It was never supposed to be played live. Never. Too difficult, too trippy, too what-in-the-sam-(bleep)-is-this? Tired of touring, tired of teenies howling over their art, the Beatles specifically recorded 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band so it would never, could never be re-created onstage.
Hmm, somebody might want to tell Cheap Trick about that.
After staging the entirety of Sgt. Pepper's at heralded live shows in New York and Los Angeles last year, those Rockford, Ill., power-poppers — hunky singer Robin Zander, spasmodic guitarist Rick Nielsen, smooth bassist Tom Petersson and buttoned-down drummer Bun E. Carlos — are about to resurrect Billy Shears, Lucy and the gang all over again.
This time, in Tampa Bay. Cool. Very cool.
Friday night, at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Cheap Trick will be joined by such special guests as the Florida Orchestra, '60s "Sunshine Superman" Donovan and none other than Geoff Emerick, the mastermind who engineered the original Sgt. Pepper's. After an opening set of Beatles and Donovan hits, Zander & Co. will perform the album from the title track all the way down to the epic suburban anguish of A Day in the Life.
"It's a Cheap Trick show," says Zander, who lives in Safety Harbor with his blond, beautiful family. "We're just paying tribute to the Beatles."
If there were ever a band to pull this off, it would be this quartet, whose power-pop chops and high-holy harmonies heard in hits Surrender and If You Want My Love (and on seminal 1978 live album At Budokan) were obviously influenced by the Fab Four.
Also, Emerick worked with Cheap Trick on the 1980 album All Shook Up. He also engineered the recent tribute shows, plus an upcoming live DVD. "It's not a pretentious project," Emerick told me earlier this year at Big3 Records in St. Petersburg. "It's not supposed to be better than the original. It's just fun. . . . The energy on this is just enormous."
Fresh from a tour of Australia, Zander is back home and prepping for the big show. Taking a break from rehearsals, the 55-year-old singer (whose wail still can climb gloriously glass-shattering) chatted a bit about Donovan, the 40th anniversary of another Beatles masterpiece and which band he'd like to have pay tribute to Cheap Trick.
You've had some special guests for these Sgt. Pepper's gigs. Joan Osborne, Ian Ball from Gomez. And now ... Donovan?
Donovan was highly influential on the Beatles. He taught them a few things about finger-picking on an acoustic guitar. I asked him if he would come and tell some stories. He'll play his own songs but hopefully do Dear Prudence, Julia, Blackbird, some of the Beatles' acoustic songs.
Now that you've immersed yourself in Beatlemania, have you gleaned any magic or insight into how the Fabs did what they did?
What's helpful is having Geoff Emerick right there. If you're having trouble understanding the emotion in the song, he was there when it was being recorded. Of course, who really knows what McCartney was thinking when he wrote She's Leaving Home, right? You ultimately have to get into it your own way.
And Geoff is coming back for the Clearwater show?
Yep, he'll be overseeing the sound engineers for the orchestra and the band. He's amazing.
Will you guys have time for any Cheap Trick songs?
No Cheap Trick songs. But there will be a private jam session afterward. Dave Mason, Buck Dharma, Joe Lynn Turner from Deep Purple. We'll be jamming with the John Entwistle Band, so we'll do a few Who songs. Maybe we can get Donovan to come back for that.
If you could pick any band to re-create, say Dream Police, which turns 30 next year, who would you pick?
You know, Robin, the Beatles' "White Album" turns 40 this year. Maybe you guys should take a crack at that?
I think that'd be a lot of fun. But instead of being everyone's favorite opening band, Cheap Trick would become a Beatles cover band. We can't have that! (Laughs) I don't know. Maybe I'll do the "White Album" by myself. That'd be cool, huh?
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.
PULL UP THE COVERS
The Beatles' Yesterday is considered the most-covered song in pop history, with 3,000 artists taking a crack at its simplistic heartache. (Looove the Daffy Duck version.) The music on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is often far more complex, but that hasn't stopped hundreds of artists from taking a crack at Getting Better and the rest.
Here's a track-by-track list of some of the better covers of Sgt. Pepper's (and no, William Shatner's Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds didn't make the cut).
1 Jimi Hendrix, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
2 Joe Cocker, With a Little Help From My Friends
3 Bono, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
4 Gomez, Getting Better
5 The Fray, Fixing a Hole
6 Harry Nilsson, She's Leaving Home
7 Eddie Izzard, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
8 Oasis, Within You, Without You
9 John Denver, When I'm Sixty-Four
10 Travis, Lovely Rita
11 The Zutons, Good Morning, Good Morning
12 Jeff Beck, A Day in the Life
BUDOKAN TURNS 30
"I want you . . . to want . . . ME!"
With that excited but altogether sweet exhalation, Cheap Trick became legend.
In 1978, when Robin Zander & Co. played the 14,000-seat Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo, the Illinois band was already huge in Japan. Problem was, nobody wanted to want them in the United States.
But after Columbia released Cheap Trick's At Budokan live album — complete with hits I Want You to Want Me and Surrender — the sounds of crowd rapture on vinyl turned into bonkers enthusiasm stateside. The album has since sold close to 10-million copies.
Now 30 years later, the folks at Epic/Legacy have just released a yowza three CD/DVD box set with new interviews, remastered cuts, and rarely seen concert footage in 5.1 Surround Sound. Oh, and you fanboys and girls out there will love the giant foldout poster.
"Budokan was 30 years ago!" says Zander. "Man, I must be getting old."