Cheap Trick – two guys that look like rock stars, one guy that looks like an accountant and one guy that looks like one of the Bowery Boys. But together they rock.
A couple of hours or so due northwest of Chicago is a town called Rockford, Illinois. There, 13-year-old guitarist Rick Nielsen was already playing in his first bands. Both of Nielsen’s parents were opera singers and his father also conducted symphonies. Rick learned to play several instruments because his parents also owned a music store when he was in his teens. Nielsen is also a great collector of guitars including this one:
He kicked around several bands for a while, even somehow managing to replace Todd Rundgren in the Philly-based Nazz. He also played in a band called the Grim Reapers who were to open for a 1967 Otis Redding show at which Otis never arrived.
The various members of what would become Cheap Trick crossed paths or played together in one configuration or another. Eventually, they settled in with bassist Tom Petersson and the fantastically-named accountant-looking guy, Bun E. Carlos. After having one lead singer, they eventually brought on Robin Zander and the band – as of 1974 – was complete.
The name Cheap Trick was inspired by the band’s attendance at a Slade concert, where Petersson commented that the band used “every cheap trick in the book” as part of their act. They performed around the Midwest and eventually got picked up by Epic Records. (Producer Jack Douglas – who later co-produced Double Fantasy – recommended them.)
Cheap Trick’s sound was harder-edged when they first recorded. Always a great rock and roll band, this is what they sounded like in 1977. (Produced by Douglas who, BTW, also recorded Aerosmith.)
The album didn’t sell for shit in the States although gradually the band started to pick up an audience in Japan. Despite the album’s failing to chart, the band recorded another album called In Color and released it in 1977. This album brought out more of their power pop sound than the first album did. The song “I Want You To Want Me” went to number one in Japan. Not quite sure why they loved ’em over there but they did.
Now the lads were never really happy with the way the song was recorded on In Color. So I am going to play the Budokan version. (Did I mention that Japan loves them?! It was like Beatlemania when they went over there to play. )
Cheap Trick finally broke into the Billboard Top 100 with a song that Rolling Stone calls out on their Top 500 songs of all time. I love this fucking song and it has some of the greatest sing-along lyrics in the history of recorded music: (Nielsen wrote this and has been their primary songwriter.)
Whatever happened to all this season’s losers of the year?
Every time I got to thinking, where’d they disappear?
Then I woke up, mom and dad are rolling on the couch.
Rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my Kiss records out.
Mommy’s alright, daddy’s alright, they just seem a little weird.
Surrender, surrender, but don’t give yourself away, ay, ay, ay.
When the band visited Japan in the ’70’s, they played Budokan and recorded the shows. The album was meant (for whatever reason) only for the Japanese market. But people were buying the import in droves and so Epic released Cheap Trick at Budokan in early 1979. And boom! The album took off (triple platinum) and the band were now international stars.
Here they are putting their own spin on Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame.” The build-up to this is enough to drive the screaming audience insane:
In 1979, the band released their most commercially successful album, Dream Police. Alas, even though they made quite a few more albums and are still together in some fashion to this very day, the title song is the last one I recall being anything like a hit. More power pop:
Cheap Trick had a few songs that went into rotation on MTV and even had albums produced by George Martin and Todd Rundgren. But despite that, they never again reached the same heights. Perhaps their biggest claim to fame was re-recording the Big Star song “In the Street,” starting with the second season of That ’70’s Show. (I always thought that the creators of that show had their fingers on the pulse of music. How many people knew Big Star?)
And since no rock band is really a rock band till there’s (1) acrimony and (2) a lawsuit. Cheap Trick followed the blueprint. Wikipedia: In 2013, Bun E. Carlos filed a lawsuit against his former bandmates, claiming that even though they claimed that he was still a band member, he was not being allowed to participate in band-related activities, including recording.
The remaining three members of Cheap Trick filed a countersuit, seeking a legal affirmation of their removal of Carlos. Their lawsuit was dismissed in late 2013. In 2015 they kissed and made up.
“We’ve settled our differences,” Zander said. “Bun E.’s a member of the band, but he’s not touring and he’s not recording. … We’ve had our differences, but we’re all settled up now and hopefully we can forget about that era. These decisions that Cheap Trick makes, Bun E. is part of.”
Cheap Trick (all four original members) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. They tour (minus Bun E.) to this very day.