Friday, April 01, 2016
They just seem a little weird
But don't give yourself away"
If you're of a certain age, that lyric will take you back to a time that now seems wrapped in a golden gauze. It was the late '70s, when punk rock was still nascent and the airwaves were filled with bands that both rocked and were friendly to AM radio, like Supertramp, Journey, the J. Geil Band, Styx, and of course, Cheap Trick.
In my last essay on this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Cheap Trick is an interesting case. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, unlike sports halls of fame, aren't interested in longevity. After all, Nirvana only made three studio albums and they were a slam dunk last year. Cheap Trick rode a wave of about five years, buoyed mostly by an enthusiastic response in Japan that carried back to the States. In listening to their greatest hits album this week, I found them enjoyable but shallow. Perhaps their biggest hit was "I Want You to Want Me," which has some of the simplest words you'll ever hear.
Cheap Trick was formed in Rockford, Illinois in 1974. The driving force behind the band is Rick Neilsen, who dressed like Huntz Hall and played a checkerboard guitar. He wrote most of the band's songs and played a wicked ax. The lead singer, Robin Zander, and bassist Tom Petersson looked like hair band guys, while the drummer, Bun E. Carlos, dressed like middle management.
After a few albums that did nothing in the U.S., they went to Japan and were greeted like The Beatles were in 1964. They recorded a live album at Budokan, which launched them into popularity back home. "I Want You to Want Me" and a cover of Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame," complete with a great instrumental opening, highlighted by a muscular drum solo by Carlos, could be heard everywhere when I was in high school. That was followed up by "Surrender," which I've never quite understood--something about catching VD, I suspect, and the very catchy "Dream Police."
The band still is performing, although there has been some hard feelings with Carlos and the rest of the group. He is considered a member of the band, but has not been allowed to tour. I'm sure their audiences are grayer now, like the band. I am interested to learn that their only number one single, an arena ballad called "The Flame," came out in 1987, long after my crowd had any interest in them.
Cheap Trick are a fun band and a tight band. I'm not sure they are hall of famers--they kind of stayed at one plateau.