Based: 1972, Vancouver
Years Most Active: 1973-1979
– Randy Bachman (vocals, lead guitar)
– C. Fred Turner (bass, vocals)
– Tim Bachman (guitar, vocals; 1973-4)
– Robbie Bachman (drums, backing vocals)
– Blair Thornton (lead guitar, backing vocals; replaced Tim Bachman in 1974)
“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet“, 1974
– #1 Hit in 20 countries around the world, including Canada and the U.S.
– 4th biggest song of the year in Canada
– Juno Award for Song of the Year
Other Big Hits:
“Let It Ride“, 1974 <#3, RPM>
“Takin’ Care of Business“, 1974 <#3 RPM>
“Hey You“, 1975 <#1, RPM>
“Roll On Down The Highway“, 1975 <#4, RPM>
– 7 JUNO Awards.
– 5 Platinum Albums.
– 11 Top 40 hits (RPM)
– Induction into the Music Hall of Fame, 2014
One of the biggest rock bands in Canadian history, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, was an offshoot of The Guess Who. At the peak of the latter’s success, lead guitarist Randy Bachman left the band and reunited with former Expressions and Guess Who Member Chad Allen. Needing a drummer, Randy recruited his little brother Robin (“Robbie”) and the trio initially called themselves Brave Belt. Heading into the studio to record a country-rock album, they chanced upon bassist C. Fred Turner and became a quartet. They recorded two albums in the early 70s and scored a minor hit: “Dunrobin’s Gone”.
By 1972, the band was shifting into a heavier sound, especially with Turner’s gritty truck driver vocals. This new direction found itself at odds with Chad Allen’s vision of the group and he departed. They were now thousands of dollars in debt, frustrated by their lack of success, wondering whether they should relocate and reinvent themselves. On the road, they stopped for gas and food at a truck stop outside of Windsor, Ontario, one day, and came across the chief magazine (at the time) of the trucking industry—Overdrive. They wrote down the band’s new name on a napkin—Bachman-Turner Overdrive—and had a new vision for where they wanted to go musically. They replaced Allen with another brother of Randy’s—Tim—and began recording demo tapes and touring across the country.
While in Alberta, they bumped into booking agent Bruce Allen, the man who’s, since, managed such artists as Northern Lights, Bryan Adams, and, more recently, Michael Bublé. He suggested they relocate to Vancouver. They settled in a modest studio above a muffler shop in the city and Randy began sending demo tapes to various record labels in the U.S. and Canada. They were turned down by 22 labels before being singed by Charlie Fach of Mercury Records. It happened by pure chance as King Biscuit reports:
Charlie Fach of Mercury Records returned to his office after a trip to France to find a stack of unplayed demo tapes waiting on his desk. Wanting to start completely fresh, he took a trash can and slid all the tapes into it except one, which missed the can and fell onto the floor. Fach then picked up the tape and noticed Bachman’s name on it. He remembered talking to him the previous year and had told Bachman that if he ever put a demo together to send it to him. While playing the first song … “Gimme Your Money Please”, Fach called Bachman to tell him that he wanted to sign the band.
Bachman invited Bruce Allen to become the band’s manager, and they flew to Chicago to meet with Fach. Mercury took issue with the group’s new name which they said was too long. Randy suggested B.T.O. to which Fach agreed. For their debut album, it was Robbie who came up with the distinctive gear logo which was sculpted by Parviz Sardighan, featured on the album cover.
They released three singles which did nothing, but radio picked up their “Blue Collar” which became their first hit peaking at #21 on the RPM charts in 1973. The album managed to stay in the charts for 68 weeks. B.T.O. saw its big breakthrough with its second album, Bachman Tuner Overdrive II, released the same year. The singles “Let It Ride” and the anthemic “Takin’ Care of Business” drove the album into the #4 position on the U.S. Billboard charts. With their success, they felt they needed to replace Tim and enlisted Blair Thornton.
They never dreamed what would happen with their next album, Not Fragile (1974). Single “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” raced up to the top of the charts in 20 countries around the world, becoming a million-seller, and the album topped the Billboard charts. The follow-up single “Roll On Down the Highway” peaked at #4. 1975′s Four Wheel Drive, made the Top 5, went platinum and provided the hit single “Hey You”. B.T.O. was so big by this point that Elvis Presley invited them down to Las Vegas to hang out. He was a big fan of their “Takin’ Care of Business”.
The group revisited their jazzy blues roots on their fifth album, Head On. Little Richard assisted on the piano rocker “Take It Like a Man” and Randy created one of his finest moments, echoing his Guess Who era, “Come Undone”, with the intricate and mellow “Looking Out For #1″.
Bachman-Turner Overdrive was, by now, experiencing internal conflicts stemming from power struggles over song representation, and their sixth album Freeways garnered little radio interest. Mercury panicked and released both Live and Greatest Hits albums, and then, Randy left the band. He was replaced and the group trucked on with a couple of new albums in the late-70s but had no further success and ran out of gas. To date, total worldwide sales of B.T.O. releases are estimated at over 20 million. Randy Bachman is still active in the music business and has worked on a number of projects since. Many of the band’s songs still receive frequent airplay on radio stations. Fans of the group are known as “gearheads”.
Bachman-Turner Overdrive was inducted into the Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
The biggest development in the Canadian music industry in the mid-70s was that the CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) began to present various certification awards (gold, platinum, diamond, etc.) to albums and singles that attained sales of a defined number of units. Albums that sold 50,000 copies were certified “Gold”; 100,000 “Platinum”; 200,000 “2x Platinum”; 1 million, “Diamond”. On 1 August 1975, the first three Canadian albums were certified Platinum: Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Four Wheel Drive, Beau Dommage’s self-titled album, and Paul Anka’s Anka.
In the mid-70s, the world was being swept up in ABBA fever. Canadians were taken up in this whirlwind as well but another foreign band became Canada’s favourite and was by far more successful in Canada than in another other country. Its name was Supertramp. Canada’s love affair with Supertramp was to continue on well beyond its retirement in 1982. Two of the band’s albums were to reach diamond status. In terms of homegrown talent, the mid-70s was one of the most productive periods in Canadian music history. The biggest year of the decade for Canadian music was 1974. Three of the Top 10 songs of the year (including #1) were by Canadian artists. But let’s begin with 1973.
The two biggest Canadian songs of the year were “Last Song” by Edward Bear (#16) and “Danny’s Song” by Anne Murray (#50). The third biggest was by a short-lived outfit called Skylark (“Wildflower” – #52). The most significant thing about this Vancouver-based band was that one of its members went on to become an internationally famous music producer and composer, responsible for smash hits from such artists as Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Chicago, Josh Groban, and many others. His name? David Foster. We will profile him later on in a special entry dedicated to Canadian music producers.
British-born Keith Hampshire never became a superstar but had two big hits in 1973: “Daytime Night-time” and his cover of Cat Stevens’ “First Cut is the Deepest”. Another import from the U.K. was Scottish-born Murray McLauchlan, one of the most significant folk singers of the 70s. He had a big hit in ’73: “Farmer’s Song”. New Brunswick’s French folk singer Edith Butler began composing her own material in 1973 and, with growing recognition (she won a number of awards) and popularity, she found her albums going gold in the 80s.
One-hit wonders duo Gary and Dave scored with “Could You Ever Love Me Again”. They were fairly popular in Europe but left the music business to become airline pilots. Another short-lived outfit was The Defranco Family, comprised of five Italian-Canadian siblings. Their debut single “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat” reached #3 on the Billboard charts and sold 2 million copies. They were also successful with “Abra-Ca-Dabra” and “Save the Last Dance for Me”.
The real-life brother of hoser “Doug McKenzie” (eh), Ian Thomas got going with the hit “Painted Ladies” from his debut album. It reached #4 in Canada and #34 in the U.S. He’d started out in the band Tranquility Base at the turn of the decade. Several other Top 40 hits followed well into the 80s: “Liars”, “Coming Home”, “Hold On”, “Chains”, and “Levity”. We like “I Really Love You” (a 70s synthesizer ballad) and “Harmony”, both of which received radio airplay.
Chilliwack, named after a medium-sized city in British Columbia, grew out of a 60s band called The Collectors. They made the Top 10 in ’73 with “Lonesome Mary” and scored several more hits in the decade culminating in their and #1 hit in the early 80s: “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)”.
“We had joy. We had fun. We had seasons in the sun.” These words typified the year, and the song that housed them, after spending four months on the charts, was not only the biggest of the year but also of the decade; it sold 11 million copies worldwide making it one of the most successful singles of all-time. Previously, we’d mentioned The Poppy Family, consisting of a husband-wife duo who scored two big hits. After their divorce, the husband—Terry Jacks—embarked on a brief solo career, which yielded this one lone hit. It won a Juno Award two years in a row for best-selling single, resulting in Winnipegger Jacks himself being awarded with male artist of the year in 1974. After the success of “Seasons in the Sun”, Jacks moved on to producing for such artists as The Beach Boys, Nana Mouskouri, DOA, and the aforementioned Chilliwack.
The third biggest song of 1974 was Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” and the ninth was Paul Anka’s “You’re Having My Baby”. Andy Kim and Joni Mitchell had big hits this year with “Rock Me Gently” and “Help Me” respectively.
The Guess Who scored a hit with “Clap for the Wolfman” (#68 of the year). As we’d mentioned, Randy Bachman had left the group. And what was good ol’ Randy up to? Forming his own band. The early 70s was a time of sappy, soft rock, which wasn’t for everyone. The last echoes of harder rock that had dominated the 60s faded out with the retirement of Creedence Clearwater Revival in ’72. But Randy Bachman picked up the slack that same year when he, with brothers and friends, formed Bachman-Turner Overdrive. They began recording in 1973 but it took a year before radio began airing their gearhead, workingman rock. Were they popular? You bet. Their rock anthem “Takin’ Care of Business” continues to be popular today and finished the year ’74 in 66th spot. They did even better with the song that launched arena rock, always a favourite at roller and skating rinks—”You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”—the 16th biggest song of the year.
Believe it or not, there were two bands whose albums outsold B.T.O.’s. Their names? Harmonium and Beau Dommage. Unlike B.T.0. they were each able to achieve multi-platinum certifications for a couple of albums. Three of Harmonium’s albums appear in Bob Mersereau’s “Top 100 Canadian Albums”.
Canadian news anchor Byron MacGregor read a newspaper editorial written by Gordon Sinclair about the United States which garnered such a huge response that he was asked to record “The Americans” over the soundtrack “America the Beautiful” performed by The Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The record became a big hit, reaching #4 on the Billboard singles chart and #1 in Canada. It finished the year ’74 in 67th place. It was re-released in 1979 after the Iran hostage crisis and in 2001 after the 9-11 Attacks. The recording has sold over 3 ½ million copies and all of his proceeds have been donated to The American Red Cross.
1974 was also the year that saw the debut from new age guitarist (one of the best in the world) Liona Boyd. Italian Montrealer Gino Vanelli realized his breakthrough with “People Gotta Move”. And Diane Juster, after becoming popular via performances of her songs by Julie Arel began to shine on her own.
Paul Anka, teamed up with Odia Coates, continued his comeback with three huge hits: “One Man Woman/One Woman Man” (the biggest Canadian song of the year), “I Don’t Like To Sleep Alone”, and “(I Believe) There’s Nothing Stronger Than Our Love”. Bachman-Turner Overdrive also scored a hat trick with “Hey You” (2nd biggest Canuck tune of the year), “Roll On Down the Highway”, and “Quick Change Artist”. The Stampeders had two big hits: “New Orleans” and “Hit the Road Jack”. Quebec’s Michel Pagliaro scored an English hit with “What the Hell I Got”.
A newcomer that year was Hagood Hardy. “The Homecoming”, an easy listening tune of great beauty, was the third biggest Canadian hit of the year. Hardy was born in the U.S. as his mother was an American citizen. After studying at the University of Toronto, he played the vibraphone in jazz clubs before recording solo works. Later on, he scored the music for CBC-TV’s “Anne of Green Gables” series. Pianist Andre Gagnon came out with a winning album, Neiges. It became the first Canadian album to reach multi-platinum status in the country and won a Juno Award for Album of the Year. Children’s music got a big boost when Raffi released his debut album.
1975 also saw the debut of one of the most popular singers of the late-70s, Dan Hill. This year he scored a moderate hit; his “You Make Me Want to Be” broke into the Top 30.