Friday, October 3, 2014

Cheap Trick, The #98 Artist of the Seventies*

From an early age, elite guitarist Rick Nielsen began accumulating a great collection of rare and valuable guitars.  He played in several bands in his hometown of Rockford, Illinois, including the Boyz and the Grim Reapers.  In 1967, Nielsen combined with Tom Peterson (later known as Tom Petersson) in the group Fuse.  Meanwhile, drummer Brad Carlson, who would later adopt the name Bun E. Carlos, played in a rival Rockford band, the Pagans.

Fuse released their self-titled debut album on Epic Records in 1970.  When it didn't sell, the members became frustrated.  Carlos joined them for a move to Philadelphia, but after a European tour in 1973, the three returned to Rockford.  It was here that Cheap Trick was originally formed, with lead singer Robin Zander joining shortly afterwards.  Cheap Trick recorded a demo record in 1975, and played shows in venues throughout the Midwestern United States.

Cheap Trick signed a recording contract with Epic in 1976 after producer Jack Douglas caught one of their shows in Wisconsin.  In 1977, the group released their self-titled album.  Critics loved it, but we know that means nothing as critics don't buy a lot of albums.  The group caught on in Japan, and the single "ELO Kiddies" was a hit in selected countries in Europe.

Cheap Trick released the album In Color later in the year without any improvement in the band's fortunes.  None of the singles--"Southern Girls", "I Want You To Want Me" and "So Good To See You" charted in the major markets, but "Clock Strikes Ten" from the album reached #1 in Japan. 

The group released Heaven Tonight in 1978, with the lead single "Surrender" becoming their first song to chart in America at #62.  While Cheap Trick was struggling to get off the ground in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Australia, Canada (none of their first three albums reached the Top 40 on the Album chart), and other countries, they were becoming superstars in Japan.  All three Cheap Trick albums had gone gold in Japan.  The band seemed to be perfect with the Japanese, and this would be a key factor in making them stars the world over. 

Cheap Trick toured Japan in 1978, and they were met with a frenzy in that country not unlike Beatlemania of the 60's.  The group recorded two shows with their loyal fans at the Nippon Budokan, and ten tracks were released as the live album Cheap Trick at Budokan.  The album was intended to be exclusively for their biggest fans in Japan, but demand for the import album became so great that Epic finally released the album in the United States in 1979.  That move proved to be key to their success. 

A few acts in the Rock Era seem to perform better live than in the studio, and The #98 Act of the Seventies* is one of those.  Cheap Trick at Budokan became their breakthrough album.  The live version of "I Want You To Want Me" became a smash where the studio version had done nothing.  The first single from Cheap Trick at Budokan reached #7 in the U.S. and #2 in Canada.    

Cheap Trick had arrived, as sales of the album spiked to reach three million in the United States alone.  The follow-up was an incredible remake of the song "Ain't That A Shame", featuring the amazing drumming of Carlos.  At a peak of #35, though, it is one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.

Fans all over the world became interested in the music Japan had loved for years, and other tracks from the album began to get airplay.  The live version of "Surrender" was better than the original.

"Hello There" kicked off the album that won Cheap Trick new fans.

Another outstanding track on the album is the live version of "Clock Strikes Ten".
Cheap Trick at Budokan did so well that Epic had to hold up release of the group's studio album Dream Police.  Finally, the group released it later in the year, and it built on the momentum that had been created.  The title song reached #4 in Canada, #5 in Australia, and #7 in New Zealand, but only #26 in the U.S.

Two other tracks from the album represent some of Cheap Trick's best work.  "Need Your Love" was included on the live album, but this is one case in which the studio version was better.


Dream Police went Platinum, thanks to another outstanding track which received considerable airplay--"Gonna' Raise Hell".

Although the group never matched that early success, they continued to produce quality albums throughout the 80's, and their live act was not to be missed.  In 2007, the Illinois Senate passed a resolution designating April 1 as Cheap Trick Day.

Cheap Trick sold over six million albums in the Seventies, and scored five hits, with "I Want You To Want Me" reaching the Top 10.

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