Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The #94 Artist of the Seventies*

This group got their start when guitarist Randy Bachman and lead singer/guitarist Chad Allen, both formerly with the Guess Who, and Randy's brother Robbie formed the group Brave Belt in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  They released their self-titled album in 1971.  After their label Reprise Records requested a tour, Randy called bassist C.F. "Fred" Turner to see if he would be interested.

Allen left the group shortly after the tour, and Turner became a full-time member and sang lead for the album Brave Belt II in 1972.  But neither album sold well, and the group's second tour was halted halfway through.

Reprise subsequently dropped the group, and Bachman and company tried to land a new recording contract.  But their demo tape was rejected by 26 labels.  In 1973, Charlie Fach of Mercury Records returned home after a trip to France and found a large stack of unplayed demo tapes waiting for him on his desk.  As he wanted to start without a backlog, Fach took the tapes and threw them into the trash can.  One, however, missed the can and fell on the floor.   When he picked it up, Fach noticed Bachman's name on it.  He remembered talking to Randy the year before.  After playing the first song "Gimme' Your Money Please", Fach called Bachman to tell him the band had a recording contract.

The group planned on naming their new album Brave Belt III, but Fach convinced them that a new name was essential, one that capitalized on the name recognition of the band members.  Driving home from a show in Toronto, the group saw a trucker's magazine called Overdrive at a Windsor, Ontario truckstop.  Turner wrote "Bachman-Turner Overdrive" and the initials "B.T.O." down, and the group decided that "Overdrive" perfectly described the band's music.  As it did the aforementioned demo song. 
Thus, Bachman-Turner Overdrive released their self-titled debut album in May of 1973.  Despite lacking a hit single, the group's music crept across the border in nearby towns such as Detroit, Michigan and Buffalo, New York.  The band went on a heavy touring schedule, adding dates wherever they received significant airplay, and it paid off in the album going Gold.  "Blue Collar" reached #21 in Canada, but only #68 in the U.S. 

The group released Bachman-Turner Overdrive II late in the year, and it was the breakthrough they needed.  "Let It Ride", featuring those great-sounding BTO guitars, was the first single.  It was a very-underrated #23--most reputable rock stations had the song well with their Top 10, more in line with the Canadian peak of #3. 

 Randy had already written the bulk of one song several years earlier when he was in the Guess Who.  Originally titled "White Collar Worker", that group did not feel it fit their style.  BTO had begun playing the song during live shows the year before with Randy singing so that Turner could rest his voice.  In an interview on classicbands.com, Bachman told Gary James how he had heard DJ Darryl Burlingham say prior to a BTO show "We're takin' care of business on C-FOX radio", and he decided to put those lyrics into the chorus.
Once again, Bachman-Turner had another underrated hit.  Billboard showed it at #12, but they forgot to factor in album sales.  Radio stations knew the relevance of album sales to a song's popularity, and many (KFXD included) took the song to #1.  Those stations were validated when the song not only was adopted as the theme song for Office Depot office supply store, but the song has continued to gain in airplay ever since.  "Takin' Care Of Business", the supposed #12 song, has now gone over one million in radio airplay.

Randy held strong religious beliefs, and had established rules for group members; he had left the Guess Who because that group's values conflicted with his own, and didn't want to repeat that experience.  Among these rules were that drugs, alcohol and premarital sex were prohibited.  When brother Tim violated these, he was asked to leave.

Guitarist Blair Thornton replaced Tim in the BTO lineup, and the new combination produced the best album the group ever recorded:  Not Fragile in 1974.  It went to #1 on Album charts in both the U.S. and Canada, paced by the massive hit "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet".  It was a #1 in the United States, Canada, Germany, and New Zealand.

Although it was one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*, "Roll On Down The Highway" (a peak of #14) did receive considerable airplay on album-oriented rock stations, and refusal by some so-called "Top 40" stations to play the song as well as others in the genre resulted in the deterioration of the Top 40 format and the rise of Adult Contemporary as the dominant radio format.

Not Fragile has now sold over eight million copies to date worldwide.  Bachman-Turner was now big, but they would struggle after this to record similar success.  The album Four Wheel Drive contained the single "Hey You", which sounded something like a sideways version of "Roll On Down The Highway".  "Hey You" reached #1 in Canada, but only #21 in the U.S.

A better release would have been the album's title track. 

The group then released the album Head On, but despite three singles, the best they could do was #33 with "Take It Like A Man".  The song features Little Richard wailing away on the piano at the end.

The group had those great guitars, but they also had versatility, as displayed on the jazzy "Lookin' Out For #1", which received airplay not only on rock stations but on soft rock stations as well.

In 1976, Bachman-Turner Overdrive released the album Best of BTO (So Far), which sold over two million copies.

BTO released three more albums in the Seventies, but could never reproduce the magic that made them one of the Rock Era's greatest-sounding guitar groups in the mid-70's.  They disbanded shortly after the end of the decade, but have reunited occasionally for shows.

Still, Bachman-Turner Overdrive was an important part of the Rock Era.  As one fan said on XMFan.com:          

A shift of styles in popular music in the mid-1970s had quickly caused old-fashioned guitar rock-and-roll to face near extinction on the Top 40 charts. Songs like 'Lovin' You' by Minnie Riperton and 'The Morning After' by Maureen McGovern were topping the pop charts with alarming regularity, leaving many rock-and-roll fans feeling like they were left out in the cold without a jacket. Until BTO came along.

BTO sold over three million albums in the Seventies and gave us two of the most popular songs of the decade in "Takin' Care Of Business" and "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" and twelve hits.

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