Song Of The Day: Off Broadway 'Stay In Time'!

The first time I heard Off Broadway's "Stay In Time" on the radio, it was followed by an Old Style beer commercial featuring an amped up rock tune with the rollicking refrain "You've got style".

I had no sooner got done thinking that the beer commercial was pretty catchy too when the on-air personalities at rock powerhouse WLS not only informed this very anxious listener of the name of the band that had performed the song, but also that, in the two years since its release, the band had split up and singer Cliff Johnson was now doing jingle work, including the Old Style commercial they'd just aired.

Not since I discovered the Beatles in 1973 had I been so excited to learn of a band's existence only to have that excitement stomped by the reality of their demise.

Since both Off Broadway albums for Atlantic had been deleted from the label's active catalog by then, procuring copies took a little doing, but, upon cranking up those two platters of Chicago-style rock, my turntable would refuse to play anything else for months.

Having lived in Chicago on and off since '86, I still get that surge of teenage adrenaline whenever "Stay In Time" is heard on the radio. Despite Tom Werman's somewhat tepid production, the song still manages to announce itself, whether coming out of crappy radio speakers at a favorite gyros joint or a gargantuan P.A. system at any number of rock concerts over the years.

Even more amazing than the fact that the supremely hit-worthy "Stay In Time" only hit #51 on the Billboard singles charts is the fact that, as late as '82, it was still racking up major spins on AT LEAST two of Chicago's biggest rock stations.

By then, of course, Johnson was fronting U.S.S.A. with Pete Comita (Cheap Trick) and Tommy Gawenda (Pezband), giving Trick and O.B. fans alike brief hope that this band would soon be filling arenas in their own right. Living in a remote, culture-starved town three hours out of Chicago, I was lucky enough to catch them in just such a setting when they opened for Cheap Trick at South Bend's Morris Civic Auditorium in the fall of '82.

Performing a large chunk of material from Off Broadway's On in a manner that added both nuance and muscle to the originals, the band exuded a confidence that illuminated the stage in a white hot light while Johnson pulled out all the stops, at one point dropping to his knees mid-song and snorting an imaginary - we presume - line of coke off that ran the width of the stage mid-song.

Awed by the band's high-octane delivery, the chants of "Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick!" became less frequent between songs until the Chicago five-piece closed their set with a blistering version of "Stay In Time" that sounded every bit as glorious as the original studio version left the theatre's ornate chandelier's swinging in time and every jaw in the house on the floor.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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