We’ve Got A File On You: Bryan Adams
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
Over four decades and 15 studio albums, Bryan Adams is a rare entity in pop music. There’s hardly anything he hasn’t done, hardly an award he hasn’t won, and he’s collaborated with an enormous range of artists, from Tina Turner to Taylor Swift to Melanie C to Mötley Crüe. In fact, just the other day, Adams was named one of the first 2022 inductees to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame alongside longtime collaborator Jim Vallance.
The recognition is just another feather in Adams’ already stuffed cap: To date, Adams ranks 38 on Billboard’s list of all-time Hot 100 top artists, he’s won 20 Juno Awards, and he’s been nominated for 15 Grammys, winning Best Song Written For A Motion Picture Or Television for “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” He’s also been nominated for five Golden Globes and for three Oscars. Adams has been inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Canada’s Walk of Fame, the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame. And he’s just released his 15th studio album, So Happy It Hurts, which features 12 new songs co-written by Adams. It follows 2019’s Shine A Light, which featured collabs with Ed Sheeran and Jennifer Lopez.
At the moment, Adams is in Portugal preparing for a show, and he sounds pretty rushed as he scrambles to prepare for the call after mine. When I inquire how he’s feeling these days — Adams contracted COVID-19 twice — he brushes me off. “Oh, fine. There’s nothing,” he says. “I mean, that was just like the flu.”
In the run-up to his latest release, Adams opened up about writing So Happy It Hurts and revisits some career-spanning moments, such as 1985’s “Reggae Christmas” with Pee Wee Herman (IYKYK) and singing backup next to Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler on Mötley Crüe’s “Sticky Sweet.”
So Happy It Hurts (2022)
What did you set out to achieve with So Happy It Hurts and its title track?
BRYAN ADAMS: The idea of the song had been kicking around for a couple of years, and I tried doing a version of it just before the lockdown. And then when the lockdown happened, I went back into the studio and basically set up a chalkboard with all the ideas that I had and just sort of scratched everything out so that I could see what I had. One by one, I would try and make a song.
The difficulty I initially had was that I couldn’t put my band together, so I had to do it. I just did it all myself. And what I would do is, I’d sit down and I do a rough structure with acoustic guitar and vocal, and then I would sort of build it a song up from there. I’d put down a drum track, I’d put down a bass track and then and I was so happy. It was one of those things that sort of came together. But the one thing that wasn’t right was the verse, until I sat down really frustrated about it and just said, maybe I should just be this. And that’s how it came together.
Playing In Sweeney Todd, His First Band (1975)
What do you remember about your earliest years as a musician, specifically in your first band?
ADAMS: Definitely don’t wanna talk about any of that.
Singing Background Vocals On Mötley Crüe’s “Sticky Sweet” (1988)
I think a lot of casual music fans might be surprised to learn that you sang backup on a Mötley Crüe song, which also featured Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. What are your memories of being with them in the studio?
ADAMS: I was in Vancouver when they were making their record there, and I was in the studio next door. It was like, “Hey man, you wanna come and just sing on this song with us?” So the next thing you know, I stood there with Steve Tyler, myself, and I think there was somebody else [Jack Blades is also credited on the track]. We put down some background vocals on their record, but because they were all hanging out there, I would go to the bars with them. One day they actually showed up at my house with these choppers — in their motorcycles. I at the time was living in this really super suburban residential area of west Vancouver. And next thing you know, you got Mötley Crüe showing up on motorcycles. It was fantastic.
That sounds loud.
ADAMS: You can’t even begin to imagine. You can hear them a block away.
Elisabeth Moss Singing “Heaven” in Her Smell (2019)
Your work tends to get covered over and over in pop culture. Did you catch Elisabeth Moss’ piano rendition of “Heaven” a few years ago in Her Smell?
ADAMS: Who was the singer on it? Do you remember the name of the artist?
I’m talking about the actress Elisabeth Moss, so technically not a singer, per se.
ADAMS: I have heard it, I have heard it. I mean, it’s a really sweet song. It just seems to keep going. In fact, the other day, someone sent me a version that a Brazilian artist has done. Of course he didn’t credit Jim [Vallance] or myself for writing it. He took all the credit for it, but he translated it into Portuguese and put his own version out. So I think the song is just gonna carry on having different lives like that. It’s one of those songs.
Singing “When You’re Gone” With Mel C
I recently spoke to Melanie C from the Spice Girls about collaborating with you on “When You’re Gone.” She spoke about how her mother was your biggest fan, and how excited she was to work with you at the time. What was your experience like working with Mel?
ADAMS:I’d actually just finished the song. I wanted to have someone sing it with me, but I was sort of at a loss of who to be the right person. And I was in Los Angeles and stepping into a lift and [Mel] walked in at the same time and I was like, “Oh, hi!” And I think it was even something as simple as, “How long are you here for blah, blah, blah, nice to meet you. Hey, by the way, would you like to sing on a song?” It was come to something like that. She’s just a great spirit all around.
Performing “Reggae Christmas” With Pee Wee Herman (1984)
I would love to know any stories or recollections you have around doing “Reggae Christmas.” It’s such a trip to watch back.
ADAMS: Yeah, it was recorded in New York. That the actual song was a B-side to a Christmas song, which I sent out to people that were part of the fan club at the time. It was never an official release. You’re talking about the video on YouTube, right? So Pee Wee was there… I think it was [MTV VJ] Mark Goodman’s idea. I can’t remember, but yeah, there he is in the film. It’s quite funny.
Yeah, did that strike you as odd or silly, to have Pee Wee Herman in a video?
ADAMS: Nothing was really particularly normal by any means. Because, you know, we didn’t actually know how impactful MTV was at the time. None of us really understood. We just thought it was almost like another channel for your music. We didn’t realize it was gonna be this enormous thing. But of course, years later looking back on it, it was pivotal to how we were perceived and how we were able to move forward. So I’m so grateful to have been one of the first artists they played on MTV.
Performing “All For Love” With Rod Stewart And Sting (1994)
What are your memories around performing with Rod Stewart and Sting when you did “All For Love“?
ADAMS: It was a lot of fun. We recorded with Sting in London and with Rod in LA. Rod wanted some Mateus Rosé to drink before we started recording, to help loosen the voice up. So while we were waiting for the wine to arrive, we ran the song down a few times anyway and good thing too, because once the wine arrived that was it for recording that day. Very glad we did a run through…
Performing At Live Aid (1985)
What sort of memories do you have around playing a history-making event like Live Aid?
ADAMS: I didn’t realize that we were the first ones to be broadcast across the pond. Jack Nicholson introduced me. And next thing you know, I’d done my show, which was two or three songs, and then [I was] whisked into a bus and drove all the way up to Ohio or something. So I missed almost all of the show and hardly met anybody.
Bummer. Do you have any regrets around not staying?
ADAMS: We all wanted to stick around and watch some of the show because we knew that all kinds of our heroes were gonna be showing up, but it wasn’t to be. So we just ended up going to play at this outdoor park somewhere in Ohio that night. I don’t even know if it was Ohio, but it was quite a ways we had to get on the bus right away after the show.
Given your schedule back then, did you ever struggle with burnout?
ADAMS: I don’t really remember much of the ’90s. Hmm. It was not because of alcohol or drugs. It’s just the enormous workload that we had. We were playing all over the world. We were playing places that no one had played. We played in Vietnam. We played in Pakistan. We played in Turkey. We played in Portugal. We played all these places that no one had been playing. And it was almost like backpacking around the world with my band. And that was kind of the idea. But unless there’s some photographs, I hardly remember anything of it.
Acting In Pink Cadillac Opposite Clint Eastwood And Bernadette Peters (1989)
How did you think about acting in the ’80s and after? Was it something you enjoyed doing?
ADAMS: Clint offered me a much better role [in Pink Cadillac] too. I didn’t take it because I just don’t consider myself an actor and I didn’t wanna embarrass him. I was offered a job as a waiter in the film and it would’ve been a better role. But in the end I took the guy at the gas station. I mean, it was such a thrill because I’m a Clint fan. He makes super movies. It was just a thrill for myself and my manager, Bruce, because both of us were just fans of the guy.
House Of Fools (2002)
There’s a Russian film from 2002 that I was surprised to find you in, about a young woman who believes she’s your fiancée.
ADAMS: The director called me and says, “Look, I’d really like you to be in the movie.” I said, “Well, I’m not an actor.” And he said, “Well, look, it’s a really simple part.” Andrei Konchalovsky
is the director’s name. And I said, “Well, look, if you put my girlfriend in it as well, then yeah, I’ll do it.” And so he did that. She was a budding actress. And so that’s what happened. It was ironically at the time, September 11, 2001, we were in Moscow. When the towers came down. Everybody was just devastated.
Performing “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman” At The Oscars (1996)
ADAMS: I performed twice at the Oscars. Once in ’91 or ’92. And again in ’96. Both times were quite scary because you’re looking out at a crowd of faces that you recognize but you don’t know. It’s live television, so you can’t muck it up. And if you do muck it up, you’re mucking it up in front of a billion people. So you have that on your shoulders as you go out there. I’m always an admiration of the people who do that because it’s so viewed and there’s no recourse if you blow it. So I don’t know. I was quite nervous. That’s the long and the short of it.
Shooting The Pirelli 2022 Calendar (2021)
You’re quite an avid photographer. How did you approach shooting the 2022 Pirelli calendar?
ADAMS: It was very difficult because it was during the COVID and not many people wanted to venture out or fraternize. The list [of artists] became smaller and smaller and smaller. But we still got some great people. We ended up having to do it in Los Angeles because we couldn’t get people anywhere else. It’s the old story, you know, if Muhammad won’t come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Muhammad.
Who did you most enjoy shooting for this project?
ADAMS: I love working with Iggy [Pop] because I’m a big fan of Iggy’s. I used to go watch him when I was a young musician. I love working with some of the youngsters as well, ’cause, you know, I didn’t know Kali Uchis until I did the calendar. I love working with St. Vincent ’cause I love her anyway. She’s just amazing. And of course, Cher was great to work with. I mean, it was really a fun, fun thing.
The only person I knew out of all of them was Jennifer Hudson. I had met her on a TV show. So it was nice to get to meet some new people. And the idea of “On The Road,” which is the concept I gave to Pirelli, was basically all about trying to do a sort of snapshot of in the day of a life of musicians. So if you ever see the calendar, if you ever get a copy of it, it’s basically what it’s like to be on the road backstage in the dressing room, in a hotel room, in a car, arriving to the gig, leaving the gig, all that kind of stuff.
Performing “Summer Of ’69” With Taylor Swift (2018)
You memorably performed “Summer Of ’69” with Taylor Swift in 2018. What about her work and career — from a songwriter’s perspective, especially — do you most admire?
ADAMS: I loved singing with Taylor, in fact I believe it’s the best version of the song since the original recording. She and I have been in a similar situation lately with our master recordings. My record company wasn’t interested in negotiating the return of my early masters, so I’ve done what she has done to re-record my early songs again. I’m releasing a few in March, so thanks Taylor.