For a while in the 1980s, Bryan Adams was one of the biggest musical stars in the entire world. Selling close to 100 million records, having albums that had gone platinum multiple times, hitting #1 on the charts with regularity, winning 20 Juno Awards and even enjoying a couple of Academy Award nominations, Bryan Adams was every bit as big a star on the world stage as Madonna, Garth Brooks and Prince. He was also a member of one of the great singer/songwriter teams in modern music history with his friend and business partner, Jim Vallance. His song “Christmas Time” is the biggest-selling Christmas song of all time in Canada. And true to his musical roots, it all began with his first six-string that he, indeed, bought at a five-and-dime. Here is the story of Bryan Adams, Canada’s biggest male rock star ever!
Bryan Adams was born in 1959 in Kingston, Ontario. His father was a military officer. Because of his dad’s occupation, Adams grew up in a very transient fashion, moving from one military post to another as his father got re-assigned throughout the course of his life. As he entered his pre-teen years, Bryan Adams found himself in Ottawa where he attended Colonel By Secondary School. *(I have friends with children who go there as I type these words. So, gooooooo Colonel By!) Anyway, it was in a five-and-dime store in Ottawa at age 12 that Bryan Adams famously bought his first six-string guitar. It was an imitation Les Paul-designed guitar modeled after the ones used by rockers such as Peter Frampton and Richie Blackmore. As a young Bryan Adams practiced his licks, he immersed himself into the world of classic rock’s guitar-driven music and began charting a life course for himself that would see him eventually move to Vancouver with his family, drop out of school and use his post-secondary savings to buy a baby grand piano and launched his own band called Shock.
Success in the music industry didn’t come easily to Adams. Like many young aspiring musicians, Bryan Adams spent his late teenage years working odd jobs to supplement the meager income he was making from $50/night gigs in local bars. For most of his teens, he played in backing roles for local bands such as Sweeney Todd. He also started trying his hand at songwriting. He sold a few of his songs to other artists but not many. Like most musicians with a dream, Bryan Adams spent his first few years scuffling around, barely getting by but loving every minute of actually playing rock n’ roll for an audience. As his teens were ending, Adams got his first of many big breaks in his career when he bumped into another young man in a music store called Long and McQuade’s. That man’s name was Jim Vallance. Neither knew it at the time, but they were destined to become fast friends and lifelong music partners in an alliance that would end up going down as one of the most prolific and successful of all time.
At the time of their meeting, Vallance was slightly further ahead in his career path than was Adams. Vallance, working under the pseudonym of Raymond Higgs, was the drummer and main songwriter of a band that was starting to get some attention in national music circles called Prism. After meeting Adams, Vallance dropped out of Prism and together, he and Bryan Adams started writing songs. Over the course of their partnership, Valance and Adams not only co-wrote all or most of Adams’ own chart-topping hits, but they also wrote hit songs for artists such as Heart, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Bonnie Raitt, Bonnie Tyler and many others. But, ironically enough, the first song the duo ever wrote that ended up being formally released by a record label was a rock tune called “Let Me Take You Dancing” that the label actually turned into a disco song in order to cash in on that particular musical craze in 1978. Because Bryan Adams was a young unproven commodity in those days, he had little say in what the record label did with his music. Consequently, his first two albums achieved little to no success. However, his third album was a different story.
In 1983, just as MTV and Much Music were becoming established platforms for the release and distribution of new music, Bryan Adams released an album entitled Cuts Like a Knife. With Much Music desperate for Canadian content, the video for the song “Cuts Like a Knife” went into heavy rotation and became Adams’ first big hit. It was certainly my introduction to his music. With his raspy voice and straight-ahead, guitar-driven sound, Bryan Adams went from a musical nobody in Vancouver to one of Canada’s biggest and most recognizable stars almost overnight. Adams followed up his first single with “Straight From The Heart”, and then “This Time”, and away he went to the musical races. Adams’ next album was called Reckless, and it spawned even more hits such as “Run To You”, “Heaven”, “Somebody”, “It’s Only Love” *(which became a huge hit for Tina Turner as well), “One Night Love Affair” and, his signature tune, “Summer of ‘69”. By the time Reckless finished its run on the charts, Bryan Adams was internationally acknowledged as being one of the biggest musical acts in the world. Heady times for someone who was a dishwasher and a stock boy in a dollar store just a few years earlier. His next three consecutive albums, Into the Fire, Waking Up The Neighbours and 18 ‘Til I Die all went many times platinum, further cementing his reputation as a hit-making rock star. At this point in his career, Bryan Adams could have chosen to do almost anything that he wanted to, so it was with some surprise to his fans that what Bryan Adams decided to do next was to write an original Christmas song.
“Christmas Time” was first created by Adams and Vallance in the mid-1980s, around the time that the “Cuts Like A Knife” album was being recorded. The song was intended to be included as a bonus track on that album but, instead, was released on green vinyl as a treat for Bryan Adams fan club members only. However, as often happens, word of mouth reaction was very positive, and soon fans were calling into their local radio stations asking for “Christmas Time” to be played along with the other holiday classics of the time. Radio programmers, in turn, created a demand for the song with Adams’ record label, who, in turn, pressed more copies into circulation. A positive cycle of demand and supply ensued, and before anyone knew it, Adams had a holiday hit on his hands without actually ever intending for that to happen. One of the more ironic aspects of it all is that the song “Christmas Time” is not actually a song about Christmas at all. Instead, Adams and Vallance wanted to write a song about the sense of optimism, joyfulness and inclusion that seems to exist during the Holidays and to ask the question as to why this feeling couldn’t exist throughout the rest of the year. If it did, wouldn’t our world be such a better place for all of us? So in reality, “Christmas Time” is a song about being our best selves every day, all throughout the year and not just on special occasions. There is a universal appeal to such a message, and, as a result, “Christmas Time” by Bryan Adams has become the most popular and biggest selling Christmas-themed song in Canadian history. It is not quite in the same stratosphere as Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, but just the same, the song has sold millions of copies and is now recognized as being worthy of inclusion in today’s rotation of recognizable holiday standards that are played everywhere you go as December unfolds in the western world. In many ways, the success of “Christmas Time” is symbolic of the success that Bryan Adams has achieved as an individual artist, which is that he is respected as being one of the best and most successful rockers in history…not quite on the same level as an Elvis or The Beatles, but respected and acclaimed, nonetheless.
As his career has progressed, Byran Adams has branched out and has begun to indulge in passions for other things in life, which include photography and philanthropy. Adams is an award-winning photographer, whose work hangs in some of the most exclusive homes and galleries in the world. With the rest of his time, he devotes a lot of energy and resources toward funding causes that help improve the lives of others. In fact, one of the sole criteria that Bryan Adams insists all applicants prove when applying for one of his grants is how their project will positively impact others. To date, the almost completely self-funded Bryan Adams Foundation has awarded grants, totalling into the millions of dollars in Canada and around the world. Not too shabby for a military brat who bought his own six string at a five-and-dime in Ottawa at age twelve.
The link to the video for the song “Christmas Time” by Bryan Adams can be found here. ***There is no lyrics version.
The link to the official website for Bryan Adams can be found here. ***This includes access to his photography and his music.
The link to the official website for the Bryan Adams Foundation can be found here.
Since Adams bought his first real six string in Ottawa, let’s make that our pit stop on the Great Canadian Road Trip. The official website for the city of Ottawa, Ontario can be found here.
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