(Pictured: Cheap Trick, photographed at Budokan in 1979.)
My brother Dan is a curator, and he used to work at a museum in Rockford, Illinois. From time to time, he would chat with one of his volunteers, a kindly old lady, who would sometimes refer to “my son’s band.” Dan says it took him a while before he put two and two together: her last name was Petersson, her son was Tom, and his band was Cheap Trick.
There is much rejoicing among people I know about the election of Cheap Trick to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rockford is down the road about 90 minutes from Madison, and the band and its predecessors played countless Wisconsin gigs throughout the 70s before their late-decade breakthrough, so we take some geographically-based pride in their accomplishment. My Internet friends, dudes of a particular age, are mostly pleased, depending on how seriously they take the RRHoF anymore. Tom Nawrocki voted for them, and explained why in his excellent blog series. So good for Cheap Trick, and if you’re happy for them, good for you.
I have never been a fan.
Let me make clear that the old guy writing this blog both understands and appreciates the place Cheap Trick occupies in history today. I don’t agree with the contention that they invented power pop—the Raspberries were there before Cheap Trick was, and I’d cast a vote for Badfinger as well. But “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me” rock like crazy, and “Voices” is grossly underrated in the power ballad rankings. Cheap Trick did three-minute radio-friendly power-chord crunch rock as well as anybody, and had you formed a band 35 years ago, you would have stolen as much from them as you could. As far as I care about the RRHoF anymore, I have no complaints about their induction.
But when my high-school classmates were getting into Cheap Trick, circa 1977, and my college classmates were losing their minds over Cheap Trick, circa 1980, they left me absolutely cold.
I can think of some reasons for this. In high school, I was most interested in the stuff on the radio, and Cheap Trick was not on the radio, apart from a couple of Rockford-area stations I listened to occasionally. If they weren’t on the radio, how good could they be? The stuff I liked that was not on the radio was almost exclusively prog rock: Emerson Lake and Palmer and Rick Wakeman, to name two. “California Man” is pretty much the opposite of “Karn Evil 9,” and I knew where my allegiance lay. Not only that, I tended to resist whatever direction the crowd was going; therefore, when people were going nuts over Cheap Trick, I went the other way. (Columns I wrote for the college newspaper in 1980, in which I bashed Cheap Trick and Van Halen, set a record for generating hate mail.)
When Cheap Trick dropped off the map in the middle of the 80s, I didn’t notice. In 1988, I was playing elevator music when “The Flame” and “Don’t Be Cruel” became the two biggest hits of their career, and I didn’t notice. It was only when I started working at the classic-rock station 20 years ago that I gained the understanding and appreciation of Cheap Trick’s place in rock history that I mentioned above.
So good for Cheap Trick, and if you’re happy for them, good for you. But I have never been a fan.
Additional Note, Plausibly Related but Entirely Coincidental: Starting today and continuing through New Year’s Day (except for tomorrow), I will be filling in on the air at the Mighty 100.5, a classic-hits station in Rockford. Find out when and how to tune in, if you care, at jb on the Radio.)