by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
This week, we examine three long-forgotten self-titled debut albums – one each from 1978, 1979, and 1980 – by bands that most readers of this column will almost certainly not recognize the names of but were formed by musicians who either came from and/or would go on to be in some very famous bands.
Guitarist and singer-songwriter Randy Bachman is in an elite club of musicians who can legitimately claim to have scored Top 40 hits both as performer and songwriter with not one, not two, but three different bands. Bachman spent his formative years as the guitarist for Canadian rock band The Guess Who, for whom he also wrote or co-wrote the Top 40 hits “These Eyes,” “Laughing,” “Undun,” “No Time,” “No Sugar Tonight,” and “American Woman.” For just about any musician, that kind of resume would be one to envy. But Bachman wasn’t done there. After leaving the Guess Who in 1970 and forming the short-lived bands Axe and Brave Belt, he would team up with C.F. Turner to form and front the hard-rock quartet Bachman-Turner Overdrive, scoring another long string of hit singles with such classic-rock staples as “Let It Ride,” “Takin’ Care of Business,” “Roll on Down the Highway,” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” and the sadly-more-forgotten “Hey You,” “Take It Like a Man,” and “Lookin’ Out for #1.”
Bachman would surprisingly leave his namesake band in 1977 (perhaps unsurprisingly, they’d never have another Top 40 hit, though their post-Bachman song “Jamaica” would get re-written as “Kristina” and covered by Rick Springfield on his million-selling album Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet) to form the band Ironhorse, signing with the then-nascent Scotti Bros. label (whose only hitmakers at the time were John Paul Young of “Love Is in the Air” fame and Leif Garrett, though the label would find greater success in the ‘80s as the home of rock bands Survivor and John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band and soul legend James Brown). Bachman surrounded himself with some fine talent in his new band, including Mike Baird (one of the most respected session drummers in the industry; he’d go on to play on many Rick Springfield albums, as well as do a stint as the drummer for Journey on their Raised on Radio tour) and John Pierce (an in-demand session bassist who would later join Pablo Cruise and, in more recent years, Huey Lewis and the News).
Bachman always had the business sense to not mess with a winning formula, and Ironhorse doesn’t depart too greatly from the brand of rock that Bachman had excelled with in BTO, albeit offering some minor twists, such as his use of a Roland synthesizer guitar. The BTO vibe is most apparent on the album’s knockout lead-off single (and Ironhorse’s only Top 40 hit), the utterly charming “Sweet Lui-Louise,” which, like BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” features a galloping beat and some stuttered lyrics from Bachman, but it never feels like a complete rewrite, either, and the track features a much greater emphasis on the drums than “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” had, along with a slight disco influence and the employment of what sounds for all the world like a syn-drum as an added bit of ear candy. The end result is an almost ridiculously catchy, danceable 45 that sounds like a cross between “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria” (later to become a major country hit for Brooks & Dunn), and Anita Ward’s disco classic “Ring My Bell.” As great and timeless as the best BTO singles are, there’s just something extra-sugary about “Sweet Lui-Louise” that makes it my favorite 45 Bachman ever made.
Though nothing else on the disc quite equals the sheer brilliance of “Sweet Lui-Louise,” it’s a very rock-solid affair. The album-opening “One and Only” boasts a fabulous, instantly-catchy, and BTO-like chorus, while the slightly ominous “Jump Back in the Light,” with its spoken interjections in its choruses, nearly could pass as a Kiss song and the first-side-closing “Tumbleweed” is a guitar-riff-fest that would make Lynyrd Skynyrd proud. “There Ain’t No Cure” has as dirty a grind to it as anything in Bachman’s multi-band catalog.
The band’s second vocalist/songwriter, Tom Sparks, is no slouch, either, contributing three very fine songs: the cowbell-laced “Watch Me Fly,” the very catchy “Stateline Blues” (the harmonies of which recall REO Speedwagon at their best), and the handclap-laden, near-Kiss-like pop of “She’s Got It.”
Ironhorse would go on to make a second disc, 1980’s Everything Is Grey (featuring a song co-written by Beach Boy Carl Wilson), but only Bachman remained from the lineup featured on the previous disc, sadly, and Bachman would retire the band name for good shortly afterwards. To date, neither album by the band has ever been officially released on CD, though Bachman allegedly has bought back the rights to both and hopes to reissue them.