Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You're on top of the world and you can't get any higher

I whipped up a nice little write-up on Cheap Trick for this week's edition of Check Out This Jam, and it should run tomorrow. The funny sidenote is, my fandom of the band was helped but also perplexed by asking for (and receiving) a box set a little too early in the stages. Knowing this can help explain my caution towards jumping in with Neil Young's Archives Vol. 1.

Being a kid of the 1980s who watched a lot of MTV in the last three years of that decade, I remember Cheap Trick quite well. Not only was there the "Flame" juggernaut, but there was also "Don't Be Cruel" and "Can't Stop Falling In Love." That was my introduction, no matter how many writers at Guitar World can cry about the tragedy of that.

When I started reading Guitar World in the mid-1990s, I heard a lot of praise of the band's first four studio albums, as well as the At Budokan live LP. By the time the Sex, America, Cheap Trick box set came out, I had heard the chorus to "Surrender" exactly once, but based what I had read and heard, I was quite sure I would be ready to jump into the band's life before "The Flame."

I gave many spins to the first two discs of the box set, and songs like "Surrender," "Dream Police," and "On Top of the World" immediately grabbed me and I loved those songs immensely. The deal was, surrounding all these great studio tracks were rarities like unreleased live songs, demos, and B-sides. This was a lot to wade through, and this was long before CD-Rs allowed me to make a sampling of a box set quick and easy.

I understand that box sets can either please the hardcore fans who want rarities and unreleased material (like Neil Young's Archives Vol. 1) or the completists (like the Jam's Direction, Creation, Reaction), but I can't seem to recall a set that pleased both extremes. In the case of the Cheap Trick set, it tried to please both, but I'm quite sure it didn't. I liked the inclusion of studio tracks while I'm sure there were people who wanted those tracks removed and replaced with more rarities. In my defense, this was the only place to hear any of the band's material remastered. The band's first four albums would not be reissued and remastered until almost ten years later.

Now that I have really dialed in with the band's last few studio albums, I can safely say I look forward to going back into the band's early material. It was just a long and twisty road to get to that point.

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