How Bryan Adams Rebounded With ‘Waking Up the Neighbours’
Bryan Adams entered the '90s determined to deliver a rebound after the disappointment of 1987's Into the Fire — and he delivered in a big way with his sixth studio LP, 1991's Waking Up the Neighbours.
Into the Fire was far from a flop, selling a million copies in the U.S. alone and peaking at No. 2. But it fell short of the standard set by its predecessor, the hugely popular Reckless. While sales certainly aren't everything — particularly after you've reached the sort of pinnacle set by a record like Reckless — there was still a feeling of unfulfilled potential around the Fire album, and Adams took no chances as he set about putting together his follow-up.
In fact, Adams' relentless focus on writing and recording the best possible material may have contributed to the eventual derailment of a creative partnership that had helped define his career to that point. Longtime songwriting collaborator Jim Vallance woodshedded with Adams throughout 1988 and 1989, demoing a slew of new songs that were winnowed down into speculative track listings twice — once with producer Steve Lillywhite, and then with Bob Clearmountain, who'd manned the boards for Reckless. Both times, Adams felt the end results were missing something, and in the summer of 1989, he decided to start over.
Unfortunately, he'd have to do so without Vallance, who was by then an in-demand writer for a number of other acts, and either unwilling or unable to devote a seemingly endless amount of time to polishing off a single record. Adams later attributed their split to his own unwillingness to be on Vallance's schedule, but whatever the reasons for the split, it had a major impact. Adams, who'd traditionally written with a collaborator, needed to find a new songwriting partner.
The void left by Vallance was ultimately filled by a pretty impressive name: Robert John "Mutt" Lange, the multi-platinum producer whose prior credits included huge hit records for AC/DC, Foreigner, and Def Leppard. Lange's arrival changed the album in a number of major ways, giving Adams a co-producer in addition to a collaborator — and one whose creative process differed significantly from Adams' own.
"I used to be very precious about songs," Adams told Q. "When the idea came up, that was it. But when I went into the studio with my songs this time, Mutt went, 'Yeah, that's okay, but where are the other 10?' He really turned my way of thinking around, made me realize there really were no rules, and that a song just has to have something special, no matter what it is – that you have to come up with it, make it work, stretch it, rip it apart, strip it down, take its clothes off and see how it looks."
Although Waking Up the Neighbours ended up carrying over four songs from Adams' demos with Vallance, Lange had a co-writing credit on each of the album's 15 tracks — and sessions moved to England while the duo hammered out the recordings track by meticulous track, stretching out the recording process for over a year. Initially scheduled for release in the fall of 1990, Neighbours moved steadily back on the schedule, first to early 1991, then the spring, then the summer. In the meantime, Adams had tour obligations to fulfill, and he went out on the road while the album was still in post-production.
While the wait for Waking Up the Neighbours dragged on, Adams received a boost from a somewhat unlikely source. Contracted to contribute a soundtrack anthem to the Kevin Costner drama Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Adams delivered "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" — a song that would end up becoming one of the defining hit singles of the year, selling three million copies and sitting at No. 1 for seven weeks in the U.S. alone. The song went on to win a Grammy and earn an Oscar nomination — and give Neighbours some incredible momentum on its way into stores — but Adams admitted it wasn't exactly what score composer Michael Kamen was looking for.
"They wanted to have more period instruments used on the score, so that it would blend in with the film. I said, 'We don't want lutes and mandolins on this – this is a pop record,'" Adams told Q. "I think they're probably very pleased with the way things have turned out, but they still buried the song as far back in the film as possible, halfway through the credits – that's a reflection of how disappointed they were."
In the end, like everything else Adams did on behalf of Waking Up the Neighbours, it turned out to yield immense commercial dividends. The album topped the charts in a number of countries around the world, peaking at No. 6 in the U.S., where it sold more than four million copies — and returned him to the radio in a big way, spawning five Top 40 singles. Ironically, just about the only place Neighbours was anything other than an unqualified smash was his native Canada, where the album's impressive sales were somewhat overshadowed by a controversy over whether it was sufficiently Canadian to pass muster under the country's airplay guidelines. Because he'd collaborated with non-Canadians and worked on the album largely outside Canadian borders, it was more difficult for Adams to get airplay at home.
That annoyance aside, Waking Up the Neighbours did exactly what Adams set out to do, returning him triumphantly to the top of the charts and proving Reckless wouldn't be his only massive worldwide hit. He'd spend much of the early '90s on tour — first behind Neighbours, then in support of his multi-platinum 1993 hits package, So Far So Good (which itself spun off another Lange-collaborated hit, "Please Forgive Me"). Although he'd find it progressively more difficult to return to the commercial heights he'd scaled with his biggest hits as the '90s wore on, Adams had little left to prove in terms of sales after Neighbours — and in more recent years, he and Vallance have even reunited, bringing him creatively full circle.