Looking back, 1981 was a good year for vintage Canadiana: the Pierre Trudeau-led country was still a few years away from Brian Mulroney’s dark, decade-long run of Conservative rule; the comic genius of SCTV (led by Bob and Doug MacKenzie) was a massive hit at home and south of the border; the Montreal Expos won their first and only division pennant; a young Wayne Gretzky scored an astonishing 50 goals in 39 games; David Cronenberg’s cult classic Scanners hit theaters ... and we cannot forget those ubiquitous, caramel-colored Cougar boots everyone wore in winter. What many Canadians remember from the era, though, is the music, because that’s when, for a brief spell anyway, Canada rawked as well as anyone.
Canadian arena rock was simply huge at the time, exemplified by the massive wave of acts taking their anthems to hockey barns across the country. Rush made the smooth transition from lofty prog rockers to accessible hard rock craftsmen with the great Moving Pictures. Triumph followed the same power trio formula, the single “Magic Power” from that year proving to be the zenith of the band’s career. Veteran acts April Wine, Chilliwack, and Trooper were peaking commercially, while upstarts Toronto and Headpins were on the verge of doing the same. Harlequin’s schlocky “Innocence” was all over the radio, as was Red Rider’s superb “Lunatic Fringe”, while blue collar rocker Bryan Adams was about to become huge. In the minds of many at the time, though, the one Canadian hard rock band that topped them all was Vancouver’s Loverboy, who exploded onto the scene in 1980 thanks to the massive success of such singles as “Turn Me Loose” and “The Kid is Hot Tonite”, and were primed to top their smash debut the following year.
And top it they did. Not only did Get Lucky have one of the most incessant, not to mention long-lasting, pop rock singles of the 1980s, but it went on to sell four million copies and spend a whopping 122 weeks on the Billboard album chart, the kind of Stateside success Canadian bands at the time could only dream of. Most importantly, to the delight of millions and the dismay of just as many, it would kickstart the career of producer Bruce Fairbairn, and help usher in wave after wave of poodle-haired pop rockers who would follow the Loverboy template for the rest of the decade.
With music as garish as those tacky red leather pants on its cover, Get Lucky is actually a rather odd album, top-heavy with three well-known singles, and six filler tracks that sound like the band was still trying to find an identity. But thanks to Fairbairn’s slick sound and the band’s underappreciated musicianship, it succeeds in spite of some glaring songwriting-related shortcomings. Of course, those three singles are the main draw, and deservedly so. Arguably the most-played Friday song in classic rock radio history (along with Todd Rundgren’s “Bang on the Drum All Day”), “Working For the Weekend” shamelessly exudes joy, from Matt Frenette’s cowbell intro, to Paul Dean’s galloping bridge riff, to Doug Johnson’s exuberant synth melodies, but it’s vocalist Mike Reno who sells the song brilliantly, his robust tenor voice perfectly suited for the arenas, the chorus the kind that could ignite a crowd. The song may have been grossly overplayed over the last quarter century (especially in Canada, where classic rock radio stations often drag it out to help meet their Canadian Content quota), but listening to the song removed from the grating omnipresence of “At Work Radio”, the song’s unrepentant giddiness is still contagious to this day.
Much more understated is the ballad “When it’s Over”. While bands like Journey and Foreigner employed keyboards, Fairbairn lays it thick with Loverboy, Johnson’s synths giving what would be an otherwise monochrome rock clunker an appealing new wave hue, again aided greatly by Reno’s impassioned singing. Similarly, the strutting “Take Me to the Top” is built around Johnson’s undulating synth line, which is echoed by Scott Smith’s bass, the minimal arrangement allowing Dean room to add plenty of nimble lead guitar fills that range from the expressive to the flashy.
The rest of the record is more of a mixed bag. Co-written by the songwriting team of Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, “Jump” is an inane rave-up with goofy crowd-participation exhortations, (“When I say jump, you better jump!”), but like “Weekend”, the energy of the band is palpable. “Emotional” shifts gears, the band launching into a capable Stones-ish bar band jam, Dean doing his best Keith Richards impersonation with his tone deaf lead vocals. Lyrically, the pseudo-social commentary of “Gangs in the Street” is horribly clumsy, (“Put your hands in the air! You better take care!”), but Frenette, one of the best rock drummers of the 1980s, provides a muscular backbeat. The gleefully over-produced “Lucky Ones” boasts a welcome funk groove, while “It’s Your Life” is the album’s only real failure, a flaccid rehash of sexist cliché and bland rock riffery.
Loverboy would hang around for a while longer (teaming up with Fairbairn on the more consistent Keep it Up in 1983, and toughing it out on the tired Lovin’ Every Minute of It two years later), but by then, L.A. pop metal was in full flight and a little New Jersey group called Bon Jovi completely stole the spotlight by swiping the Loverboy formula and adding a heavy-handed dose of Springsteen sentimentality. Fairbairn would eventually collaborate with Bon Jovi in 1986, and the rest is history, leaving Loverboy to deal with a huge backlash at home, and making Vancouver a hard rock recording Mecca for the next five years. Although Loverboy is best experienced in the singles compilation format, Get Lucky remains the band’s commercial high water mark, and for all its cheesiness, is imbued with that unironic sense of fun that nobody tries today without winking at audiences; the kind of inclusive, sincere pop that makes today’s indie geeks squirm, but makes rock fans relish their Friday afternoons. You want to be in the show? Come on baby, let’s go.
// Notes from the Road
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