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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"Yeah, life goes on around me every day / But it might as well be half a million miles away"

The '80s started off pretty rocky for Rockford, Illinois power-pop combo Cheap Trick. After watching their first chart entry of the decade, "Voices", struggle to #32 on the charts, the band stood by helplessly as single after single faltered just outside the Top 40. Just look at the trail of tears:

• "Everything Works If You Let It" - #44, 1980
• "Stop This Game" - #48, 1980
• "If You Want My Love" - #45, 1982
• "She's Tight" - #65, 1982
• "Tonight It's You" - #44, 1985

Each near-miss had to be frustrating for not only the band, but also for their long-time label, Epic. By 1988, something had to give. Cheap Trick, meet your new songwriters, Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham. They've got a little ditty for you called "The Flame" that just smells like a hit.

No, no, I said it smells like a hit. HIT!

Cheap shots aside, "The Flame" did just what was intended, and that's get Cheap Trick back in the charts and in the public eye. After peaking at #1, its follow-up, the equally dire remake of "Don't Be Cruel", continued the hot streak, topping out at #4. The band proved its hit-making skills with covers, so perhaps it was time to showcase their own writing skills with the next single. Sorta.

Now, quite a few people are under the impression that super-ballad writer Diane Warren was responsible for "The Flame", but she actually co-wrote, along with Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen, Lap of Luxury's third single. "Ghost Town" was a much more acceptable artistic compromise than the overwrought "Flame", nicely showcasing Robin Zander's throaty delivery while keeping the schmaltz at a minimum.

Sadly, "Ghost Town" didn't wow 'em the way the last two singles did, just making the Top 40. Epic worked a couple more singles off Luxury, but neither made an impact. Two albums later, the band parted ways with Epic, skipping around a few labels before starting their own. But if you think that meant artistic freedom without compromise, let me remind you that 2006's Rockford featured a lead-off single co-written by another songwriting machine, Linda Perry. Gotta pay those bills.

"Ghost Town" peaked at #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #32 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart in 1988.

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posted by John, 4:22 PM