Thursday, 8 July 2004

Cheap Trick

If I had to name my favourite rock band of the Seventies, I would guess it would be Cheap Trick. Indeed, they remain one of my favourite bands to this day. Like many people, the first I ever heard of Cheap Trick was in 1978 when their single "Surrender" hit the charts. I really liked the song, although I did not rush out and buy the album on which it was, Heaven Tonight. In 1979, however, with the release of their live album, At Budokan, I became a Cheap Trick fan. It was with their 1979 album, Dream Police, that I became a Cheap Trick fan for life.

I suppose it was unavoidable that I would become a Cheap Trick fan. Their leader and founder, Rick Nielsen, was heavily influenced by The British Invasion. Cheap Trick drew in equal parts upon the melodies of The Beatles and the "wall of guitars" sound of The Who. Although Cheap Trick originated in the Midwest, their sound was influenced by Liverpool and London. Indeed, among their remakes are numbered The Beatles' "Day Tripper" and The Move's "California Man."

Rick Nielsen formed his first band, The Phaetons, in 1962. The Phaetons eventually became The Grim Reapers and future Cheap Trick bassist, Tom Peterson, joined the band. That year, 1967, was historic for Cheap Trick for other reasons as well. The Paegans, the band of future Cheap Trick drummer, Bun E. Carlos, released their first and only single--a remake of The Beatles' "Good Day Sunshine." In 1968 The Grim Reapers were signed by Epic Records (who would later sign Cheap Trick as well). As part of the deal, The Grim Reapers were required to change their name; hence The Grim Reapers became Fuse. Their first album, released in 1969, did very poorly. Perhaps as a result, Fuse broke up in 1970. Nielsen then hooked up with Robert Stewkey, the former lead vocalist of The Nazz, Todd Rundgren's original band from the Sixties). The two of them formed various bands over the years until in 1972, Nielsen, Stewkey, and Tom Petersen formed Sick Man of Europe, the direct ancestor of Cheap Trick. Sick Man of Europe opened for Foghat, among other bands. The band would break up in 1973 after failing to win a recording contract. A new band was then formed which would initially bear such names as "Sick Man of Europe" and "The Grim Reapers" before being called "Cheap Trick." Ton Petersen joined the band in 1973. By 1974, after original vocalist Randy "Xeno" Hogan left the band, Robin Zander joined Cheap Trick as their lead vocalist. The line up for which Cheap Trick is best known in place, the group tours relentlessly until in 1976, Epic Record signed them to a five year contract.

Throughout a career that has lasted over 25 years, Cheap Trick has had their ups and downs. Their early albums, Cheap Trick and In Color attracted little attention. It was with the release of Heaven Tonight that their single, "Surrender," actually cracked the top 100. With their live album, At Budokan, they actually had a hit on their hands. The single, "I Want You to Want Me," actually made the top forty. Dream Police, released in 1980, was also successful, producing the hit singles "Dream Police" and "Voices." Unfortunately, Cheap Trick's success would not last. Their follow up to Dream Police, All Shook Up did not do nearly as well. Following albums seemed to do more and more poorly on the charts. The band had a great deal of success with Lap of Luxury in 1988, primarily due to the ballad "The Flame (which the band did not particularly care for)." Once more, however, the band's success on the charts didn't last. Regardless, Cheap Trick had achieved the status of a cult band long before Lap of Luxury. They have continued to tour and release albums ever since. Even if the band has not regularly hit the charts, Cheap Trick has arguably been one of the most successful bands in rock history. After all, how many bands have had a career that lasts over a quarter of a century?

I have gotten to see Cheap Trick in concert twice. The first time was in October 1981 when they did a concert at Northeast Missouri State University to warm up for their tour. My brother was attending NMSU at the time and was able to secure tickets. We sat about four rows from the stage and marvelled as they performed such songs as "Stop This Game" and "Ain't That a Shame." I even got one of Rick Nielsen's guitar picks which he threw out into the audience (I still have it). The second time I saw Cheap Trick live was at Fair St. Louis on July 4, 2001, under the Gateway Arch. The band was still in top form, even after all these years. I received a nasty sunburn on my face (the Arch is beautiful, but in July it is basically a gigantic reflector...), but it was well worth it.

To this day I still love Cheap Trick. Not only have they had a long career, but they have actually had a lasting influence on rock music. Groups from Enuff Z'nuff to the Fountains of Wayne, and even the grunge band Nirvana, display some influences from Cheap Trick, rather it is in Nielsen's "wall of guitars" technique or Robin Zander's vocals. Of all the bands that arose in the Seventies, it seems to me that it was Cheap Trick that best blended such disparate elements of the British Invasion as Beatlesque melodies, Who-style guitar work, and tongue in cheek humour. I don't think there will ever be a band quite like them.

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