No band embodies the spirit of the endless highway like Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Their songs are a succession of sturdy, efficient riffs stretching as far as the eye can see. No point in subtle embellishments that wouldn’t be heard above the hum of the engine. The same goes for the lyrics.
Bachman-Turner Overdrive were designed for thumping your foot on the car floor in a steady rhythm as the miles glide by on cruise control, idly wondering whether to pull in at the next truck stop. They even named the band after a truckers’ magazine they found at a truck stop.
It’s essentially a North American phenomenon that doesn’t really translate when crawling bumper to bumper round the M25. Cruise control never caught on over here either, which is maybe why the band are mainly known for their 1974 hit, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, whereas across the Atlantic they were the soundtrack to a large chunk of the 70s.
The eight studio albums they released during that decade have been bundled into a slimline box, each in its own original, miniaturised sleeve that will probably keep you going if you’re planning on driving from Plymouth to Glasgow – although you might start feeling musically brain dead around Carlisle.
The first two albums are a solid, no-frills selection of hard rockers, edging towards lift-off with Gimme Your Money Please, Down And Out Man and the self-declared Blue Collar, before pressing ignition with Let It Ride and Takin’ Care Of Business. And if Randy Bachman is the guiding force, his siblings Tim (who only lasted for one album), drummer Robbie and particularly bassist Fred Turner are all fully qualified riff-masters.
Their third album Not Fragile (a droll riposte to Yes’s extravagances) nails it, delivering the big hit and its follow-up, Roll On Down The Highway. 1975’s Four Wheel Drive comes close with Hey You, Flat Broke Love and She’s Keeping Time, but Head On later that year swings towards melodic rock as Randy Bachman starts to exert control.
He monopolises the songwriting on 1977’s Freeways to no avail and then quits, leaving the others frantically trying to regain their oomph on Street Action. The presence of an early Bryan Adams song on 1979’s Rock N’ Roll Nights is a sign they fail to heed.