This may be my ultimate “guilty pleasure” album. Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Not Fragile was one of the first LPs I ever saved up my allowance to buy, down at the old Pay ‘N Save drugstore. It was a tough choice between this and Road Food by The Guess Who. “Clap For The Wolfman” rocked, but it was no “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.”
At the time, I had no idea that Randy Bachman used to be in The Guess Who; I just liked BTO better. Looking back however, it is a little strange. Reportedly, Bachman left TGW because of his Mormonism – evidently they partied too much. Yet Not Fragile was one of the hardest rock albums of 1974. And you know what? It still sounds great.
With the replacement of Tim Bachman by Blair Thornton on second lead guitar, the five-piece completely gelled. Both Randy Bachman and Fred Turner wrote some of their finest material for this album, which went all the way to number one. Thornton proved his songwriting mettle right off as well, with “Free Wheelin.” It was the instrumental B-side to “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” and is credited with giving the single a second life. The song had fallen to number 34 after hitting number one, then rose to number eight when disc jockeys began playing the flipside. On the album, “Free Wheelin” is listed as “Dedicated to Duane.”
In another bit of BTO trivia, I gotta say I love the origins of the title. Not Fragile is a blunt, blue-collar response to prog, as in being “Not” Fragile by Yes. The crate of gearshifts on the cover makes it pretty clear that these guys are no panty-waist art rockers anyway, and BTO fans call themselves “Gearheads” to this day.
With cuts like the title track, “Roll On Down The Highway,” and “Blue Moanin,” Not Fragile was Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s finest moment. To put it into context, I would compare it to Def Leppard’s Pyromania, which came out in 1983. Both were state of the art hard rock, perfect for radio and one of the few that both men and women agreed on without hesitation. Listening to the album today, it sounds effortlessly clean all the way through. Yet that was an illusion. BTO had a couple more hits later on, but they would never repeat the success of this one.
I think I need to take back that “guilty pleasure” distinction. There is no guilt in digging Not Fragile; it’s a classic. To that end, it is the latest 24K + Gold Edition CD from the Audio Fidelity label. In this process, the top layer of the CD is made out of real gold, rather than the standard and often imperfect aluminum. The end result is a remarkably clean and “warm” sounding disc, with the original analog depth intact.
I find it to be a delicious irony that a record which probably sold more on 8-Track tape than any other has been given this audiophile treatment. But Not Fragile is certainly as deserving of the approach as any other, for it was one of the best albums of that era. Now if we can just get those folks at Audio Fidelity to work on Road Food, we’ll really have 1974 covered.