CATALOG CRAWL: BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE, Part 1 (1973-1974)

Randy Bachman wanted to prove he was no flash-in-the-pan after leaving the Guess Who. After a solo album and a country rock-ish outfit called Brave Belt, he created Bachman-Turner Overdrive with fellow Canadian muso Fred Turner. Their sound was designed to be hooky enough to score radio hits while featuring a higher percentage of power chords that could charm the growing market for heavy rock. Bachman financed the operation, made the record deals and chose the members, ruling over his enterprise in an iron-fisted manner that brought them to the top but also sowed the seeds of their downfall.  This trio of albums represents the band’s climb to the top. It took this period of recording for their sound to crystallize but as the following overview reveals, their gift for blending the popular rock styles of the day was in place from the get-go.

BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE (1973): The band’s persona is fully realized from the opening bars of the first cut here: a heavily amplified yet roots-y take on arena rock, often sounding like the Canadian response to southern rock on tracks like “Gimme Your Money Please” and “Thank You For The Feelin’.” There is an emphasis on groove throughout and each track makes space for tasteful solos from Randy Bachman that never let volume eclipse melodic concerns. It dips into proto-metal occasionally, most notably on the glorious twin-guitar gallop of “Stayed Awake All Night,” but the signature track here is “Blue Collar,” a meditation on the working man’s life that takes a sinuous jazz approach with Latin rhythmic accents. Despite their reputation for beefy rock, the latter track shows there was the artistry of craftsmen under B.T.O.’s big-riff bluster.

BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE II (1973): The second album produced the first radio staples for the band: “Let It Ride” offsets a sweetly harmonized, Eagles-ish refrain with galloping verses where Turner’s growly bellow roars over a relentless chug-riff and “Takin’ Care Of Business” is a school-of-rock fantasy with a laid-back groove, a shout-along chorus and tons of killer Bachman riffing. The rest continues the southern rock vibe of the first album (“Stonegates”) with a dash of hard-rock crunch in the riffs (“Tramp”) and tub-thumping, occasionally tribal rhythm section approach (the sinister “I Don’t Have To Hide”). The non-hits are slightly less engaging this time around but there’s a strong early ’70s vibe that those who favor that sound will revel in. Hidden gem: “Welcome Home,” a witty portrait of rock life with acoustic proto-yacht rock verses, an arena rock chorus and a surprising jazz breakdown on the tag.

NOT FRAGILE (1974): This gang loved their automotive-themed metaphors so it’s fair to describe this album as the one that fires on all cylinders: strong material including plenty of future B.T.O. standards, Bachman’s clean, precise production captures a consistent blend of their different elements (heaviness, pastoral elements, pop song structures) into one arena-rockin’ whole. The big single was “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” a playful goof on the speech issues of Bachman’s manager brother that surprised the band by becoming their definitive hit. They shouldn’t have been surprised as it’s a perfect blend of country-rock verses and a stomping chorus whose stuttering hook gives it just the right hint of novelty. Elsewhere, the group continues its self-mythologizing bent on the title track and “Rock Is My Song And This Is My Life” while “Roll On Down The Highway” is the kind of driving song they excelled at and instrumental Duane Allman tribute “Free Wheelin'” has Bachman and new guitarist Blair Thornton trading fluid solos. Among the non-hits, “Blue Moanin'” is a midtempo boogie charmer and closer “Givin’ It All Away” is surprisingly speedy and metallic in a way that anticipates the ’80s.

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