything I Do” turned out to be the biggest hit of Adams’ life. The chart statistics for that song are baffling to consider. The “Everything I Do” single sold three million copies — the most of any single since “We Are The World.” “Everything I Do” also topped the Hot 100 for longer than any song since the Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” eight years earlier. In some other countries, it did even better. In the UK, “Everything I Do” spent 16 weeks at #1. This column is directly inspired by Popular, the blog that the British writer Tom Ewing has been maintaining for many years. When he wrote about “Everything I Do,” Ewing liveblogged himself listening to the song 16 times in a row, his own way of reckoning with that excessive run.

Adams’ album Waking Up The Neighbors came out shortly after “Everything I Do” had finished its long stay at #1. In Canada, where there are laws about how often radio stations have to play Canadian records, there was a whole fight over whether Waking Up The Neighbors — recorded in the UK, with a South African producer — should count as a Canadian record. The broadcasters apparently decided that it wasn’t, but even without preferential radio treatment, Waking Up The Neighbors still went diamond in Canada. In the US, the album went quadruple platinum, and the follow-up single “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started” peaked at #2. (It’s a 3.)

At the 1992 Oscars, “Everything I Do” was nominated for Best Original Song. Adams sang it at the ceremony, too, though I can’t find video of that performance online. But Adams lost the award to Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s title song from Beauty And The Beast. (The single version of “Beauty And The Beast” — recorded by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson, two artists who will eventually appear in this column — peaked at #9. It’s a 6.) This wouldn’t be Adams’ last time singing at the Oscars.

In a pop-music moment full of drum machines and horny panting, a song as burly and earnest and sentimental as “Everything I Do” was a bit of a throwback, though maybe not as big a throwback as “Beauty And The Beast.” But for Bryan Adams, “Everything I Do” was also a way forward. For the next few years, Adams had a whole lot of success with movie ballads just like that one. Bryan Adams, Mutt Lange, and Michael Kamen will all appear in this column again.

GRADE: 4/10

BONUS BEATS: In 1993, Irish cult act Fatima Mansions recorded a weirdo pisstake trip-hop cover of “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” for an NME compilation, and that version actually went top-10 in the UK. Here it is:

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the soft-batch R&B cover of “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” that Brandy released in 1998:

(Brandy will eventually appear in this column.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the pop-punk take on “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” that New Found Glory put out in 2000:

(New Found Glory’s highest-charting single, 2002’s “My Friends Over You,” peaked at #85.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: If you want some real weapons-grade syrup, please enjoy Kenny G and LeAnn Rimes’ 2004 version of “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”:

(Kenny G’s highest-charting single, 1987’s “Songbird,” peaked at #4. It’s a 3. LeAnn Rimes’ highest-charting single, 1997’s “How Do I Live,” peaked at #2. It’s a 4. Also, LeAnn Rimes is namechecked in a song that’ll eventually appear in this column.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the great bit from a 2005 episode of Arrested Development where Will Arnett’s Gob Bluth and his puppet Franklin make people uncomfortable with their rendition of “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”:

THE NUMBER TWOS: Jesus Jones’ heart-wrenchingly optimistic end-of-history dance-rocker “Right Here, Right Now” peaked at #2 behind “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” It’s an 8.

In a special moment for song-title parentheses-abuse, Roxette’s gleaming mega-ballad “Fading Like A Flower (Every Time You Leave)” also peaked at #2 behind “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” It’s another 8.

THE 10S: Boyz II Men’s fired-up, hammering harmony explosion “Motownphilly” peaked at #3 behind “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” It’s kickin’ it just for you, and it’s a 10.

more from The Number Ones

Hi. It looks like you're using an ad blocker.

As an independent website, we rely on our measly advertising income to keep the lights on. Our ads are not too obtrusive, promise. Would you please disable adblock?