Right now, somewhere in a restaurant kitchen, or an auto shop, there is a greasy, beat-up boombox duct taped to a pole, and it is playing Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Somebody’s work day is being made slightly better with the aid of the gut-growling singing of Fred Turner, and the cliched, yet perfectly executed guitar licks of Randy Bachman.
The world at large didn’t get to know this BTO until their second album, Bachman-Turner Overdrive II. “Takin’ Care of Business” and “Let It Ride” helped secure their route to arena-rock stardom. Their self-titled first release, however, only hit with one tune on the charts in the U.S.: “Blue Collar” reached No. 68 in the summer of ’73, but it’s unlikely you will hear a lot of screams for it in the audience at a BTO show.
Written and sung by Fred Turner, “Blue Collar” is a mellow and generally optimistic take on being an off hours, working stiff. More importantly, it flirts with something seemingly not in the Bachman-Turner Overdrive wheelhouse: Jazz. It’s laid back. It has washy ride cymbals and some very non-rock guitar chords and intervals. Maybe a bit off the path for these guys, but not that far off for rock bands of the time.
The keeper here is the guitar solo. It’s all Bachman. As mentioned above, the key here is execution, not necessarily originality. Just like on “Whose Line is it Anyway?”, Randy gets a million points for style on this one.
The solo enters over the half time feel with some ringing, reverby wah wah lines, that almost achieve a singular call and response feel. For the second part, he goes clean and tracks some simple Wes Montgomery-type chord/octave blocks. Then he ices the tri-partite solo structure with some classic fuzz tone Les Paul delay rips, that just really hit the spot. Fred leans back in for the last verse, and the tune rides out on a (now) full-time swing vamp.
In the endless (yet always healthy) jazz-rock debate, this one hits the balance of giving a nod to the other side of the fence, without venturing beyond what the chops can handle.