Bachman-Turner Overdrive didn’t score any hit singles or albums post-1976 but their recording career continued on for another three years, producing an album each year through the decade’s close. The first of these was the breaking point between Randy Bachman and the rest of the group, leading him to leave the group he created. The rest of the group continued with a replacement for two albums that attempted to crossbreed their early days heaviness-with-hooks approach with a slicker sound that fit the radio rock of the late ’70s. None of these were big hits but they all have something to offer AOR-heads and other types of ’70s rock anoraks.
FREEWAYS (1977): Turner refused to pose for the back cover photo here because he considered it a glorified Randy Bachman solo album. In fairness to him, he only gets to sing two lead vocals and racks up one writing credit on the album: Bachman wrote everything else and sings lead on the rest of the album. Retrospectively, everyone including Bachman has talked it down as a too-rushed venture into poppier sounds – but if your tastes extend beyond meat-and-potatoes rock, there is an eccentric “dark horse” appeal to this one. One must be into ’70s A.M. pop to appreciate the giddy, almost bubblegummy calypso-meets-soft rock of “Can We All Come Together” and “Just For You,” which could pass for a mid-’70s April Wine album track. Elsewhere, tracks like wild west tall tale “Shotgun Rider” and tribal-stomp-plus-horns “My Wheels Won’t Turn” sound like traditional B.T.O. with a glossier, A.M. friendly mix and Turner’s big self-penned number, “Life Goes On (I’m Lonely)” adds orchestration into B.T.O.’s uptempo rock to surprisingly strong effect. Even “Easy Groove,” an oddball venture into yacht rock with a pop-disco chorus (including dance instructions) is so kitschy it’s charming. A controversial but underrated effort that harkens back to Bachman’s past gig in Guess Who: if that sounds appealing to you then you might like this.
STREET ACTION (1978): Exit Randy Bachman at this point, replaced by ex-April Wine member Jim Clench. The new configuration sold this one as a back-to-basics album but a close listen reveals it’s not that different from Freeways: sure, the power chords are pushed up in spots but this remains a varied, AOR-ish buffet of sounds that favors less sonic window-dressing and a slightly tougher mix. For example, “Takes A Lot Of People” is aimed straight at Top 40 radio, complete with a harmonized sing-along chorus and the jangly “For Love” evokes the specter of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” Clench makes a solid addition to the crew, recalling past employers April Wine on the guitar-driven yet melodic cruisers “Down The Road” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” There’s no standout hit single but everything is tuneful, well-recorded and performed with cheerful energy (Turner sounds positively exuberant here, especially on his backing vocals for the title track). Unexpectedly progressive surprise: “Madison Avenue,” which mixes acoustic balladry, a bit of boogie and some saxophone-led soft rock into one six-minute package.
ROCK AND ROLL NIGHTS (1979): The band turned to a Canadian songsmith with a rock hits track record for their second go-round sans Randy: Jim Vallance, the writer/producer behind Canadian AOR outfit Prism, produced and contributed to the songwriting here alongside a pre-fame Bryan Adams. “Jamaica,” a rocker with a percussive chorus, and the Phil-Spector-goes-hard-rock power ballad “Heartaches” were the singles here. Neither they nor the album connected on the charts but the album successfully continues the radio rock approach of its predecessor, adding a bit more AOR slickness (again, it sounds a bit like April Wine, especially when Clench sings). The second side is pretty strong, with little gems like “Wastin’ Time,” a pounding little rocker later covered by Adams, and “Amelia Earhart,” a biography of the title figure done as a dreamy keyboard-led ballad. A tribute to the songwriting here is the fact that “Jamaica” was later covered by Rick Springfield with different lyrics as “Kristina” and Kiss would perform a rewritten version of this album’s “Rock And Roll Hell” on their Creatures Of The Night album.