“I’m a failure as a songwriter.”
Coming from anyone else – say, your dentist or your local barista – this admission might not be surprising. Coming from Randy Bachman, it deserves a double-take.
After all, Bachman, as a founding member of two legendary Canadian rock groups – The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive – has written or co-written a wealth of classic hit songs, including “Takin’ Care of Business,” “These Eyes,” “American Woman,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” “Let it Ride,” “Undun” and “Looking Out for No. 1.” Hardly the track record of a failed songwriter.
Surely he’s joking. Well, yes. But here’s the thing: he’s only half-joking. Let’s look first at the joking half of that statement.
“Nobody’s ever done a song of mine from a demo. I’ve had to record it myself, make it somewhat of a hit, and then it got covered.”
The joke is, of course, that Randy Bachman is about as successful a songwriter as you’ll find anywhere. He’s sold more than 40 million records worldwide, is credited with more than 120 gold and platinum albums and singles, and has charted No. 1 hits in more than 20 countries.
In addition to the chart successes and sales, his trophy case must rival Wayne Gretzky’s. Bachman has received 11 JUNO Awards and a dozen SOCAN Classics Awards (for songs with more than 100,000 airplays). He’s received the Order of Canada and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award (with The Guess Who). He’s been inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame twice – as a member of the Guess Who and as a solo artist. And he’s the only double-inductee in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, first in 1987 with The Guess Who, and also in 2014 alongside his BTO brethren.
Nor are the laurels limited to his homeland. Last year, he was welcomed into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, and in 2011 the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) gave Bachman their Global Impact Award. If you take that to mean he quite literally rocks the world, you would be correct.
His most recent honour arrived this past June when Bachman received the SOCAN Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2015 SOCAN Awards. “It was nice to get acknowledged for my classic hits – and I’ve got maybe 12 or 15 of them – that obviously that represented,” Bachman says, “but I’m always hungry for the next hit. I would have rather got what MAGIC! got, which was the Song of the Year. [It’s about] the new songs. I’m still a songwriter – still writing great, great, great songs.”
But here’s the not-so-joking side of things: Bachman is actually semi-serious about his “failure” as a songwriter. Or at least he’s been frustrated in one regard: the man who co-wrote “Laughing” isn’t so tickled that even though his classic songs have been covered by such artists as Lenny Kravitz and Mavis Staples, he’s been largely unsuccessful at getting established artists to record his own solo tunes.
“Nobody’s ever done a song of mine from a demo,” says Bachman. “I’ve had to record it myself, make it somewhat of a hit, and then it got covered. So my covers were ‘These Eyes,’ ‘American Woman,’ ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ – things that were already hits.”
You would think that with Bachman’s writing résumé, artists would be lining up to see what else he’s got. But whenever he’s hung out his “The Songwriter is in” sign like Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip, the queues haven’t materialized. Instead, it’s been crickets chirping. He even journeyed to the songwriter’s Mecca, Nashville, spending time there, on and off, from the late 1980s through to the late ‘90s, trying to break in to its well-established songwriting circles. No dice.
The experience left Bachman scratching his head. “Every song I wrote there – and there were some great songs – never, ever, ever got covered by anybody,” he says. “It just… it never happened. Finally, I gave up.”
Bachman still has his eyes on the prize, however. Once a hit-maker, always a hit-maker.
“I’d love to do a song for Céline Dion, a really, really incredible, great singer – that kind of thing,” he says. “And I’ve written songs like that, that are really high-class, heart-jerking, great vocal, three-or-four-octave-range songs that I can’t sing. I’ve got pockets full of those that I’m just waiting to play for somebody.”
Has he lost his songwriting mojo? Not according to him. In fact, he feels he’s a better songwriter now than when he was cranking out all those hits. “I get better all the time,” he says brightly. “Without a doubt, I would say I’m way, way, way better now than I was then.”