Review: Not Fragile
One of the best Stadium rock and roll albums ever recorded. Forget Kiss, Cheap Trick, Deep Purple or even Black Sabbath. When Bachman-Turner Overdrive rolled into your city your ears and body were pounded with a solid 90-minute musical set of rock songs designed to put a smile on your face, a buzz in your brain and a ringing in your ears. Absent were the droning guitar and drum solos; left at the door were the “here are some new songs we wrote” that no-one wanted to hear. BTO gave you dead-on performances of their songs, adding only the excitement of a basic light show and the sheer volume of their live act.
BTO preferred the term “heavy-duty rock” opposed to the standard “heavy-metal.” C. F. Turner, bassist and vocalist, once stated in an email to me that BTO’s sound was not as “screechy” as heavy-metal, but if pushed just an inch further that the BTO sound could have gone that direction.
“Not Fragile” features nine songs in 35 minutes that come at you as clear as a 440 Dodge Hemi roaring down the drag strip; a rumble that hits you right in the chest, raising your adrenalin and leaving you yearning for more. The title track starts off the first side with a chest-thumping bass-line that can be heard even on the worst stereo speakers; a tribute to the album’s engineering, and the album ends with the riff-driven “Givin’ It All Away” with falsetto vocals to match the fever pitch of the overdriven guitars.
“Not Fragile” went Gold four days after its release on August 15th, 1974 and was on the Billboard Hot 200 for 50 weeks. In early October 1974 it occupied the number two spot on the Billboard album charts bookended by Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough” and Olivia Newton-Johns’ “If You Love me, Let Me Know” which in of itself is amazing given the musical atmosphere of the time was not leaning toward rock music in the Top 40 arena.
Tucked neatly into this 35-minute barrage are not one, but two Top 40 hits; “Roll On Down the Highway” the life-as-a-rock-band-on-the-road tune penned by C. F. Turner and Robbie Bachman with screaming guitar solo by Randy and over-driven rhythm guitar of newly arrived guitarist Blair Thornton, and the toe tapping number 1 single “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” which nearly wasn’t released on the album, according to Randy Bachman.
The story behind the recording of “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” has two flavors over the years. In a 1975 Rolling Stone interview with Cameron Crowe, Randy Bachman had this to say: “That song is a joke. A gold joke. I did the stuttering as a joke. If you met my brother Gary, you’d know he stutters. There was no intentional copy of ‘My Generation.’ I didn’t even think of it at the time. All it was a dummy vocal track. I wanted to make a cassette of the song and work on a solo over the weekend so I laid down that funny vocal. I took it home and everybody laughed at it at first, but the engineer said ‘You know, there’s something really dynamite about that track. The b-b-baby is a hook.’ When we got back to the studio I tried to do a straight vocal track. It sounded like Frank Sinatra singing ‘Strangers In The Night’ so we all agreed to leave it on. Actually, I was kind of embarrassed by it. The Mercury people came down and when it came time for them to hear the song I turned off the board.”
Randy’s storied changed a bit for inclusion in Fred Bronson’s The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (Billboard, 1988):
When the album was completed, Charlie Fach of Mercury Records flew to Seattle to hear the finished product. After listening to the eight songs BTO recorded for the album, Fach complained that he “didn’t hear that magic thing.” “What’s magic?” Randy parried. “It’s magic when it gets airplay and people buy it. You can’t plan magic.”
Fach asked if the band had anything else. Randy replied, “We have this one song, but it’s a joke. I’m laughing at the end. I sang it on the first take. It’s sharp, it’s flat, I’m stuttering to do this thing for my brother.” Fach asked Randy to play the song. “We did. Charlie smiled and said, ‘That’s the track. It’s got a brightness to it. It kind of floats a foot higher than the other songs when you listen to it.'”
Randy agreed to include it on the album, but only if he could re-record the vocal. He went into the studio the next day. “I tried to sing it, but I sounded like Frank Sinatra. It didn’t fit.” Fach told him to leave it the way it was, stuttering and all. When “Not Fragile” was released, radio stations jumped on “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” right away. “I started to hear it getting played and I was embarrassed. I’d turn the radio down. My wife would say to me, ‘Look, at last, they’re playing a song of yours like mad.'”
Fach kept calling with airplay reports, urging Bachman to permit the track to be released as a single. “And I refused for three weeks… I was producer, so I had final say on what went out. I woke up one day and asked myself, ‘Why am I stopping this? Some of my favorite records are really dumb things like ‘Louie, Louie’… so I said to Charlie, ‘O.K., release it. I bet it does nothing.'”
The song “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” debuted at number 65 on September 21st, 1974 and went to number one seven weeks later for a solitary week. The song was BTO’s one and only number one single and was an international hit. In 1991, the “Not Fragile” BTO line-up would reunite and play a German toured billed as the “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet Live” tour.
For me, “Not Fragile” was the epitome of rock and roll. I always aspired to play in a rock band that could play the basics of rock music with as much fun and gusto that BTO did whenever I saw them over the decades. I last saw BTO in the late summer of 2000 at Naperville’s Rib Fest. I, like the group, had aged gracefully and it only seemed fitting that my last concert was in a huge wooded park filled with food vendors. Gone was the great Chicago Stadium where I had first seen them in 1974; gone was the purple haze floating over the audience; gone were the rows and rows of tens of thousands of screaming fans, but not gone was the adrenaline rush as the band kicked into “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” and I was once again 17 years old living in the summer of 1974.