40 Years Ago: Why Bryan Adams’ ‘Cuts Like a Knife’ Felt So Right
Bryan Adams chuckled about the good fortunes surrounding his latest album, Cuts Like a Knife, during a June 1983 phone conversation.
He was happy about his first Top 10 hit in the U.S. – and first Top 20 in his native Canada – with the ballad "Straight From the Heart." But, as he told this reporter, it wasn't exactly the point.
"When I went into this [album], I decided to make a record geared to AOR [album-oriented rock] and not worry about a big pop hit," Adams revealed. "So what happens? I get a Top 40 hit! Go figure."
Cuts Like a Knife, Adams' third LP, was certainly when he hit the big time – to the tune of a Top 10 album on both sides of the border, going platinum in the U.S. and triple-platinum in Canada. After "Straight From the Heart," he notched two more hits, the title track at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "This Time" at No. 24.
"It's nice to see all this work paying off," Adams said. "I told a couple friends I'd be happy if it broke Top 40, maybe if it went to gold. ... So it's kinda like gravy now. I set goals for myself that were stronger than last year, and I've already passed them. I'm already satisfied – but I can be more satisfied."
Adams, then 23, was something of a veteran when the 10-song set dropped on Jan. 18, 1983. He'd had some success with 1981's You Want It, You Got It, including airplay for the singles "Lonely Nights" and "Fits Ya Good." More importantly, he had become a songwriter of note in tandem with partner Jim Vallance, with tunes recorded by Kiss (three tracks on Creatures of the Night), Loverboy, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Prism, Bob Welch, Ian Lloyd and others.
"I love [writing]," Adams said. "If everything fell through, I'd still write." But he was also vested in establishing his star.
Watch Bryan Adams's 'Cuts Like a Knife' Video
Adams had made some valuable headway with You Want It, You Got It, primarily through finding a co-producing partner in Bob Clearmountain, whose credits as a mixing engineer included Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones. "Bob gets me," Adams said. "I can explain something to him, the sounds I want – and he gets them, hits 'em right on the head. We're a great team." Adams kept that team (which also included drummer Mickey Curry from Daryl Hall & John Oates' band) together for Cuts Like a Knife.
This time, however, there were a few changes. Rather than go back to the Power Station in New York, Adams brought Clearmountain to Little Mountain studios near where Adams lived in Vancouver, and they created the basic tracks. "I'd been on the road for so long I really wanted to spend some time at home, sleep in my own bed, and Bob was OK with that," said Adams, who subsequently recorded his vocals and overdubs back at the Power Station. Curry was joined by members of Adams' live band, notably guitarist Keith Scott, keyboardist Tommy Mandel and bassist Dave Taylor.
"I'd written most of the songs this time around the idea of playing live," he said. "I mainly wanted to do a bunch of songs that were fun to play live. That was the goal."
Vallance was Adams' co-writer for nine of the 10 tracks on Cuts Like a Knife. Kiss drummer Eric Carr joined them on "Don't Leave Me Lonely," which had been pitched for Creatures of the Night. "Straight From the Heart," meanwhile, was penned with his friend and attorney Eric Kagna. Vallance provided percussion on four tracks, while Adams' manager Bruce Allen was among the backing vocalists singing the "na-na-na" refrains on the title track, credited as B.A.
Lou Gramm was part of the party too, providing backing vocals on seven tracks. Adams had become friendly with Gramm while opening for Foreigner during the You Want It, You Got It tour. When he returned to the Power Station, Adams reached out to Gramm through management; he did not hear back and had the background parts recorded by others. Gramm finally returned the call at the end of the week. "He said, 'Hey, what's going on?' and I said, 'You want to come and sing on my album?' He said, 'I'd love to. What time?' So we went in and did [the parts] again. ... I mean, I think he's one of the greatest rock singers ever. If I've got a chance to have him on my record, I'll do whatever it takes."
Adams hit the road hard after Cuts Like a Knife arrived, supporting Journey, the Police and Supertramp while gradually working his way to headline status – first in Europe and Japan, then in North America. Bonnie Tyler released a version of "Straight From the Heart" later in 1983. Laura Branigan's self-titled 1990 album also included "The Best Was Yet to Come," which Adams and Vallance wrote about Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy model and actress who was murdered in 1980.
Watch Bryan Adams Perform 'Straight From the Heart'
Adams, of course, went on to greater success and become "more satisfied," as predicted. His next album, 1984's Reckless, went five-times platinum in the U.S. and has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. Cuts Like a Knife was the album that teed it all up.
"A lot of people look at it as, like, an overnight success ... but, on the other hand, it's sort of been 10 years in the making," Adams said in 2005's The Story of Bryan Adams documentary. "We worked damn hard. ... There's a lot of years of sitting in basements, looking at blank pieces of paper wondering where another song's gonna come from. ... As long as the music works for the time period it's out, it'll hopefully be successful. I don't know if you can ever really say it's gonna be a blockbuster. You can never tell."
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