About F***ing Time: Cheap Trick Nominated For The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!
Cheap Trick's long-overdue nomination for entry into the Rock & Roll McDonald's, er, I mean Hall of Fame comes mere hours after the Chicago Cubs won their first playoff series in what seems like an eternity. Coincidence? Sure, but even if this is a case of "When it rains it pours", by all means, may the proverbial powers that be continue to rain upon us.
Formed in 1974, Cheap Trick steamrolled out of the sleepy Midwestern town of Rockford, Illinois and was immediately adopted by Chicago as one of their own due to their consistent ability to win over just about any crowd with a frothy mix of tongue-in-cheek subversion and catchy anthems delivered to hole-in-the-wall crowds with stadium-sized intensity.
What made Cheap Trick different right from the very beginning was their love and respect for the music that came before them. Those lesser bands who embraced tradition only to be hogtied and developmentally stunted by it were no match for Rick Nielsen's ability to regurgitate oldies-but-goodies like "Ain't That A Shame" in such a way that schooled new generations of rock fans without it feeling like a lecture.
They weren't thumbing their nose at the establishment like the Pistols, but, rather, using rock & roll tradition as the foundation upon which they could build their own musical legacy.
Discovered by esteemed producer Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, John Lennon, Starz, etc.) in a bowling alley, the band was immediately signed to Epic Records, who quickly issued the band's eponymous debut in 1977. The band you hear in those first fateful grooves was a menacing, lacerating and diabolical juggernaut playfully disguised as a teeny-bop band by the presence of poster-worthy hunks Robin Zander and Tom Petersson.
Sadly, the U.S. was not yet ready for such a band and the album flopped, leading the suits at Epic to immediately begin futzing with the formula. Tom Werman, who'd signed the band on Douglas' recommendation, decided to produce the next record and, while he succeeded in creating a slicker, more concise sound that should have done the trick, what he really did was remove the menace that gave their sweet radio-ready hooks the bite that set them apart from the Bay City Rollers and ABBA's of the day.
Proving that when the band is this great, there is no keeping them down, a live version of many of the same songs Werman had previously neutered in the studio hit Japan like a musical atom bomb, leaving millions of frenzied Japanese teens shrieking "Robeen!" in their wake.
With no help from their label, the album was buried outside Japan, but radio programmers with actual ears began playing tracks on the air anyway, resulting in an equally frenzied response from listeners. Before long, Epic Records was left with no choice but to release At Budokan, as its Stateside success was all but a certainty by then.
With the already completed Dream Police gathering dust on the shelves, the suits at Epic committed the ultimate act of "not getting it" by releasing yet another overly slick and orchestrated Werman production instead of handing Douglas a blank check with which to give the album some much-needed kick and to chuck some of the lesser, long-winded moments to the curb.
While the title cut proved too strong to even be thwarted by Werman's funky production, it peaked at #26 in the States despite going Top 10 in three other countries. The band's first outright ballad, "Voices" - a surefire smash if ever there was one - stalled at #32. It may be worth noting that this same label was only capable of pushing the Romantics' "What I Like About You" to a peak position of #49.
Then the executive branch began foisting Billy Steinberg and Diane Warren songs upon the band instead of pushing Rick Nielsen leftovers to every other artist on the label when Budokan began flying off the shelves.
If their mission was to eventually zap Nielsen's confidence, it worked. By 1988, the band finally hit #1 with "The Flame" and #5 with "Don't Be Cruel", two songs Nielsen did not write. "Ghost Town", co-written by Nielsen and professional schlock-peddler Warren made it only as far as #33.
What I'm getting at here isn't that Cheap Trick's chart record makes them worthy of consideration for the Rock Hall, but that the fact they scored any hits of their own at all is a minor miracle when you consider the amount of effort their label seemed to put into fucking up the pre-made recipe for success that was Cheap Trick.
That Cheap Trick has not only managed to survive, but prosper in such an environment makes them worthy of immediate entry into the Hall of Fame based solely on their desire to continue fighting the good fight long after those who were supposed to be in their corner left them for dead.
It hasn't always been fun watching this great band go from packing stadiums around the world to opening for the likes of Ratt and REO Speedwagon in their own adopted hometown (Chicago), but Cheap Trick are living, breathing proof that it takes more than careless corporate indifference, outright neglect, criminally obtuse mismanagement, and spiteful sabotage to keep a good band down when the band in question goes by the name Cheap Trick.
This week's nomination of Cheap Trick goes a long way toward giving the band the respect that is so long overdue, but it won't mean a damn thing until Cheap Trick is actually voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame once and for all.
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