Last week, Billboard published an enlightening article on the process by which an individual band or musician is elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. In particular, the article shed light on the secret nature of the voting system and the mafia code of silence that surrounds it: the members of the nominating committee only spoke on the substance or not for the award. Still, one person who spoke on the record was Jann Wenner. In fact, the former president of the Rock Hall Foundation and founder / publisher / publisher of Rolling Stone was blunt in his remarks, especially when discussing inductees. “It was pretty easy at the start,” he said. “But at this point all the clear and obvious people have been inducted, and it depends on personal taste.”
The enemies of Rock Hall – and there are many – probably have a thing to do with Wenner’s claim that “all clear and obvious people have been inducted.” Until recently, this group did not include unmistakable rock stars such as Rush, KISS, Hall & Oates and Joan Jett; As of this year, classic rock titans such as Deep Purple, Yes and Iron Maiden still haven’t made the cut. Yet perhaps the biggest exclusion to date concerns a band that was never even nominated for Rock Hall: Cheap Trick, the pride of Rockford, Illinois.
It is difficult to determine exactly why the group has always been snubbed. From a sales standpoint, they stack up nicely: two gold albums, four platinum albums and one, the immortal 1979 “Cheap Trick at Budokan”, which went triple platinum. They’ve had eight Top 40 singles spanning three different decades (including a No.1 hit, the 1988 power ballad “The Flame”) and have toured with nearly every major rock band of the past decades, including KISS, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, the Ramones and Boston. Ask almost any musician to rave about Cheap Trick, and you’ll probably get plenty of praise. (A funny 1997 interview with guitarist Rick Nielsen, shortly after the band performed Lollapalooza at the behest of headliners Soundgarden and Metallica, revealed some of that fandom: “[Soundgarden frontman] Chris Cornell helped write the songlist for us, “Nielsen said,” although we were going to use the songs he suggested anyway, and I just gave this guy a false sense of security. “)
Respect for peers and record sales have never been dominant measures when it comes to being inducted. Yet countless existing Rock Hall members have openly admitted to being influenced by Cheap Trick – including shoo-ins such as the Ramones, Guns’ n Roses, Nirvana, and one of this year’s award winners, Green Day – and Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos even got the chance to perform on John Lennon’s “Double Fantasy”. (This song was cut, but later surfaced on the “John Lennon Anthology.”) But beyond the facts, figures and creative hobnobbing, few bands exude the insurgent, raucous spirit of rock & roll. more than Cheap Trick.
Musically, that’s because the band – which, in addition to Nielsen and Carlos, included golden vocalist Robin Zander and bassist / guitarist Tom Petersson in the heyday of the ’70s – expertly selects and mix of premium influences: the blues swing of 50s rock pioneers, the well-crafted harmonies and hooks of the Beatles, the garage-y jangle of the pillars of the British invasion, the glam swagger and flashy riffs, the power -pop from the Midwest and the primal energy of punk.
With so many disparate sounds coming together, Cheap Trick has stood out (and continues to stand out) from its peers and is not easy to rank. The band’s music is pop without being light, aggressive without going into hard rock too much debt, dangerous but not threatening. Above all, their songs are empathetic, as they embody the universal roller coaster of teenage lust, desire, restlessness, disaffection and skepticism. Still, the members of Cheap Trick are also bulletproof cool despite their teenage penchant: they’re two older brothers who know a thing or two about rebellion and the type of guy you can bring home. to Mom.
Like their beloved Beatles, Cheap Trick has never stopped pushing forward and questioning itself. Their music has evolved over time – at various times they’ve embraced characteristics of muscular hard rock, as well as smooth keyboard-dominated pop – but they’re not afraid to go harder if warranted. In the 90s they recorded with Steve Albini (and ended up releasing a few of those songs as a 7 inch single on Sub Pop) and toured with Guided By Voices. Frontman Zander even recently took a low-key acoustic tour, performing solo songs and selected covers. Despite their success, Cheap Trick still functions as a hungry underdog whose success seems unstable – perhaps because it has been for many years, due to label shenanigans and disinterest in graphics. And what could be more rock & roll than being an ambitious underdog stubbornly reversing the status quo and pushing forward despite setbacks?
Of course, this passion has also always marked the live experience of Cheap Trick, which is perhaps the best argument for the band belonging to Rock Hall. At the time, the quartet blew on stage as a possessed band, full of live energy and magnetic charisma. And improbably, Cheap Trick is still one of the best live bands around. Zander’s voice remains intact, while Petersson is subtly impressive, someone almost nonchalant about his skills. Nielsen, meanwhile, is good at handing out appearances with his booming guitars and telling prime historical stories from the band’s archives. (Carlos is no longer touring with the band; their current drummer is Rick’s son, Dax Nielsen.)
Unlike other classic rock bands established in their own way, Cheap Trick also keeps things cool in an almost provocative way. Not only is their setlist never obvious – sorry to those who like “The Flame”, the song might not appear every night – but it’s not a successful tour de force either. Deep album tracks such as “Big Eyes”, “Clock Strikes Ten”, “Baby Loves to Rock” and “Way of the World” are still possible, while the psychedelic, somber song “Heaven Tonight” tends to be a must. A Cheap Trick concert is always intended for die-hard fans, not casual listeners.
Like Zander said it in a 2014 interview.: “We play there all the time – playing with Aerosmith and other bands like that that are powerful and we eat their asses every night as much as we can.” Yet the group manages to possess this self-confidence without being arrogant about it. Performing concerts and trying to blow the headliner off the stage is exactly what the band does, and always has. It might be hard to put Cheap Trick in because they still feel (and sound) like a lively young band with something to prove.
For me it is mandatory to see Cheap Trick perform live at least once a year; in recent years, this pilgrimage has encompassed a club co-bill with Squeeze, an overly brief Aerosmith opening slot, a casino show, and an extended headlining performance at a resort sponsored event. radio station in Columbus, Ohio, called Wing Zing. This last show struck me the most, just because the band was in amazing shape. The ensemble crescendoed through the required album tracks (“High Roller”, “The Ballad of TV Violence”) and fan favorites (“ELO Kiddies”, “California Man”), but also included the song by 2009 “Sick Man Of Europe”, a seamless addition to the Cheap Trick catalog. It didn’t matter that the group was performing at a show that started out with patrons eating copious amounts of chicken wings; Cheap Trick sounded like they were towering over an arena rock crowd instead.
The Billboard article mentioned that in recent years, younger additions to the nominating committee have helped bands like Hall & Oates and KISS get elected to Rock Hall. Perhaps to receive the same honor, all the group needs is an influential champion – someone like Dave Grohl, who asked them to open the Foo Fighters’ Wrigley Field date in August. Either way, Cheap Trick in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a long overdue honor – and well deserved at it.