Cheap Trick’s Unknown Classic: ‘Cheap Trick 1997’

I’ve been trying to make this blog entry for about one week. You see, I live in rural Central Indiana, and we only have ONE internet provider available to us, Frontier. Since our community has been undergoing a population boom, Frontier has NOT been able to keep up with that boom. It seems to me that they are still attempting to run the central IP address through a place that is too far away from us here. It’s time to update the infrastructure. Enough of the tales of intermittent internet service, let’s get on with the blog…

9.2 cheap trick publicity shot 1997

I hate my internet provider! If you want the internet in rural Central Indiana, you are limited to Frontier. And, they cannot seem to keep up with the growth of our portion of their coverage. So, we have been without internet service for the past three days! Of course, I always want to write when my back is killing me, so things conspired to keep me from being on here. Therefore, I decided to write a late Labor Day weekend blog entry on my favorite artist, Class of 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Cheap Trick.

9.2 cheap trick - cheap trick 1997

If you ignore their first five albums, my favorite Cheap Trick album is their second eponymous album, released in 1997, which Trick fans call Cheap Trick ’97. The album was released on the 20th anniversary of the release of their debut album, Cheap Trick. That album’s cover was a black-and-white group shot; whereas, the 1997 version was a black-and-white photo of guitarist Rick Nielson’s five-neck checkered guitar and drummer Bun E. Carlos’ bass drum. On the back cover is a photo of lead singer Robin Zander’s guitar and bassist Tom Petersson’s 12-string bass guitar. This front-and-back cover seemed to be a play on the band’s earlier covers in which Zander and Petersson would be pictured on the cover while Nielson’s and Carlos’s mugs would be on the back.

9.2 cheap trick - woke-up-with-a-monster

Back in 1997, Cheap Trick was just coming off being dropped by Warner Brothers after a critically acclaimed yet commercially disappointing album, Woke Up with a Monster. As the 1980s ended, Cheap Trick’s old label Epic had been forcing the band to use outside writers in order to find a song like “I Want You to Want Me”. Unfortunately, that song had begun as a joke, but now was something of a commercial albatross around the neck of the band. If you really knew and loved the band, you knew they were capable of great songs that never sounded like they were of that time. Believe it or not, they were years ahead of their time, because they fit perfectly in with the alternative bands of 1990s, for whom they were opening. So, in 1997, Cheap Trick signed with a small independent label called Red Ant.

9.2 cheap trick - baby talk9.2 cheap trick - brontosaurus

Red Ant allowed the band to release a vinyl single remake of their song “Baby Talk” backed with a cover version of The Move’s “Brontosaurus” on alternative nation’s favorite label, Seattle’s Sub Pop. That move ingratiated the band even more with alternative bands, which allowed Trick to leave behind the trappings of hair metal that Epic had placed them in. Now, the band had a small label that wanted to record a CD of Trick’s music as it is. So, the band went into the studio and knocked out an album that was a true worthy successor to their Seventies masterpieces. They even created two surefire hits in “Say Goodbye” and “Hard to Tell”. Radio was getting behind the band. We were actually hearing “Say Goodbye” being played on multiple stations in Indianapolis. And, more telling, teenagers like my oldest son and his friends were thinking the songs they heard were cool. Everything seemed ready for the big comeback for a band that deserved to be recognized.

But, then, out of the blue, Red Ant went bankrupt. And, just like that, all of the hot air was let out of the balloon. All of the momentum stopped immediately. It was at that moment, that the band was left stunned and did not seem to gain there bearing until the second decade of the 21st century. But that album released in 1997, Cheap Trick ’97 is a under-appreciated masterpiece. Finally, the band had a batch of great songs that showcased their strengths. Going back and listening to the album nearly 20 years later, I realized there is not a clunker on the whole thing. Much like those first three classic albums the band released in 1977 and 1978, this album showcased everything that was great about the band: excellent lead vocals, timeless power pop, searing guitar work, and a limber rhythm section that most bands of any ilk lack.

Go back and give the album a listen. In addition to those aforementioned possible singles, you’ve got great Cheap Trick rockers such as “Anytime”, “Yeah Yeah”, “Wrong All Along” and “Eight Miles Low”. Plus, the album ends with a terrific ballad, “It All Comes Back to You”. Unfortunately, a series of events kept this album from becoming the classic that it is. Just think how awesome it would have been to have had Cheap Trick on a Lollapolooza Tour, blowing away whomever was headlining while regaining their regal status in the rock hierarchy. Oh, if we could only change history just a small amount..