Happy Birthday Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick!

Like anybody else, my musical tastes have changed, grown, and mutated over the years, but the one band that I've always made time for is Cheap Trick.  While I didn't discover them until '79, when Dream Police came out, I immediately made up for lost time by work my way backwards through their already expansive catalog.  The first time I heard Heaven Tonight, after picking my jaw off the floor, I couldn't help wonder why it hadn't been a monster hit.  As for In Color, while the production irked me even then, there were still a couple tunes that seemed tailor-made for radio: "Southern Girls" anybody?

By the time I had finally worked my way back to their seminal 1977 debut album, I realized that the band that had made Dream Police was a much more streamlined version of the slyly subversive band that had cut that lacerating first album.  The band I heard on songs like "Elo Kiddies" and "He's A Whore" was a raw, unbridled beast that had not yet begun to second guess itself once the brass at Epic Records began tinkering with the formula.  People talk about how edgy Lou Reed and Velvet Underground were and how iconic their music was, but Cheap Trick's first album is every bit as genius as anything Reed ever did and yet it gets absolutely no mentions in such circles.

Having devoured every musical second of every Cheap Trick album and come to know the circumstances of their tenure with Epic Records, I can safely tell you now that the band didn't succeed with the help of a major label, but in spite of it.

If not for the fact that an album Epic didn't even want to release in the U.S. would go on to garner more radio airplay than any other songs the label had actively promoted and become the #1 selling import title, Epic would have never allowed American ears to hear the version of "I Want You To Want Me" that millions of rock fans now know and love.

One would think that, at this point, the label would have realized their mistake and gladly butted out of the band's business, but NOOOOOOOOOOOO.  Any other label could have taken "Dream Police" to #1 in their sleep - even Arista!  Thinking about it now, the song itself was a musical and thematic tour de force absolutely ripe for the TV screen a la Kiss's "Phantom In The Park", but with better songs and a more likable band.

Instead, we got a couple cheesy low-budget videos that nobody saw because MTV didn't exist yet.  
Cheap Trick, unlike a lot of bands, were already absolute road warriors, willing to go anywhere and do anything necessary to promote the album, but the best Epic could do was get "Dream Police" to #26 on the charts.  Keep in mind this is also the same company responsible for the Romantics' "What I Like About You" managing a chart showing of #49.

And from that point on, Cheap Trick became the Energizer bunny - or is that Bun E? - of rock and roll bands, weathering Tom Petersson's departure without a hitch, fighting through a tumultuous lawsuit with Epic wherein they would have been better served NOT re-signing to the label after both sides retreated to their neutral corners.

Subsequent albums suffered as the band bent over backwards to appease the label, but onstage, the band never stopped being anything less than a steamrolling juggernaut with very few equals.  Even now, with the band members well into their AARP years, they're still such a dominant force in music that it almost defies the laws of nature.

Rick Nielsen, perhaps more than any other modern American rock musician, stands as a shining example of what can be accomplished despite the best intentions of misguided managers and label execs.  

Need I remind you that the album for which they are best known is the one the label didn't want you to hear.  For this reason alone...although it would be nice to be recognized for the music, too...Rick Nielsen and Cheap Trick belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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