January 26 – People Didn’t Need Authority To Board The Chicago Train

Rock is often considered sexy and about sex, but seldom have bands been as “horny” as Chicago in their early days. Of course, we mean that literally – they along with Blood, Sweat and Tears were the leaders in a move to bring horn sections into rock at the end of the ’60s. We hear that clearly on their sophomore album, now nicknamed “Chicago II” which came out on this day in 1970.

we say “nicknamed” because technically the album was simply entitled Chicago. Their debut, released eight months earlier had been called Chicago Transit Authority but they’d dropped the last two words after being threatened with a lawsuit by the Windy City commuter bus and train system of the same name.

If the band lost a couple of words from their name, they gained some strong musical direction… and one of music’s best-known visuals, their curly logo which first showed up on this record. They got the idea for the logo which has appeared on all their albums since, from Coca-Cola’s cursive emblem.

Chicago at the time was a seven-man ensemble many consider the “classic” lineup for the band which has seen members come and go rather regularly through its 55 year run to date. Bassist Peter Cetera and guitarist Terry Kath pretty much split the lead vocals while Robert Lamm played keyboards and added backing vocals and their was James Pankow on trombone (plus lesser-known Walter Parazaine and Lee Loughlaine on more horns plus drummer Danny Seraphine.) Of the seven, the trio of horn players plus Lamm are still in the touring version of the group. The writing was a little more widely-distributed; while Kath and Cetera wrote a large portion of it, Pankow also added significant parts including the album’s standout, “Ballet for A Girl In Buchannon”. That one is hardly a household name, and at 13 minutes, understandably isn’t a mainstay of radio but is typical of the album and contributed two of their best-known songs: “Make Me Smile” and “Color My World.” It is one of three lengthy pieces on the double-album which are sprawling and composed of several different, distinctive parts.

The band put the album together surprisingly quickly, inside of a month during the summer of ’69 under the guidance of their producer of choice, James Guercio. Thanks to the essentially double A-sided single “Make Me Smile” / “Color My World” and the song Billboard pick as their best (albeit not best-selling) of their career, “25 or 6 to 4”, the record shot up the chart and quickly eclipsed the first album’s sales. The album hit #4 in the U.S., #5 in Canada and #6 in the UK and went platinum at home. In Canada, it ended up triple-platinum, making it their best-seller outside of a Greatest Hits package. “Make Me Smile” was their first top 10 hit in the states, going to #9 while the next single, “25 or 6 to 4” rose to #4 (and #2 in Canada.)

And by the way, what of that song? Some thought “25 or 6 to 4” was drug slang, or maybe some weird morse code for a famous person. Writer robert Lamm throws cold water on those conspiracy theories saying he was writing it in the middle of the night and merely jotted down the time as a working title. He began it around 3:34 or 3:35 AM, hence “25 or (twenty) six to four.” The song lives on anytime of the day not only on radio but on parade routes as well. An Omaha newspaper ranked it as the #1 Marching Band Tune of all-time.

Critics were mixed as to how they felt about it. Some saw it as new and progressive. The hometown Chicago Sun-times thought them “one of the most exciting, most original, most accomplished jazz-rocks in existence.” New York’s Village Voice only gave it a “D+”, calling it “sterile and stupid.” Eventually it probably came down to whether you thought rock was a stagnant, narrow genre or a growing sound willing to incorporate elements of other genres. Allmusic definitely goes with the latter, giving it 4.5-stars, best of the ’70s catalog and praising it for “complex jazz charges with heavy electric rock and roll that the band so brazenly forged” to create “some of the best and most effective pop music of that era.” Ultimately, we agree with them. Rock as we know it wouldn’t have gone on to what it was in the ’70s and ’80s if not for innovators willing to expand its boundaries in the early days, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to yes, Chicago.


January 22 – The Voice That Started San Fran Band On Journey To Superstardom

Cake? Chocolate? Red velvet perhaps?  “Anyway you want it”, Steve Perry– it is your birthday after all! The former Journey singer turns 74 today.

His dad (who was Portuguese and was born “Pereira”) was musical, loved to sing and owned a radio station in California and Steve learned to play guitar quite young and played in his school band but it’s always been Perry’s voice that has set him apart. Rolling Stone rank him as one of the 100 greatest singers of all time and Brian May of Queen says of him “he’s a voice in a million.” Randy Jackson (American Idol judge who also happened to play bass on Perry’s first solo record and then ironically joined Journey, without Perry) says “other than Robert Plant there’s no other singer in rock that even can come close to Steve.” The powerful tenor voice certainly helped Journey as much as the band helped Steve. After three relatively poorly-received albums, heavy on instrumentals and with another singer, Journey’s manager Herbie Herbert called on Perry who was then in a struggling Bay Area band called Alien Project. The result was staggering – Infinity (which we talked about earlier this week here) put the band on the charts with Perry’s singing and radio-friendly writing and from there he went on to be the voice of all of the band’s hit albums, including 1981’s Escape, which sold in the area of 10 million copies. His first solo record, Street Talk, from 1984, was quite successful too, going double platinum in the U.S. on the strength of “Oh Sherrie”, a single he wrote for his then girlfriend Sherrie Swafford, whom he featured in the video. Perry left Journey for good in 1996 after a hip injury resulted in him being unable to tour and caused conflicts in the group.

Perhaps he’s better off that way. Currently various members of Journey are suing one another over use of the name. Perry, meanwhile, has been busy getting back to music lately. Apparently that came out of dying wishes of his girlfriend Kellie who passed away from cancer in 2012. He put out his third solo album, Traces, in 2018. The album hit the U.S. top 10 and garnered decent reviews; since then he’s put out a Christmas album and Traces (alternate versions and sketches), essentially an “unplugged” version of the previous one. “I just wanted to strip it down and show everybody the raw emotion that exists in those songs,” he says. As for Journey, don’t look for a reunion any time soon. He did attend the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction with his former band in 2017, but in a show of unusual respect (for the entertainment world), let their new singer, Arnel Pineda sing for the show’s concert, while he watched from the sidelines. Still, we likely haven’t heard the last of Steve. He’s agreed to work with Dolly Parton on her upcoming rock record and not long ago said that he has several more tunes in the works. “I think I’m too old to stop now,” he told journalists. Let’s hope so.

January 20 – Journey To Infinity And Beyond On The Charts Began 45 Years Ago

One of San Francisco’s hardest-working bands journey from obscurity to superstardom took a big leap forward on this day in 1978Journey released their fourth album, Infinity.

The album quickly goes on to eclipse the combined sales of their previous trio of jazz and prog-rock influenced records and establish them as one of America’s big FM rock bands, thanks largely to the singles “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky.”  Surprisingly, looking back, neither of those singles hit the top 40, even though they have now become rock radio standards.

The band had ingredients for success from the start. Gregg Rolie, their first vocalist, had worked with Santana and sung his “Black Magic Woman” and was a quality keyboardist; drummer Aynsley Dunbar had been an in demand studio musician used by John Lennon and David Bowie and Neal Schon (the only person to be a member for the band’s 40+ year history) had also been in Santana’s band. But what they lacked perhaps was a great, power voice and a producer to tie it all together. On Infinity, they got both, adding Steve Perry, which allmusic correctly noted was “a stroke of genius” and bringing in producer Roy Thomas Baker, which probably was another one. Thomas had just finished working with Queen on their A Night at the Opera album and its epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Allmusic rated it 4-stars, better than any of the previous efforts, applauding “Perry’s soaring whale of a voice (and) Schon’s scorching fret work” and the band’s “traditional pop arrangements” leaving “dead and buried were the jazz fusion overtones” they had favored in their early days. Journey’s fourth would hit the U.S. and Canadian top 30 and eventually hit 3X platinum at home, but was quickly over-shadowed by even more successful albums like Departure and Escape in the next few years.

December15 – Santa Came Early For Springsteen

Santa Claus came to town a year ago for Bruce Springsteen. It was on this day in 2021 he and Columbia Records/CBS seemed to finalize a deal selling them the rights to his entire music catalog to that point… for a cool $500 million, or perhaps a little more! It capped off a year of spending by Columbia that tallied over $1 billion, with them doing similar deals with Paul Simon and other artists. Meanwhile Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks were among the artists who’d made similar (but smaller) sales to their record companies. The New York Times reported the Springsteen deal was “the biggest transaction ever struck for a single artist’s body of work.”

I am an artist who can truly say that when I signed with Columbia Records in 1972, I came to the right place,” Springsteen said, adding “I’m thrilled that my legacy will continue to be cared for by the company and people I know and trust.”

There were two parts to the deal, Springsteen’s recorded music back catalog and his songwriting/publishing credits. Thus any copies of say, Born in the U.S.A. that sell in the future will give money only to Columbia, not “the Boss”, and every time someone streams “Hungry Heart”, they too get the money. And it gives Columbia the right to license out his music for use in TV, movie and ads and take in the revenue. Potentially insiders say Springsteen could have raked in even more money from those sources, but hey, when you’re 72, financially comfortable (to say the least), why not take the one-time winfall and enjoy it while you still can, not to mention have a lot less paperwork to deal with in the future collecting royalties? Besides, he’ll still make money on any future music he releases and from any tours.

It makes a lot of sense from Bruce’s standpoint, but one might raise an eyebrow over how beneficial it is to CBS. No one doubts Springsteen’s impact and popularity – 17 different platinum-selling albums in the States including Born in the U.S.A., which has sold beyond 17 million there alone – and a great run of songs still popular on rock radio and streaming services from “Born to Run” to “Tunnel of Love” and the perennial Christmas favorite, “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” But still, in an age of rapidly declining sales of hard copy music like CDs and even LPs and reduced listenership to radio, one might think it seems a quickly declining source of revenue for the large companies. The days of people rushing to stores and buying albums, old or new, in the millions seems long gone. And it takes a lot of plays for streaming services or Youtube to really generate money for the artist – Spotify, for example, pays about half a cent for each time a song is streamed. But, with over 400 million users, most using it daily, that can add up! This deal (and the others, including $300 million for Dylan’s catalog) suggest there is still a lot of money to be made in music. It just arguably is finding its way into fewer and fewer hands.

As for The Boss, he did indeed come up with a new record, Only the Strong Survive, an album of cover songs, last month.

November 22 – Little Steven’s Big Career

Every great boss needs some fine workers answering to him. So today we salute one of Bruce Springsteen’s finest, Steve Van Zandt. “Little Steven” turns 72 today! Guitarist, singer, writer, activist, actor, producer, radio executive… Van Zandt isn’t ready to be put out to pasture anytime soon.

Although he was born in Massachusetts, his family had moved to New Jersey when Steve was truly “little”. Like so many other kids of the ’60s, he was inspired by seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and soon after that formed his first band, in high school. He met Springsteen in a club watching a band when he was around 16 or so. Although he found a little success in his role with Jersey band Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes, his big break was getting back together with his friend “The Boss” in 1975. He helped Bruce come up with the guitar sound for “Born to Run”, and joined the E Street Band – Bruce’s backing musicians – to tour for the Born to Run album in ’75-76. He quickly took the role of being the main lead guitarist, and at times adding some horn bits, and by 1980 helped produce The River.

While working with Bruce much of the time since then, Steve and his Hawaiian shirts and bandanas ventured into solo work in the ’80s, with limited success at home despite putting out seven studio albums. He did have fleeting success in Scandinavia in the ’80s, with his Voice of America album being a top 10 hit there as was the single “Out of the Darkness.” Which perhaps explains the fact that he recently co-wrote and starred in the Netflix series Lilyhammer, a show set in Norway about an aging Mafia boss in hiding. Which kind of takes up where The Sopranos left off; he had an ongoing role in that show as Jersey strip club owner Silvio. And yes, his wife in that one, Maureen Santoro, is his real-life wife. Springsteen was his best man at the wedding.

If not working with Springsteen, promoting his own music or acting as a mafioso, Van Zandt’s kept busy at times touring with Bon Jovi, producing Gary U.S. Bonds and Arc Angels albums and playing with Lone Justice and Jackson Browne from time to time. And running his own record label, Wicked Cool Records. Not to mention his ongoing syndicated radio show, Little Steven’s Underground Garage, which he began in 2002. That helped him start two different satellite radio stations on Sirius. And much like his best man, he has a conscience too. Steven started the ’80s act Artists United Against Apartheid, which put out the single “Sun City” to protest South African racial policies and now runs a non-profit called Teach Rock, which helps educate kids and put music in context of other studies. If that’s a lot to keep track of, you could try going through his memoir, Unrequited Infatuations, which he published last year.

Whew! We hope he finds time to blow out the candles on that cake today… and continues to enjoy a few more “Glory days.”

November 5 – Turntable Talk, Round 8 : Between The Sergeant And The Road…

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As by now, regular readers know, that’s when I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. This is our seventh round of it, and if you’re new here, I recommend taking a look back at some of the earlier topics we’ve covered like why the Beatles are still relevant, or “did video kill the radio star?” or the one dealing with one hit wonders we ran at the start of last month.

This month, a simple category…but one which is challenging and should bring up some interesting memories : Those Were The Days My Friend. Simply put, we’re asking the contributors to write about “music’s best year.”

Obviously, that’s a pretty subjective choice. A few executives might try to look at sales charts and give a statistical answer based on album sales or concert grosses, but to most it comes down to the year that seemed to be when the best music was played, or when the most really good records came out. We’ve not limited it but I would expect that most are going to pick a year from the ‘rock era’ in the second half of the 20th Century. But if someone opines it was 1804 because that was when Beethoven started working on his 5th Symphony, that’ll be interesting to read about. Today we have Max from Power Pop blog. We know Max is a huge fan of the Beatles, the Who and, as his online moniker suggests, Badfinger. Will he opt for a year when those three acts careers intersected?:

Dave wanted us to come up with what we think the best year for music was. It’s so many years to pick from but I went with the music I know best. Although I was a teenager in the 1980s, I went to the music I grew up with from older singles and albums.

What I think of the era of music that I like, I would pick 1964 through 1971. I cannot pick all so here it goes…I pick 1968. It had some of the greatest albums and singles ever.

It was a turbulent year, to say the least. We lost two proponents of peace – Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. Other events include the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, riots in Washington, DC, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and heightened social unrest over the Vietnam War, values, and race.

The music was also toughened up by moving away from psychedelic music. The social climate and The Band’s album Music from Big Pink had a lot of influence on this. You still had psychedelic music released but overall, music was more stripped down to the basics.

My favorite album of all time was released by The Beatles. My favorite album by The Rolling Stones was released that year as well. Let’s look at the albums released in 1968…it’s outstanding.

The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album)

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet

The KinksAre the Village Green Preservation Society

The Band – Music From Big Pink

Small Faces – Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland

Cream – Wheel Of Fire

The Byrds – Sweetheart Of The Rodeo

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Big Brother and Holding Company – Cheap Thrills

Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

The Zombies – Odyssey and Oracle

The Grateful Dead – Anthem of the Sun

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul

Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends

Traffic – Traffic

That list could be on my desert island list… those albums are still being played today. I’ve only scratched the surface of the albums that year.

The Holy Trinity of Rock all released music that year… which would be The Beatles, The Who, and The Stones. I can’t imagine living in the era when these bands were in their prime and roamed the earth. The Who didn’t release an album, but they did release some singles and were gearing up for the following year. Let’s look at some of the singles of that year.

The Beatles – “Hey Jude/Revolution”

The Beatles – “Lady Madonna”

The Who – “Magic Bus”

The Rolling Stones – “Jumping Jack Flash”

Steppenwolf – “Born To Be Wild”

The Doors – “Hello, I Love You”

The Rascals – “People Got To Be Free”

Cream – “Sunshine Of Your Love”

Otis Redding – “The Dock of the Bay”

The Supremes – “Love Child”

The Chamber Brothers – “Time Has Come Today”

Janis Joplin – “Piece of My Heart”

Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Suzie Q”

Joe Cocker – “With A Little Help From My Friends”

The year featured the debut album of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Brian Jones made his final album with the Rolling Stones, and it was the start of their great 5 album stretch. The Who started to record the album that would break them worldwide with Tommy. “Dock of the Bay” would be released posthumously after Otis Redding died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. The Grateful Dead would release their second album Anthem of the Sun and continue to build one of the largest fan bases ever. Jimi Hendrix was breaking barriers with his experimentation in the studio as well as live.

The Band would change the game by releasing Music From Big Pink. It influenced nearly everyone at the time to go back to a rootsy kind of music. Fleetwood Mac would release their debut album this year. Jeff Beck would release his legendary album Truth.

FM radio was getting huge at this time and showed that audiences didn’t have to have top 40 hits to buy albums. Take Van Morrison for instance. Astral Weeks didn’t have a “hit” on the album but continued to be played and sell. The Beatles “The White Album” is as diverse as you can get… Pop, Rock, Country, Folk, Reggae, Avant-Garde, Blues, Hard Rock, and some 20’s British Music Hall thrown in for good measure. No singles were released from this album or Sgt Pepper the previous year. They treated singles and albums as two different things. “Hey Jude” and the hit version of “Revolution” was recorded during “the White Album” but yet they left those two off. The Stones would do the same and leave off “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” from Beggars Banquet.

1968 set the stage for the coming decade’s rock music. Bands like The Who, Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin didn’t need hit singles. You bought the album now and listened to the music in the context of that format. There were still pop/rock singles, but the albums were gaining traction.

To wrap it up…I think any of the years between 1965-1971 could have a strong argument for my tastes. If you are into disco or synth music…not as much. 





November 5 – It’d Be Almost Reckless Not To Celebrate Today, Bryan

A two-caker! Happy birthday Bryan Adams!  Today is not only his 63rd but also marks the 38th anniversary of his biggest album. Reckless came out this day in 1984 his 25th birthday, as it turned out.

Far from a reckless career move, the fourth album for the B.C. rocker was likely aimed at advancing his career quickly and significantly, and that it did. While he’d had some decent success the previous album with Cuts Like A Knife and that record’s title track, this album elevated him into the Springsteen-like rock stratosphere. Not only did it earn the first domestic diamond album in Canada and spend beyond a year in the top 10 there; it was massive in the States and Europe too. In the U.S., it managed to tie other ’80s monster hits Thriller and Born in the U.S.A. by notching six top 20 singles.

Adams and his usual songwriting partner, Jim Vallance, wrote the record earlier in the year and recorded it in his hometown of Vancouver, with Bob Clearmountain producing. That was a savvy move, even if Clearmountain had limited experience producing albums. He had been a sound engineer on big hits for several years in a row, including the Stones’ Tattoo You, Roxy Music’s Avalon, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and right before this one, Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. Rolling Stone, the magazine, would make note of that and suggest Clearmountain made some of the record, like “She’s Only Happy When She’s Dancing” sound rather like Tattoo You outtakes. They further thought “Kids Wanna Rock” was a weaker version of Billy Joel’s “Still Rock and Roll to Me” and that all in all, Adams had created “generic rock and roll, long on formal excellence but short on originality.”

Sounding a bit like the Rolling Stones, or Springsteen for that matter, might not have appealed to critics looking for something new, but it was just fine with the listening public. The album had a conventional mix of Adams’ rockers like “Run to You”, “Kids Wanna Rock” and most notably, the duet with Tina Turner, “It’s Only Love” as well as a couple of slower love songs, including “Heaven” which became his first U.S. #1. He’d go on to score three more the next decade, with songs from three different movies!

With those hits as well as the suggestive “Summer of ’69”, Reckless hit #1 in North America and #2 in Australia (in the UK it topped out at #7 but still went triple platinum) and ended up being 5X platinum in the States, 10X (ergo, “diamond”) in his home country. Chartmasters list it at about 14 million in sales so far between physical hard copies and downloads, best-ever by a Canadian male singer (although interestingly lagging far behind a number of albums by Canadian females like Shania Twain and Alanis Morissette).

Not all critics thought the album as bad as Rolling Stone in the long run. The 2007 book Top 100 Canadian Albums consider it the 12th best and internationally, Classic rock include it among their top 100 greatest rock albums of all-time.

October 19 – Results Were Great When Tom & MCA Put Aside Petty Differences

By 1979, disco was beginning to fade and over in Britain, many were returning to more straight-forward rock sounds – Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson and more. However, North America wasn’t as quick to embrace that sort of change… or at least weren’t until this day that year, when Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers entered the scene in a big way with Damn the Torpedoes.

Now, saying the “entered” the scene is perhaps a bit misleading. After all, they’d been around for four years or so and had put out two albums already, even scoring one top 40 hit in “Breakdown” (which scraped in as marginally as possible, hitting #40 for exactly one week). But that point made, they were still far from a household name or major factor in the sales reports of either ABC or MCA Records. Which leads to the backstory for the album.

Petty had been signed to Leon Russell’s Shelter Records, which was distributed by ABC. But the company was in trouble and sold his contract (and pretty much their entire roster) to MCA. This…displeased… Petty, who thought they were being “bought and sold like a piece of meat.” He sued MCA to get out of his contract; they in turn sued him back for breach of contract. They ended up compromising and he signed a new deal with MCA-owned Backstreet Records. Which cleared the way for him to make this record, with the rising star Jimmy Iovine producing. Iovine had made a bit of a name for himself being the engineer on Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, years later he’d co-found Interscope Records.

The result was great, as allmusic put it a “streamlined fusion of the Stones and Byrds, that thanks to (Iovine’s) clean production sounded utterly modern yet timeless.” Of course the nine songs helped too; Petty wrote some of his best, most accessible power pop tunes for it, with guitarist Mike Campbell starting to show his talent by co-writing two of the best ones – “Here Comes My Girl” and “Refugee.” They were joined by other future-classics “Don’t Do My Like That” and “Even the Losers” plus the ambitious “Louisiana Rain” among others. Iovine’s worth extended beyond his production; Petty tried to give “Don’t Do Me Like That” to J. Geils, but Iovine convinced Tom to hang onto it for himself. It became their only top 10 hit for a decade.

The songs were good, the Heartbreakers (Petty, Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Trench, drummer Stan Lynch and bassist Ron Blair) were hitting their stride. At the time, Rolling Stone raved “the album we’ve all been waiting for – that is if we were all Tom Petty fans, which we would be if there were any justice in the world.” About 40 years later they’d confirm their 5-star grading, ranking it as the 231st greatest album ever, suggesting “soft verses, huge choruses and angelic harmonies. This is the sound of the Heartbreakers.” The Village Voice was characteristically snarky, giving the record backhanded compliments, saying that it was a “breakthrough…because for the first time the Heartbreakers are rocking as powerfully as (Petty’s) writing” but adding that his writing was “shrouded in banality” making for “good rock’n’roll that can be forgotten as soon as the record is over.”

Time would suggest more agreed with Rolling Stone than the Village Voice. Pitchfork give it 9 out of 10, labeling it “the peak of Tom Petty’s songwriting” while allmusic make it his only 5-star record, labeling it his “masterpiece”.

It was a commercial breakthrough for Petty as well. “Refugee” got to #15 at home, and even better in Canada and New Zealand (#2 and #3 respectively) while “Don’t Do Me Like That” reached #10 in the U.S. and #3 in Canada. The album went multi-platinum in those two lands, making it the biggest-selling regular album of his with the Heartbreakers; his solo Full Moon Fever outdid it as did the Greatest Hits album of theirs. The record got to #1 in New Zealand, but only #15 in Australia, demonstrating another example of the two lands “Down under” having different tastes. At home, Damn the Torpedoes sat at #2 for seven weeks, kept out of the top spot by The Wall. To that, Petty said “I love Pink Floyd, but that year I hated them!”

October 10 – Rest Of Band Had Some Harsh Vibes For Brian & His Opus

One of the finest, and most iconic, records of the ’60s came out this day in 1966. Five months after their extraordinary Pet Sounds album was released, the cast-off single “Good Vibrations” was released by the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson couldn’t have been happier. The rest of the band, could have.

The great song certainly was more complex, lyrically and especially musically, than the early hits the band was then known for like “Surfin’ USA.” Mike Love did most of the lyrics, getting the basic idea from recalling his mother telling him years earlier that dogs would bark at people who gave off “bad vibrations.” Brian Wilson came up with the basic melody then worked with it, and worked with it, and worked some more.

When all was said and done, he’d spent about eight months in four different studios, putting down over 90 hours of tape for the three-minute or so song. It cost about $50 000 to finish, a fortune at the time. And it alienated some of the others. Carl and Dennis Wilson wanted a simple sound like their early-’60s hits, and balked at Wilson’s complex “Wall of Sound”-inspired dreams. As a result they did next to nothing on it, and Wilson brought in a host of studio musicians including Larry Knetchel, Carol Kaye, and probably Glen Campbell to work on it. Most unusual was the use of a theremin, a hands-off electronic instrument (which created synthesizer-like sounds) which he brought in Paul Tanner to play. Tanner had played with Glenn Miller’s orchestra years earlier!

The result was striking and probably helped inspire The Beatles – the Beach Boys ongoing rivals – to create Sgt. Pepper the next year. Wilson told the BBC he remembers hearing the finished tape for the first time. “It was a feeling of power. It was a rush,” he said. “A feeling of exaltation!”

The public agreed. The song went to #1 at home, and in Britain, where it was their first after back-to-back #2 hits. It sold enough to get them their only platinum single until “Kokomo” two decades later.

Years later, the opinions had only gotten better. Rolling Stone rank it as the 6th best single of all-time; Mojo flat out declare it “the #1 record of all-time” while the BBC laud the American single as the “ultimate feel-good record of the ’60s.” We wonder if that eventually made Carl and Dennis feel good?

October 8 – Illinois Band’s Road To Fame Ran Through Japan

Live albums are usually throwaway releases designed only for the hardcore fans of the artist or cynical ways for a group to finish off a contractual obligation to a record company without going back to do any work writing or in the studio. Usually. Every once in awhile though, it is something else and actually opens doors for the artist. Such was the case twice in the late-’70s, once with Peter Frampton and his Frampton Comes Alive and then again on this day in 1978 with Illinois’ Cheap Trick. They put out their fourth album, Cheap Trick At Budokan (or “Live at Budokan” as many of us refer to it as) 44 years ago. In Japan.

Which is part and parcel of the band’s story. They’d formed in Rockford, IL around 1973, and had a small following in the Midwest due to relentless touring. But success at home was hard to buy, even with the backing of Epic Records. Their first two albums bombed in North America, and the third, Heaven Tonight would only scratch briefly into the top 50 due to the minor success of the single “Surrender.”

Oddly however, they became a sensation in Japan. A combination of their looks (from the good-looking, well-coiffed Tom Petersson and his 12-string bass and singer Robin Zander to the chubby, old-time drummer Bun E. Carlos who would have looked at home in a barbershop quartet, and the zany bowtied Rick Nielsen, a musical Sheldon Cooper lookalike) and their poppy sound appealed to the Japanese crowd, especially teenage girls there. They scored a #1 hit single there with “Clock Strikes Ten” and their first two albums sold well. No surprise then that they headed there to promote the heck out of Heaven Tonight . Such was their popularity that they were booked for a couple of shows at Tokyo’s Budokan theatre, a sort of Oriental Madison Square Garden built for the 1964 Olympics. The Beatles were the first musical act to play there, so getting a gig at it was a big deal! The two shows were recorded and the best of them were put on a live album for the Japanese fans. Epic couldn’t even be bothered to put it out on this side of the ocean, they were busy trying to get the studio album noticed even a little.

The live album took off in Japan and something strange happened. People in the U.S. heard it and took note. It began to get spun on some radio stations and before you could say “trade tariffs” 30 000 copies had been imported and sold in the U.S! Epic decided it was worth pressing a few copies for release here at that point in February, 1979. That was a good decision!

As allmusic would later say (in a review that graded it a perfect 5-stars), “many of these songs were pleasant in their original form” but lacked… oomph. They only “gelled” played live, and the band’s “ear-shatteringly loud guitars and sweet melodies” influenced a whole range of ’80s metal and ’90s alt rock bands. Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana both claim Cheap Trick as a major influence, for example.

I Want You To Want Me” was one of the inescapable sounds of the summer of ’79 and when all was said and done, the live album had hit #1 in Canada, #4 at home and sold to multi-platinum levels in both countries. They of course, then went on to have a mixed career of hits and misses, but they would forever be a household name (in musical households) and never play to half-empty bars in Kenosha anymore!

They’re still a band, with Nielsen, Zander and Petersson doing their thing, over 40 years later.