Cheap Trick

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.)

Spotify link

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. )

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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.

27 thoughts on “Cheap Trick

  1. Good stuff, as always, Jim! While I only know little about their music, I’ve yet to hear a bad Cheap Trick song. They definitely appeared to have an ear for catchy tunes. “I Want You To Want Me” is a great party song, and “Surrender” is kick ass, too!

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    1. Yeah. They’re coming to Fenway. I wish they were pkaying a different venue, I might go. But I ain’t spending one thin dime of my hard-earned dough on either Journey or Def Leppard who are also the bill.

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      1. It’s so tough to decide who to see these days, given high ticket prices. Yesterday, I saw tickets for Eric Clapton at the Garden in October. While he clearly has had his ups and downs, I dig the guy, but the cheapest tickets sell for $150 (excluding fees), and they are not even great seats – smacks like a rip off to me! By comparison, Buddy Guy who I’m going to see at BB King Club in Manhattan on Wednesday night, was half the price.

        BTW, George Thorogood who I know you previously highly recommended to see, is playing in my neck of the woods Thu night. I’m seriously considering it. Unlike Clapton, prices are very reasonable. Unfortunately, my family is currently going through a bit of a rough patch, so I have to balance that vs. going to two shows back-to-back.

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        1. Yeah, I got see EC a couple times when there was at least SOME thought given to fans. Now I think fans are the last things on anyone’s mind. They figure if we want to go badly enough, we’ll pay. As to old Lonesome George, well, maybe next time. He’ll be around for a while. Of course, I said the same thing about Petty. 😦

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        2. With rock & roll not exactly being known as a healthy profession, I’m afraid you’re right about ‘one day they’re here, next day they’re gone.’ So I think I’m probably going to see Thorogood anyway.

          Since I’ve never seen him, I also really would really like to go to Clapton but not for $150; once Ticketmaster slaps their fees on top, you’re probably talking $180/200 – and all of it for rather mediocre seats!

          While I would consider myself to be a bit of a rock & roll nutcase, there are very very few artists for whom I’d spend that type of money. The Rolling Stones and Springsteen come to mind. I would also love to go to Sir Paul one more time.

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        3. I would go see all of those if I thought the price wasn’t too outrageous. I paid a pretty penny for Skynyrd. But if I die while playing air guitar during “Free Bird,’ well, I’ll consider that a life well=spent!

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  2. Doc, I won’t meet you at the Def Leppard/Journey bill but if Trick is playing in a small club I’m in. I seen them on Austin City a few years ago and they were fantastic. Funny thing is I really dug the new stuff. Perfect venue for the band.

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    1. We will together not go to Fenway. In fact, I was kinda hoping they’d go to a small club. But they still seem able to pack ’em in at the stadiums. Frankly I was surprised they were even still together. Talk about under the radar. And their heyday was almost 40 years ago!

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  3. Dream Police is a great… probably my favourite of the Cheap Trick albums I’ve heard (I’m not all that into the Budokan album). Last year’s We’re All Alright! is worth checking out. Very strong.

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        1. Heh! Good point. That comment made me go look up stats on the 2017 album ‘We’re All Alright!” Mixed results. It turns out that there are, yes, a couple of Japan bonus tracks. But one of the highest chart positions is in – wait for it – Scotland, a country I understand you may have more than a passing familiarity with.

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        2. !! Is that right!? That’s quite something. The Scots won’t forget about Cheap Trick even when the world has abandoned them.

          I wonder if there are t-shirts in the tourist shops with the saltire and the slogan “mad for Cheap Trick”. I might have found my fortune.

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  4. Wow, I had no idea that Nielsen replaced Todd Rundgren in Nazz. I thought Nazz broke up after Runt left, as he was practically the whole band.

    I love good Power Pop (Big Star, Raspberries, etc.) but never much cared for Cheap Trick. A little too commercial for me. I’ll have to give them some more listens.

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    1. I guess if you don’t find yourself liking the tunes in this post, Cheap Trick might not do it for you. But as to commercial, I gotta say the Raspberries were that big time. Great sound bur pure ear candy .

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      1. Yes, you’re right, Raspberries were commercial ear candy, too. Maybe it comes down to song quality. I just prefer listening to a song like “Go All the Way” than a song like “Dream Police.” Maybe the Berries came closer to that ’60s Beatles/Byrds thing? Better hooks and choruses? Dunno.

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        1. Yeah, I’d say “Dream Police” is probably my least favorite of the songs I listed. “Surrender” is my favorite. “Go All the Way” is a terrific song that I’ve been wanting to put in a three-song post for a while. Please baby have sex with me. Gotta love it.

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  5. Surrender, what a track. I have a deep and abiding affection for this band. I grew up in a suburban wasteland and bands like this were like beacons over the horizon promising that life could be so much fucking better.

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    1. Yeah, such a lovably bizarre-looking crew. “Mommy’s alright, daddy’s alright, they just seem a little weird.” Dylan wishes he’d written that! 🙂

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  6. Nice write up, sir. Cheap Trick are one of those acts that never really clicked for me. I’ve got a compilation kicking around somewhere but I don’t think I can recall much beyond those highlighted here. I’ll have to dig it out and see if I’m missing anything

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    1. I would say these tunes are the cream of their crop. I was a fan but didn’t really follow them so there may be some great stuff I’m missing. Their first three albums are all supposed to be really good.

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