7 and Heaven Tonight
I’ve mentioned the name change from Steeling Time to Tunnel 18, but I haven’t really fully explained where the “new” name came from, or why I’m making the change. Today’s as good a time as any other to fill you in on the prehistory of Tunnel 18:
The band known as Tunnel 18 has been around in various forms for (oh dear god) 30 years. It started as a series of jam sessions of high schoolers in Harrington Park, NJ – a suburb of New York City, located a 40-minute bus ride northwest of Times Square. Those jam sessions involved many lineups in many garages and basements, but the first combination that would really identify as Tunnel 18 was a four-piece of Don H on drums, Neils W on bass, Chris C on guitar and Chris S (me) on rhythm guitar. This was in about 1987 or so.
This lineup lasted for only a little while, until Neils moved on to other bands (notably The Package) and started playing bars in and around Bergen and Rockland Counties. I took over bass guitar duties, and the band settled into the form it would hold until about 1991. Chris C moved to North Carolina at about that time, leaving me and Don to play as a duo until about 1993. Don and I came back together again in 1995-96 as part of a project called Jule.
Tunnel 18 in its Chris-Chris-Don configuration produced three album-length collections of songs over a period of four years and played mainly at parties in Bergen County. Tape copies of the albums and of recordings of the parties are still floating around here and there, and turn up every once in a while. Songs like “One Step Closer,” “Burning Off the Night,” “Take Me Home” (not to be confused with the 2015 Steeling Time song), “Bus Ride,” and “The Pine Song” are all on these recordings, as well as a host of cover tunes. “Edge of the World” and “Left Behind” were written in the 1994-1995 period and made their way into the Jule sessions, but were not recorded at that time, only finally surfacing in the 2014-15 Steeling Time project.
Chris C, Don H, and Neils W were my musical brothers. You’re going to see their names a lot more in the list of influential albums, and they are the musicians who really pushed me to want to play, to learn to write songs, and to get better at the craft everyday.
#7 – In Color [and Black & White] (Cheap Trick, 1977)
1976-1979 were critical years in forming my musical tastes, and it should come as no surprise that many of the “most influential” albums on this list come from this period. Cheap Trick in particular had a peak period at this time, releasing In Color, Heaven Tonight, and Cheap Trick at Budokan in close succession. Chris C had all three albums, and we’d play them pretty constantly (in a rotation that also included Kiss, early Van Halen, Neil Young, and even the occasional Charlie Daniels Band record).
I didn’t know what to make of Cheap Trick at first. My first exposure to the band was the Cheap Trick at Budokan record, with the gorgeous Robin Zander and Tom Petersson on the front cover and the schlubby Bun E. Carlos and slightly scary dweeb Rick Nielsen on the back. But the songs – and there were so many of them – would get stuck in your head, and you’d find yourself singing (alright, shouting) along with them all day – everything from the opening blast of “Hello There” (a song that proves the value of a good show opener) to the summer good-time melodies of “Southern Girls” and the 12-string bass (yup, 12) pounding away on “Big Eyes.”
Cheap Trick at Budokan was great in itself (still love hearing Robin Zander trying to talk to a screaming Japanese crowd, sounding very much like he’s not 100% sure that the audience understands a word he’s saying), but the studio versions of the songs were master classes in how to write pop hard rock songs – not the shallow overproduced big hair metal tunes that would follow a few years later, but real, tight, layered, living songs with depth. They didn’t use a lot of effects or over-processing, but paid incredible attention to song phrasing, tone, and vocal placement.
The band (more or less) has been touring the US again recently, partly due to their own persistence and partly due to the homage paid to them by artists like Foo Fighters and to Rick Nielsen’s involvement in the Sonic Highways album/project. I strongly suggest going out and buying (fuck, downloading) In Color and then seeing when this great band will be coming back near you.