Starting as a backing vocalist for local bands, Adams managed to enter the US charts in the mid-70’s as lead singer on glam-rock band Sweeney Todd’s track Roxy Roller. In 1978 Adams first met Jim Vallance, starting a song writing partnership which exists to this day. Later that year, the singer signed to A&M records and released his first album, Bryan Adams, just two years later.
The LP was a reasonable success in his homeland and was followed by You Want It You Got It (1982) and Cuts Like a Knife (1983). His fourth album Reckless peaked at number one on the US album chart. If Cuts Like a Knife was his breakthrough album then it was Reckless who cemented his success, featuring many of the songs he is best remembered for today.
Adams’ fifth album Into the Fire (1986) was followed by Waking Up the Neighbors (1991) which topped the charts in Germany and the UK – two countries where, the latter especially, he has always enjoyed huge success. Indeed, the album’s lead single stayed at the top of the UK charts for an unbelievable sixteen weeks. Despite Adams being one of Canada’s biggest exports, the record caused a minor controversy in that market because of its non-Canadian co-writer, Mutt Lange (from Zambia), whose presence meant the album could not be counted as “Canadian Content”. At the time, the Canadian broadcasting authority insisted that a certain percentage of music aired must be suitably Canadian, though this controversy led to the rule being somewhat relaxed.
Since the seminal Waking Up The Neighbors, Adams has released six more studio albums, 18 til I Die (1996), On a Day Like Today (1998), Room Service (2004), 11 (2008), Tracks of My Years (2014) and Get Up (2015). Whilst there is no denying that these albums have had diminishing returns, the success and influence of Adams at his peak cannot be overstated. The sheer excellence of his best tracks has ensured that they resonate with young people today just as much as they did on first release.
# 10 – Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?
This 1995 single was written for the American romantic comedy film Don Juan DeMarco starring Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway and Marlon Brando. The film sees Depp’s character become convinced he is Don Juan, a legendary womanizing figure created by a Spanish poet in the fifteenth century. Appropriately, the track is a Latin-infused ballad, full of gorgeous flamenco guitar which is used as a recurring musical motif throughout the film (the movie also sees the song performed on three separate occasions).
The song was a big success, charting highly across the world, and became one of just a few Bryan Adams songs to peak at number one in the US. The lyrics of the song see the singer consider what it really means to love someone, and, in doing so, he lists a number of things which show that he does indeed know what it means to love a woman. There can be little doubt that this display of his insight into the female psyche is partly responsible for the song’s popularity, after all, who doesn’t want to feel properly appreciated and understood, especially by a sex symbol? You can be sure that the romantic notions discussed in the song will have been responsible for more than a few men being told to be more attentive by their partner.
As mentioned, the song features many Latin guitar riffs, something which are intrinsically associated with romance and tenderness. These are key to the song’s seductive and amorous atmosphere, and when paired with Adams’ throaty vocals and the song’s enticingly slow tempo, are enough to make anybody weak at the knees.
# 9 – Cloud Number Nine (Chicane Mix)
This is one of few Bryan Adams songs which can be described as pure pop. This is no coincidence since it was co-written by Max Martin, the mastermind behind artists like Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. The other thing which boosts its mainstream credentials is the fact that it’s a dance-inspired remix. Whilst the original – which appears on On a Day Like Today – is traditional soft-rock, this Chicane remix (someone who would go on to become a repeated collaborator with Adams) adds some sunny synth pads and an electronic dance-beat. Whilst there are some guitars chords growling away in the distance, the track’s focus is very much on Adams’ voice and the repetitive beat.
Lyrically, the song seems to be about an ex of Adams’ coming back to him after being hurt, with the two basking in each other’s brilliance for as long as possible before they once again have to face reality. The chorus makes use of simple rhyming couplets which make it easy to sing along to, this, along with the summer-y vibe, really invites audience participation.
There can be no doubt that many would be put off by the dance/pop nature of this remix, but it could also be argued that Chicane manages to transform Adams’ usual rock sound into something completely new, introducing the song to a wider audience. Indeed, the song’s success in club-capital Ibiza suggests that the track introduced Bryan Adams to a sphere his music would never usually be heard. Regardless of whether or not you approve of the direction of this remix, there is no denying that the single showed a brand-new side to Bryan Adams, giving listeners a fresh and bright summer bop.
# 8 – I Thought I’d Seen Everything
One of Adams’ most recent singles, I Thought I’d Seen Everything is taken from 11 and seems to be inspired by the music of the 1980’s. The track begins with a peculiar synthetic, almost alien-like, whistle which recurs subtly throughout the track. Other than this odd element, the song is a pretty traditional Bryan Adams track –mid-tempo, with gentle guitar chords and his broad, unmistakable vocal croak.
Lyrically, the song is also standard fare for Adams, being a love song which sees him compliment the object of his affection in sweet and moderately sensual ways. Still, there’s something which somehow elevates this track from the rest of Adams’ more recent (and less successful) work. Perhaps it’s the tight production, full of slick multi-layered (but never overwhelming) guitar, which somehow creates the impression of a warm, reassuring campfire. This isn’t a song which is going to change the world, but there’s something distinctly satisfying about it. From the whining guitar solo of the bridge to the aforementioned whistle sound, this is just one of those songs which is a pleasure to listen to.
Whilst it’s true that Adams has generated a lot of good will over his impressive career, you can’t help but think that the light and comforting vibe of the song is what makes the track so enjoyable, rather than just because it’s a Bryan Adams release. The song was only a luke-warm success, and it certainly doesn’t reach the heights of some of the other tracks on this list, but still, give I Thought I’d Seen Everything a chance and you won’t regret it.
# 7 – Can’t Stop This Thing We Started
This song is so 90’s. Even on first listen you can imagine it being used as the closing credits on a Breakfast Club-style teen movie. There’s something deliciously wild about this 1991 hit, from the robust, churning guitar riffs to the wonderful keyboard elements and Adams’ high-energy vocals, it’s a non-stop party from start to finish.
The punching vocal hook of the chorus is effortlessly catchy, cementing the track as a pop-rock classic. Meanwhile, the background guitar which stirs throughout is immensely enjoyable, evocative of a bubbling pop-rock explosion ready to blow at any minute. Indeed, this is reflected by the lyrics of the song which, as the title suggest, paint Adams and his lover as an unstoppable force – you’d have to be a fool to stand in the way of this heavy-weight hurricane of 90’s pop rock.
The guitar solo is perhaps the track’s highest point, simultaneously chiming, clanging and unmistakably imbued with the unstoppable power of rock. You can easily imagine the track – along with much of the high energy songs from Waking Up the Neighbors and Reckless – becoming a staple of any 90’s teen party, with I Can’t Stop This Thing We Started becoming a deliciously ironic soundtrack to a party becoming outrageously, brilliantly out of control.
This song didn’t quite manage to reach the top of the charts, being kept off the position by Prince’s Cream, and it will always be in the shadow of Adams’ previous single Everything I Do (I Do It for You) (see below), but I Can’t Stop This Thing We Started is a wild romp of a track which is sure to excite even those who weren’t born when it was first released. An underrated Bryan Adams essential.
# 6 – Heaven
Originally written for the 1983 movie A Night in Heaven, this is one of those Bryan Adams songs which has become completely ubiquitous and yet has managed to not lose even a speck of its brilliance. The power ballad was originally intended to only appear on the film’s CD soundtrack and not on any of Adams’ records, as he felt it didn’t quite fit the tone of the album, but for unknown reasons this decision was overturned and the track appeared as the third single from Reckless. song was written whilst Adams was the opening act on a Journey tour and is clearly inspired by their track Faithfully, even going as far as to feature the band’s drummer.
Along with Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, Heaven is easily one of rock’s best known (and, to be fair, just down right best) power ballads. The track features a simple piano riff and some buzzy, yearning guitar, whilst the lyrics see Adams proclaim his disbelief at how perfect his current relationship is – he feels so satisfied that he thinks he must be in heaven. The song has a certain wistfulness for youth, which is reflected in the instrumentals pining guitar and atmospheric keyboard, though it also makes it clear that Adams is truly happy with his current life.
Though the song has become a karaoke classic it has managed to avoid becoming overly cheesy. Perhaps this is because of the obvious earnestness in Adams’ voice and the relatable narrative, which basically describes the perfect relationship that everyone aims for. Heaven is one of Adams’ best-known songs and thoroughly deserves the attention it receives.
# 5 – The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You
Something which songs of all genres are guilty of is “brand dropping” – listing all the expensive and exclusive designer brands which the artist can afford to buy – but this Bryan Adams song subverts that trend completely by rejecting high fashion clothes and asserting that his lover, and not material possessions, is all that can satisfy him.
The track was the lead single from 18 til I Die, reaching the top ten in the UK and earning a Grammy nomination. From start to finish this is an absolute bop, there’s really no other way to describe it. The track is bursting with bouncy and energetic guitar riffs which are impossible to resist. The central, twanging guitar chords give the song a really funky edge, compelling listeners to tap their feet at the very least – these are guitar licks which Prince would be proud of.
On top of this is the fantastically memorable hook of the chorus, with the pregnant pause of the last line being a particular masterstroke, pumping an otherwise standard line with an audience baiting sense of anticipation. The song’s bridge is more in line with a traditional rock song, which, as well as placating hardcore fans, makes the return of the funk-infused riffs even more electrifying.
The Only Thing Which Looks Good On Me Is You is one of Adams’ most danceable songs, making it a mainstay of weddings to this day. Long may the dance continue.
# 4 – (Everything I Do) I Do It For You
This Bryan Adams song is easily one of the artist’s best-known tracks and, in fact, is one of the most popular (or at least best-selling) songs of all time, having sold an eye-watering fifteen million physical copies. The song also holds the record for the longest consecutive time at number one in the UK charts, holding the position for an incredible sixteen weeks. Of course, these statistics mean nothing if the track doesn’t live up to the hype, but luckily (Everything I Do) I Do It For You fully delivers on that front.
This soft rock classic is yet another timeless Adams power ballad, full of fervent and impassioned proclamations of love and devotion. It’s easy to be cynical about such things but the sheer drive behinds the song’s suitably strained power chords help to ground the song with a rugged reality. Saying that, the piano elements and 80’s production effects can seem a bit lame to some (especially on the longer album version), but thankfully the song’s monumental title hook is there to keep things safely on track.
Adams sounds as stunning as ever on the record, his distinctive rasp anchoring the song and bringing an unmistakably masculine energy to the track. It’s simply impossible to imagine anyone else doing justice to the song, which perhaps explains why any attempts to cover it have been quickly forgotten. This Grammy winning, Oscar nominated track is a beautiful and understated 90’s rock classic which has more than earned its place in chart history.
# 3 – When You’re Gone
Over the years Adams has collaborated with a number of musical icons, from Tina Turner to Sting, Rod Stewart and Barbra Streisand, but perhaps his most unusual choice of collaborator is that of Melanie C, better known as Sporty Spice of the Spice Girls. Following Ginger Spice leaving the band earlier in the year, Mel C presumably sensed the Spice Girls was winding down and felt like a change from the band’s upbeat pop sound.
Though it might seem like an odd combination, the duet between Adams and the Spice Girl works extraordinarily well. Mel C always had the best voice in the group, and her melodious northern twang melds really well with Adams’ gravelly tones. Much of the song is performed with the two singing together, and this works to great effect, with Mel C’s high-pitched voice being the perfect foil to Adams’. Although the two have only performed the song together a couple of times, it is usually performed at the two artists’ separate shows, with Adams often getting a female audience member to perform Mel C’s parts.
The song features some joyful keyboard and bouncy guitar riffs, which contrasts the lyrics’ discussion about how hard life is when the singer’s characters are away from each other. This is one of Adams’ more catchy songs, with Mel C’s trademark vocal ad libs being an absolute joy to croon along with.
On paper, the track should not work at all, but the unlikely addition of Mel C not only gave the song an injection of publicity (the track reached the top five in Ireland, the UK and Australia) but also a lush and melodic feminine edge often missing from Bryan Adams songs. The less said about the re-release featuring Pamela Anderson instead of Mel C the better.
# 2 – Run To You
The lead single from Reckless, this 1984 track is one of those Bryan Adams songs which bucks the trend of his usual output. As this list has displayed, much of Adams’ work is made up of tender and earnest love songs. This is not the case with Run to You, which sees the protagonist involved in an illicit affair, with the person he wants to “run to” being his mistress.
This edgier narrative is undoubtedly echoed by the song’s instrumental, which is notably more abrasive than a lot of Adams’ other songs. The track begins with some deep and sullen riffs, that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Nirvana track, and these are soon joined by some moody and atmospheric sustained guitar runs. This is the type of music you can imagine being played during a film whilst an amoral 80’s detective smokes a cigarette during a rainy evening in New York City.
Adams’ gruff vocals are ideally suited to this vibe, giving the song just the right hint of danger and threat, something which works really well with the track’s storyline – the cheating couple could be caught in the act. It’s nice to see Adams embracing his dark side for a change, even if the music video seems to suggest that the “other woman” is simply his guitar.
Run To You is a masterpiece of 80’s rock, blending sullen, hard-edged guitar with passionate drums and a brilliantly hazy keyboard. Reckless really was Adams at his peak.
# 1 – Summer of 69
Whilst many Bryan Adams songs have become undeniable parts of rock history, this is undoubtedly the artist’s quintessential piece. This fourth single from Reckless went through a number of changes before it was deemed worthy of being included on the album, but what Adams and his team eventually settled on is surely one of rock’s most brilliant creations.
As suggested by the title, the track sees Adams reminisce on a past summer, which was clearly a very formative time. The lyrics explain how his high school band have gone their separate ways and that he has lost touch with the girl he shared a summer romance with. Still, he obviously remembers their time together very warmly.
The chiming, swirling guitar hook which plays after the song’s chorus (and throughout) is a masterstroke – somehow capturing the feeling of looking back into the past, as if caught in the warm and hazy vortex of time. Of course, the song’s cheeky title is no doubt partly responsible for the song’s popularity, but more than anything, the best thing about this track is how it manages to recreate the warm feelings of nostalgia – making even those who wouldn’t be born until the 90’s (or even 00’s!) pine for the simpler times of the late 60s. This is possible thanks to the song’s jubilant and uplifting instrumental, reminding listeners of a period of their lives (teen-hood) when anything seemed possible.
There are surely few people alive who can honestly say they don’t enjoy this song, Summer of ’69 is simply so genuinely enjoyable to listen to that you’d need a heart of stone to be able to resist its infectious warmth. This is absolutely Bryan Adams’ most popular track and this wistful, optimistic and truly radiant song thoroughly deserves all of the attention it gets.
Over his decade-spanning career, Adams has created some of rock’s most recognizable songs, earning himself a timelessness which ensures his impressive body of work will be remembered long after he’s gone. All of the Bryan Adams songs on this list are essential listening for anyone with even the slightest interest in rock music.
Updated Nov 8 2020