40 Years Ago: A Shelved Song Finally Breaks Bryan Adams In America
Bryan Adams did not hit the big time in the U.S. overnight.
He earned his stripes in his native Canada with a 1980 self-titled debut, along with the 1981 follow-up You Want It You Got It. The latter LP managed to crack the Billboard Top 200 at No. 118 and included a moderately popular single, "Lonely Nights," which reached No. 3 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Obviously, however, that was still small potatoes.
Massive success lay just beyond the border; Adams just needed to figure out how to get it. He even toyed with the idea of naming his second album Bryan Adams Hasn't Heard of You Either, but his record company nixed the idea.
The solution finally arrived with a song from Adams' past. Two years before the release of his debut, he'd penned a song titled "Straight From the Heart" with his friend Eric Kagna. "I wrote it when I was 18 and it was one of the first complete songs I'd ever written," Adams later told Song Facts in 2009. "I'd been living in Vancouver and teaching myself piano and this came out."
Watch Bryan Adams Perform 'Straight From the Heart'
He and Kagna shared equal songwriting credit, but neither of them recorded the track. Instead, it was covered by Ian Lloyd, an American singer-songwriter best known for fronting the New York-based band Stories. Lloyd included "Straight From the Heart" on his 1980 album Third Wave Civilization, which was produced by Bruce Fairbairn – another of Adams' friends who would later work on albums by Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Van Halen and Kiss, among others.
This became a pattern for Adams, who has written dozens of songs that have been recorded by other acts. "The nice thing about having your songs covered by other people is that it kind of means that your songs are not only for yourself, but they are for other people," Adams told Rock On TV in 1983. "People can interpret them their own way. I like that."
But Adams decided he wasn't quite finished with "Straight From the Heart," recording his own impassioned version during sessions for his third LP, Cuts Like a Knife. The lyrics, though previously written and love-centric, also seemed to fit the moment: "Tell me we can make one more start."
"Straight From the Heart" became the lead single from Cuts Like a Knife in February 1983, soaring to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 as Adams' very first major hit in the U.S. He was finally on his way.
Watch Bryan Adams Perform an Acoustic Version of 'Straight From the Heart' in 2020
It was at once a great thrill and a total surprise to Adams, who admitted back then that he hadn't entered the studio with any high expectations. "When I went into this [album], I decided to make a record geared to [album-oriented rock] and not worry about a big pop hit," he told UCR's Gary Graff. "So what happens? I get a Top 40 hit! Go figure."
Several years of songwriting led to that moment – and breaking into the American market was a serious step in his career. "It's nice to see all this work paying off," Adams added. "I set goals for myself that were stronger than last year, and I've already passed them."
In some ways, starting out slow had actually worked to Adams' advantage. "It's nice to be the underdog," he said in another 1983 interview for German TV. "I actually get quite a thrill out of it, because it's nice to be able to turn people around."
"Straight From the Heart" went on to be covered by a few more artists, like Bonnie Tyler, who included it on 1983's Faster Than the Speed of Night. Looking back, Adams said he was most proud early successes like this one. "They were part of the learning experience to be able to write the songs that everyone knows now," he said. "You need to learn to crawl before you walk."
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