Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Versus -- the Illinois Bands

Cheap Trick -- Rockford
Chicago -- Chicago
REO Speedwagon -- Champaign
Styx -- Chicago

Doug: Not a bad list, if you're looking for bands that charted throughout the 1970's and into the 1980's, huh? From Surrender to 25 or 6 to 4, from Roll With the Changes to Lorelei, these guys have you covered on just about anything between hard rock, pop, and ballads.

Doug: I guess I became "aware" of popular music when I was about 6-years old. That's when I got my beloved transistor radio (complete with earpiece) -- AM only, baby. From that day, I fell in love with the likes of Elton John (Rocket Man, Someone Saved My Life Tonight), Paul McCartney (Live and Let Die, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey), and the one-hit wonders of the early 1970's -- Paper Lace (The Night Chicago Died), Johnny Wakelin (Black Superman), etc. But it wasn't until I got into junior high school in 1977 that I really began to latch onto some bands and actually follow what they produced. The bands listed above fall into that category.

Doug: I can recall standing in line to get out of PE one day and seeing an older kid wearing a Cheap Trick concert t-shirt. Never heard of 'em. But, it wasn't too long after that when the live album (yeah, dude -- a record) Cheap Trick at Budokan was released. I didn't know it at the time, but Cheap Trick had been huge in Japan, while struggling early on to get anything on the radio in the States. The year 1979 saw their frustration come to an end when I Want You to Want Me was constantly played on Top 40 stations around the country. After that album came the studio follow-up Dream Police, with its title track and Voices being the big hits. Dream Police really rocked, and Zander's vocals were powerful throughout the album -- at times power-charged, at others a little pouty. I loved the contrast in looks among the band members, as lead singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson looked like refugees from Tiger Beat magazine, while guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos were almost caricatures; they were certainly characters. In particular, Nielsen's multi-colored (and certainly odd-looking) guitars were a visual high point. At the point of Dream Police, I'd become a fan and eagerly anticipated new output from the band. Of all their hits, I guess I'd rank The Flame and Tonight It's You as two I regularly turn to. I like the studio and live versions of The Flame about equally.

Doug: Chicago. Wow -- when did I become aware of them? When you look at their early discography and think of AM radio, I guess from the time I got that radio I've been aware of Chicago's music. It would be hard to name a hit that I don't care for, although most of what they turned out after Peter Cetera left to make his sappy-ballad-duet fortune pale in comparison to what the band created in its first decade-plus. While not a big purchaser of their albums, their greatest hits compilations (as well as iTunes today) have me pretty well-stocked in regard to their music. The horns are always great, and the contrast in vocal styles create a nice sound. Frequently-played songs lately for me include Dialogue (Part I & II) and I'm a Man. I just love the percussion section, especially on I'm a Man, as well as the end of Beginnings. Going old style!
Doug: You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish. Best. Album. Name. Ever. And the singles off of it -- Roll With the Changes and Time For Me to Fly plus the foot-tapping Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight make this an all-time great. This came out about the same time as the retrospective A Decade of Rock and Roll, which got me turned on to some of their older tunes, like 157 Riverside Avenue. After hearing that, I bought Live: You Get What You Play For and really got into some of the band's older tracks -- a bit more hard-edged than the pop path they would head down in the 1980's. Of the Illinois bands I've listed, this was by far the band for which I owned the most albums. Hi Infidelity, Nine Lives... each album had a sound of its own as the band experimented with different sounds that oscilated between rock and pop. Having purchased The Essential REO Speedwagon on CD a couple of years ago, my iTouch is pretty well outfitted with REO tunes. Hey, and why do they refer to the '80's rockers as "hair bands"? Check out these fellows!

Doug: The last band on the list, Styx, has a little local history (for me) tied in. Urban legends in these parts had them playing on the tennis courts of the local YMCA and even at the homecoming dance of the high school I would attend. Both of these events allegedly occurred in the early 1970's, well before the band hit it big. I've not been able to verify either incident, but it is the stuff of local chest-swelling. Or so I'm told... Anyway, Styx was getting big when I was in junior high and got even bigger as I got into high school. Early songs like Lorelei and Lady led to hits off The Grand Illusion like the title track, Foolin' Yourself, and the mega-hit Come Sail Away. The dueling vocals of Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw gave each song a little bit of a different feel, but the keyboards and vocal harmonies held everything neatly together. Later, the albums Cornerstone and Paradise Theater cemented the band's albums as treasured spaces in my collection. Rockin' the Paradise, Borrowed Time, and Too Much Time on My Hands were all great memories as they played from my table-top stereo system. I wasn't much into politics as a kid, but the negativity of the Carter administration shines through on several of the band's songs.

Doug: So, give a vote on the poll to the left, and leave a comment below to share a memory.


Anonymous said...

You left off Head East!

Doug said...

Anonymous --

I didn't leave them off. Yeah, they're from Illinois, and I gave them a little love several weeks ago here on the blog (

But you can't honestly say they're in the same class as the four bands I chose. "Never Been Any Reason" is an all-time classic rock standard, but Head East doesn't have the record (no pun intended) of these other four bands.

Edo Bosnar said...

If I'd been shown this list back in the late '70s, I would have picked Styx without even thinking. I'm now embarrassed at how much I loved that band back in my elementary school days.
Later, and up to now, my personal favorite from the list is Chicago - from their first period, as you noted, before the Peter Cetera love ballad stuff from the '80s. Most of their output from that period really holds up well, unlike a lot of the stuff from all of the other bands, which often sounds kind of dated now.
I think Chicago IX, the greatest hits album, is a collection that perfectly shows what the band was all about: jazzy rock with a full brass section - great, timeless classics.

jim kosmicki said...

You might not considered them big enough based on your comments about Head East, but Off Broadway and Shoes and The Elvis Brothers are part and parcel of Chicago music in that time period for me. I'm from Central NE, and we knew all these bands early in their careers too, so I do appreciate the love for the biggies, but the Midwest powerpop scene was strong too.

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