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Bachman-Turner Overdrive: Not Fragile - Album Of The Week Club review

There's more to BTO than Smashy and Nicey's favourite song, and Not Fragile proves it

Bachman-Turner Overdrive: Not Fragile cover art
(Image: © Mercury)
Bachman-Turner Overdrive: Not Fragile

Bachman-Turner Overdrive: Not Fragile cover art cover art

(Image credit: Mercury)

Not Fragile
Rock Is My Life, and This Is My Song
Roll on Down the Highway
You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet
Free Wheelin'
Sledgehammer
Blue Moanin'
Second Hand
Givin' It All Away

Canadian rock giants have been few and far between (even Neil Young could count his solo album chart-toppers on one finger). So the success of Bachman-Turner Overdrive in topping the US chart with their third album Not Fragile was more than noteworthy. 

Its rapid rise was fuelled by the stammering You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (an anthem later annexed by TV ‘jocks’ Smashie and Nicey), which would become a US number one in November 1974. 

Surprisingly, the album title was inspired as a riposte to Yes’s successful Fragile, released three years previously. “It wasn’t a slam against Yes,” BTO leader Randy Bachman explained, “but our music was the opposite to theirs – blunt, hit-them-over-the-head-with-a-guitar stuff.” 

Not Fragile sold over three million copies. “Nobody was selling like that,” bassist Fred Turner told us. “Nobody came near our sales. BTO came at a period when there was a lot of disruptive change in the music culture that a lot of people didn’t take to. 

"We were like the guys around the corner who played straight, ordinary rock’n’roll. Maybe it could have been that people wanted to get out and party and it was good dance party music.”

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Other albums released in September 1974

  • Hall of the Mountain Grill - Hawkwind
  • Rocka Rolla - Judas Priest
  • Good Old Boys - Randy Newman
  • Roxy & Elsewhere - Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention
  • Heroes Are Hard to Find - Fleetwood Mac
  • I've Got My Own Album To Do - Ronnie Wood
  • The Power and the Glory - Gentle Giant
  • Nightmares...and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle - The J. Geils Band
  • Eldorado - Electric Light Orchestra
  • Crime of the Century - Supertramp
  • Dragon Fly - Grace Slick / Paul Kantner / Jefferson Starship
  • I Can Stand a Little Rain - Joe Cocker
  • Late for the Sky - Jackson Browne
  • No Other - Gene Clark
  • Peace on You - Roger McGuinn
  • Tarzana Kid - John Sebastian
  • Tooth Fang & Claw - Ted Nugent and The Amboy Dukes
  • When the Eagle Flies - Traffic

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What they said...

"Not Fragile is one of the finest arena rock albums of the era, featuring all the hallmarks of what makes a classic release in the genre. Randy's impressive guitar work and typically boisterous vocals complement the overall framework of the album superbly, as do the crunchy rhythm guitars. This release will astound fans of the genre and band, while those thoroughly against stadium rock may find something to convert their views." (AllMusic (opens in new tab))

"Imagine Black Sabbath without instrumental dynamism and lyrical vision; imagine Led Zeppelin without pyrotechnics: What you’re imagining is the Bachman-Turner Overdrive – a lowest-common-denominator rock band that’s found immense commercial success in a stylistic limbo between heavy-metal and MOR rock.  They rely heavily on the basics to convey their musical message, but unlike 99% of their competition, BTO give the impression that the basics are about all they have to offer. (Rolling Stone (opens in new tab))

"Say what you will about the boys from Manitoba, and mock them if you want, but BTO has sold almost 30 million albums worldwide. Which means, if they had good management, that they’re laughing right back at you. They may have had all the finesse of an ice-skating moose, but they sure did produce some foot-stomping tunes. Clomp on!" (Graded On A Curve (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

Gary Claydon: BTO peddle the kind of blue collar/arena rock that inhabits the hinterland between heavy rock and MOR and has always been massively popular in North America while struggling to find lasting popularity this side of the Atlantic. Formulaic, unadventurous, rinse & repeat song writing. But, hell, BTO are far from being the only band to make a career by sticking to the tried and trusted and there's nothing wrong with giving the people what they want, just gets a little dull after a few album's worth is all.

Nothing on Not Fragile will challenge or surprise you. It's far from being a great album. Most of side two is by the numbers (Second Hand sounds like 'Spinal Tap') and there is one really lame track here. If rock is indeed your life and this is your actual song then I'd suggest you need either a new life or a better song - or both. 

For all that, though, it's hard to dislike Not Fragile. The negatives are outweighed by the positives. It's claim to be diametrically opposed to prog rock (the title being a skit on Yes's Fragile) is best illustrated by the pounding 'Sledghammer', a head-nodding, foot-tapper if ever there was one. 

Elsewhere the title track track works quite well. There is some nice BOC style guitar work on the instrumental Free Wheelin', which at 3.47 is short enough to avoid tipping over into self-indulgence. The two 'hits' also help keep things bobbing along nicely, even the ubiquitous You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet sounds good in its natural habitat and is liable to induce bouts of singalong-itis in the unwary.

One last thing. This is drivin' music, baby. This is what you stick in the 8-track while blasting down one of those never-ending highways in your road train or your Camaro. Which is another reason why this sort of arena rock never quite catches on in the UK - we don't have the roads for it. But don't let that stop you. Next time you're tootling round the M25 at 20 mph, put the top down or open the windows wide and crank Not Fragile to the top of the dial. You'll score zero cool-points but I reckon you'll enjoy the ride.

Mike Canoe: "You ask do we play heavy music. Well, are thunderheads just another cloud? We do."

With that lyric in the title track and opening number, Bachman Turner Overdrive states their raison d'être: heavy music played with a wink and grin. Not Fragile is hard rock for the everyman made by everymen, albeit everymen with plenty of songwriting and musical chops.

For such a heavy album, BTO keeps the mood light, as if they're as bemused with the rock'n'roll life as anyone else, like on Rock Is My Life... or Roll On Down The Highway. Even breakup songs like Sledgehammer and Giving it All Away sound like joyful catharsis rather than lighter-waving weepers. Another fun one.

Stav Au-Dag: Meh. A couple of good songs is not an achievement.

John Davidson: Hard edged boogie blues. It's got plenty of energy and that classic track. There's some decent riffing, and the vocals are gruffly melodic which I like. Overall its a great listen.

Matt Roy: This album changed my perspective on music as a child. It was the heaviest shit I’d ever heard. It steered me in the direction of harder music and it’s impact is still felt by me to this day. Rock on!

Kaa Gee Walsh: It was nice to revisit this album. I had their first four albums back in the day. They are all pretty good albums. BTO were pretty popular here in Canada back in the 70s. They were good live as well. Bachman & Turner are still recording together & touring. They are making some good music. Maybe not as heavy as a lot of people like. Are they guilty of sounding the same. 

Perhaps but those early BTO albums sounded good to me. It was a little harder to get FM channels were I grew up but BTO were all over the AM radio channels. Sorta like April Wine and The Stampeders. One thing about the three bands I mentioned. You don't see much of their product in delete bins.

Bill Griffin: Actually, a better album beyond the radio hits than I was expecting. The second side, minus any of those hits, is not as strong as the first but is definitely more eclectic and experimental.

Alex Hayes: Here in the UK, it can often be a little difficult to separate Bachman-Turner Overdrive from the popular TV show Harry Enfield & Chums. In a skit on it, Enfield and fellow comic Paul Whitehouse portray Smashie and Nicey, two slightly pompous, yet loveable, old school radio DJs, whose perennial favourite band just so happen to be BTO. That's a bit of a shame, as Not Fragile deserves to be judged as a cracking record on its own merits.

A strange personal anecdote that I have for this album is that, for many years, I somehow mistook it for being recorded by Status Quo. Apart from the cover being superficially similar to the early Quo album Spare Parts, I have no idea how I managed to jump to that incorrect conclusion. It helps for the purposes of this review, however, as BTO and Quo are two groups that share certain similarities.

Both groups rose to mainstream popularity during the early 70s through their blue collar rock'n'roll leanings. They both managed to build up a huge working-class fan base through hard graft and constant touring. They both developed a knack for writing hard driving, yet catchy, anthems, that catapulted them up the pop charts, and that remain popular on rock radio to this day. Unfortunately, both were also derided by critics for their perceived limitations, and one-dimensional approach to making music. In both cases that's a little unfair, and does neither group justice.

Going back to those classic rock standards, the two hits on Not Fragile are Roll On Down The Highway, and no less than the ubiquitous You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (a particular favourite of Smashie and Nicey, that one). What more can really be said about the latter? 'Omnipresent' is one word that springs to mind, 'overplayed' is another. I do still enjoy both songs, but there's better material to be found on Not Fragile for my money. The instrumental Free Wheelin' is an absolute delight, and if album highlight Sledgehammer doesn't get you grooving, then I suggest you switch music genres. One hell of a good song that.

Not Fragile is aptly titled. It kicks arse, pure and simple. Look elsewhere if you want the wheel reinventing. How to close a review like this? Fuck it, I can't resist it... Let's rock!

Greg Schwepe: BTO’s Not Fragile is proof that good ol’ classic rock just needs two guitars, bass, and drums… and a lot of oomph to make you take notice. These Canucks can totally bring some total kick ass rock from the Great White North.

I remember buying this on pre-recorded cassette (and Wing’s Band On The Run) while on vacation one summer (1974-ish) at a record store in Myrtle Beach, SC. Because you have to buy something while on vacation… and what better than some rock'n'roll for this budding rock aficionado! I probably bought this for the two popular songs I had heard on the radio, fast forwarding around the rest of the album. And after not hearing this in its entirety for over 50 years, I’ve been missing a lot.

The stomp of Not Fragile kicks off this album and we are riffing immediately. Some really crunching stuff here. But this album is not all grinding power chords. For everyone one of those songs, we also have songs with a lot of clean sounding open chords. Roll On Down The Highway and You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet fits the bill for those. This album is not one-dimensional.

We also get the instrumental Free Wheelin’ where every band member seems to get a solo. Probably my favourite undiscovered (or not remembered) track is Sledgehammer. And yes, the title fits the vibe of the song perfectly. Crunching Canadian rock!

After I bought this cassette as a teen I had never bought (nor cared to) buy anything else from BTO. Oh, I’d definitively turn up anything else of theirs that I heard on the radio. But after hearing this I have to check out more of their catalogue.

Gus Schultz: Never bought a lot of BTO albums back in the day this one included. Simply because almost everyone had it or it was on the radio a lot in Canada, which was a very good thing. Not much more can be said that hasn’t been said already about this album. It truly is a classic and still sounds great today along with most of their albums. 

Randy Bachman has a real knack for writing great guitar riffs and licks not only with BTO but The Guess Who as well and with Fred Turner, looking like Eric the Red playing his booming bass style and voice to match that’s a recipe for some great rock! Btw, I do own this album now along with most of their others.

Mark Herrington: Bought this in the 70’s mainly because of the hits. However, over time I found myself listening to the rest of the album more and skipping You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet. I find it a great driving album of hard rock and the production is really clear. Sledgehammer rocks and I love the guitar work on Free Wheelin’.

More than anything this is an album that has aged well and I find still great to listen to .

Dave Hinsley: Top marks for any album that has Roll On Down The Highway on it. Great guitar!

Andrew Bramah: Perfect from start to finish. Beautifully produced and played "man rock". Saw them live and my ears still haven't recovered. Came out of nowhere and returned back to nowhere in rapid time.

Paul Murray: This album is heavy! Try Sledgehammer on headphones. Great songs; production and playing. Yes it has that song but so many other crackers as well.

Wade Babineau: Such a killer album. Nice to see this one from my country of Canada. The opening thump of Fred Turner's bass on the title track that led into that charging rhino riff. Truely a song meant to be played at 11. 

Rock is My Life, This Is My Song starts off with the soft touch and then into the crunchy chorus. Love the line "we gotta keep on keepin' on". Roll On Down The Highway and You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet were the hits and essential cruising tunes. Many a summer drive to a cottage had this album playing. The Free Wheelin' instrumental offers the guys a chance to jam it out. Sledgehammer has the same feel as Rock Is My Life: the soft part and then the rough-and-ready vocal of Fred Turner on the chorus. 

Blue Moanin' and Second Hand are more stellar tracks and the franticness of Givin' It All Away rounds out the album. I'd easily give this a 10/10. Was lucky enough to see Randy and Fred and the 2010 Bachman-Turner tour and they still had the fire power. Lot of tracks from this were played. Not Fragile was the opening song on the show... appropriate enough.

Keith Jenkin: The contents here are unfairly overshadowed by its most famous track, this album rocks big time and almost every track is also a earworm. I can't understand why this one doesn't crop up more often on essential hard rock albums/all time classics listings. A perfect choice for this forum.

Philip Qvist: It's been a while since I last listened to Not Fragile (I believe the title was taking the mickey out of Yes calling their album Fragile) and the follow-up album, Four Wheel Drive - and these two are probably their essential records. Usually I have been more than happy to listen to a Greatest Hit compilation of their songs.

So after three plus decades I gave this one a spin again. And the verdict? Well, any record that has You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet and Roll On Down The Highway on it is likely to be a classic - and that's the case here, even if these two songs do tend to overshadow the rest.

That said, this isn't a two great songs plus seven filler tracks album - far from it. The other songs are all pretty special, with Free Wheelin', the instrumental from new boy Blair Thornton, and Second Hand my other stand out tracks. A great and hard rocking album, where the guitars rule. Well worth a listen.

Darren Burris: An amazing album! Great guitar work! Riffs and solos are awesome! The word crunchy fits very well. Not a bad song on it. And a great album cover as well! Brings back some great memories. This will get very high marks from me!

Richard Cardenas: Great Freakin’ album.

Ray Liddard: One of my absolute favourite albums. Not a bad track on it.

Philippe D'Hoeraene: One of the best rock albums ever.

Jeff Porter: Awesome album!

Martin Poll: Only great songs on this album, one of my all time favourites.

Andy Ward: Pulled this out my rack to listen on vinyl. The embossing on the cover was cool and the gatefold allowed for detailed information on parts, even whose guitars were in what speaker.

The two hits don’t sound overplayed even after nearly 50 years and almost every other song is freaking heavy. You hear the influence of this record even today. Not Fragile could easily be a Clutch song and Sledgehammer’s opening can be heard in Chris Stapleton’s music. For me, the only weak spot is on song two, Rock is My Life, which didn’t really flow well from slow to hard and, like every other 70s band is the obligatory ‘life on the road’ song.

There’s a reason this album was in every Columbia House ad for ten years.

Chris Elliott: Am I the only one who can't get Smashey and Nicey out my head? It's Dad Rock personified: it chugs along quite nicely, and you don't mind if it's on the radio, but you'd always play something else by choice. And I still can't get Harry Enfield out my head.

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Final score: 8.34 (76 votes cast, total score 634)

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