I’m back. The two words Michael Jordan used to announce that he was returning to the NBA after an ill-advised two years spent trying to play baseball. Now, my return to blogging is not as dramatic as Michael’s return to professional basketball. Still, after adjusting to a new concentration of medicine in my pain pump, helping my beautiful bride of 32 years get better after a week-long bout with influenza type-b, and then spending some time out in Pennsylvania and New York City with our older son and his beautiful wife, I finally am back in order to do some writing.
Of course, while in NYC, Graham and I got to visit a record store on the Lower East Side, called A-1 Records. Of course, for the two of us, the store was, in Graham’s words, “a target-rich environment”. The two of us could have spent hours in that store, or any record store for that matter, and made some great finds. Personally, I finally found the vinyl version of Elvis Costello’s Spike and Cheap Trick’s Lap of Luxury. All and all, the visit was awesome.
Yes, Cheap Trick was finally made a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I maintain the band would have been inducted ten years sooner if they were a New York or Los Angeles band instead of a Chicago, or more specifically Rockford, Illinois, band. The band’s sound and image were such that 80s metal and hair metal bands, 80s & 90s alternative bands and power pop bands from all decades have named Cheap Trick as major influences. No other band seems to have been so versatile in its influence as Cheap Trick. Let’s run down a quick list of bands and artists whom have listed Cheap Trick as a major influence: Nirvana, Mötley Crüe, Green Day, Poison, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Jellyfish, Matthew Sweet, Enuff Z’Nuff, Guns N’ Roses are but a few to have name-dropped Cheap Trick as a major influence on their sound and career. You could not corner the band as a power pop band, because they could go into a lite metal mode that we now call “Hair Metal” or, more accurately, “Glam Metal”, followed by some heavier metal sounds that could be likened to Thin Lizzy or Queen which became an influence of metal bands like Metallica or Def Leppard. Perhaps, more often, Cheap Trick’s Power Pop side has been sited as an influence upon the power pop and new wave artists of the 80s and 90s, from Marshall Crenshaw to the Posies and fellow Chicagoan Material Issue. Then, the alternative nation of the 80s and 90s also held the band in high esteem, such as Green Day, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, blink-182, Weezer, to name-drop but a few.
So, let’s take a closer look at this unheralded band as I rank their studio albums, since we all know that they created the classic live album from 1979 titled At Budokan. That album was originally intended to be released solely in Japan, as a gift to the enthusiasm of the crowds who had gone crazy for the band. But, that album became the biggest selling import album at the time, so the band’s label decided to release it in the States. Good thing they did, because the album became the biggest-selling album in the band’s catalog. But, it is the studio albums where you will find the aural nourishment from Cheap Trick that makes the band so tasteful.
So, here is my ranking of my favorite artist’s albums this side of Prince.
17. The Doctor (1986). This album has songs that sound like everything that was bad with 80s music at the time. It was produced by 70s Glam rocker Platto, wh0se ham-fisted production kept the band from their own unique sound in an attempt to make Trick sound like Poison or some lesser hair metal band. This easily the band’s worst band.
16. Standing on the Edge (1985). Sure, this album has the great “Tonight It’s You”, but that song is the only thing keeping this album from being The Doctor, Part 1. Cheap Trick should NEVER have used synthesizers in order to sound hip. They only made their music sound dopey, not hip and current.
15. Busted (1990). So, in 1988, the original line-up of the band reunited, and experienced more success than they had up that point. So, they followed up Lap of Luxury with this album of songs written by more outside writers, thanks to the brains at Epic Records. If it wasn’t for a couple of songs (“Can’t Stop Falling Into Love” and the Chrissie Hynde duet “Walk Away”) written by the band, the album would be forgettable.
14. Lap of Luxury (1988). This was the big comeback album that the label put together. Bassist Tom Petersson, gone since 1980, was back in the fold. Epic, on the heels of the disaster of The Doctor, forced a bunch of outside songwriters on the band, including a lame power ballad the band hated to play, “The Flame”, which ironically became Cheap Trick’s only #1 hit. The rest of the album sounds like the same 80s rock crap that was being force upon us by hair metal bands and songwriter Dianne Warren.
13. All Shook Up (1980). So, guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos were summoned by John Lennon to his Double Fantasy sessions to rock a rollicking version of “I’m Losing You”, which was not released until the Lennon box set was released in the 90s. So, expectations were high for Lennon’s favorite American Band when he got them together with The Beatles’ former producer George Martin. Outside of the great “Stop This Game”, the rest of the album came out lame and was a huge disappointment. Unfortunately, the band was in disarray as bassist Tom Petersson left the band during this album’s recording.
12. Special One (2003). Here was the band’s quiet return to studio recordings. It had been six long years for the band’s fans since Cheap Trick had released a new set of songs. Unfortunately, the songwriting was tentative and unsure throughout. The songs were overall simply okay. For some reason, band keeps playing “Scent of a Woman” live. Personally, I wish they would forget about that song and stick with playing “Pop Drone”, “My Obsession” or “Hummer” live in concert.
11. Rockford (2006). The first single, “Perfect Stranger”, was easily the best song on the album. The only problem was it got my hopes up for the album, which turned out sounding like a distillation of their 80s music, meaning too much reliance on synthesizers. Still, this batch of songs sounds good live.
10. Next Position Please (1983). Everyone in the world thought that the pairing of Cheap Trick with producer Todd Rundgren would be a match made in heaven. At least, it should have been, because the label started interfering since they were desperate for the band’s next “I Want You to Want Me”. So, the label forced a decent song, “Dance the Night Away” made popular by the English new wave band The Motors. The song was totally wrong for the band, since they had recorded the great “I Can’t Take It”, which was a much better tune than the lame cover song the label wanted. If the label had stayed out of the way, this album would have ended up much better. As it is, NPP is a pretty good album.
9. One on One (1982). This was easily the best album of the Jon Brandt years. Now, that’s not a knock against the bassist. I remember thinking at the time the band had rediscovered their “punk” side of their sound. This song was full of potential hits, like “She’s Tight” and “If You Want My Love”.
8. The Latest (2009). This ended up being the last studio album with original drummer Bun E. Carlos. But, what a way to prove that Carlos was still a helluva drummer, even after all of his debilitating back problems. The band knocked it out of the park as they covered Slade (“When the Lights Are Out”), rocked out a Cheap Trick classic (“California Girl”) and created THE garage classic of all time (“Sick Man of Europe”). The band had not sounded this cohesive since their 1996 self-titled classic. THIS is what Cheap Trick should sound like.
7. Bang Zoom Crazy…Hello (2016). Last year, the band celebrated their long-overdue induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by releasing a new album, after coming to a legal agreement with longtime drummer Carlos, in order to record with touring drummer Dax Nielsen, son of guitarist Rick Nielsen. This album was ironically released on the same day as Weezer’s White Album, which made that week one hell of a power pop week. Do NOT overlook this album, since it might have been the best album released in 2016. Who could have predicted the band ever being as vital in their 40 years together.
6. Woke Up with a Monster (1994). Here is the forgotten Cheap Trick album. It was the band’s only album on Warner Bros. Then, it was the only album not to use their logo on the cover. Still, it was a solid batch of rockers that only Cheap Trick could do. Unfortunately for the band, the album was released during the heyday of grunge and got lost. Then, the band was dropped by Warner Bros.
5. Cheap Trick (1997). So, after Monster, the band was invited to tour by many of the artists whom Trick had originally inspired. So, the band was one of the first older bands to bypass the big labels by going with the independent labels that are today so prevalent. The band had created the best set of songs since the 70s that had excited the group so much that they were looking at this situation as a “re-boot”, hence the name of the album. Unfortunately, in typical Trick fashion, a series of events that lead to the abrupt bankruptcy of their new label (Red Ant, or as the Trick faithful calls it “Dead Ant”). Which meant this brilliant album was released without any kind of push behind it, so it unfortunately stalled its momentum and left the band so shell-shocked that they stayed out of the studio of another six years. It may be, along with Monster, the long lost great album of the 90s.
4. Cheap Trick (1977). Here is Cheap Trick answering the opening bell with a mix of songs that, at the time, sounded as though they were rooted in the punk movement as well as being part of current rock sound. On their debut, the band may have been the first group to look both forward and backwards simultaneously as they applied the lessons of The Beatles, Who and Yardbirds to what the punks and new wavers were doing in New York City and London by giving the whole amalgamation a Midwestern work ethic needed to smooth things out. If you can’t hear “Oh Candy”, then you might need a hearing aid or two.
3. In Color (1978). This album is full of the band’s classic songs: “I Want You to Want Me”, “Clock Strikes Ten”, “Southern Girls”, “Oh Caroline” and “Come On, Come On”. The problem with the album is the production – it’s too slick. It’s like Tom Werman was trying too hard to get the band on the radio. The result? The band did not get on the radio. If only Jack Douglas had come back to produce this album the way he produced the debut, then this album would be remembered as one of the 100 greatest albums of all time by more people than just me.
2. Dream Police (1979). Yes, Werman’s production is slick. But, this time, the slickness is used in the experimental strings added throughout the album. Yes, this album was held back as the success of At Budokan continued, so it seemed to be released a little too soon for the public at the time. Still, the band had created a great and classic set of songs that sound fresh in the 21st century. C’mon, this LP has the title song, “Voices”, “Gonna Raise Hell”, “Way of the World” and “I Know What I Want”. How can anyone forget about this album?
1. Heaven Tonight (1978). This is THE album that captures the essence of Cheap Trick best! This time, producer Tom Werman left the “live” warts in the performances of the songs and quit worrying about how to get Cheap Trick on the radio. And the band responded by recording THE best teen angst song of all time with “Surrender”. Then, the band gives us a cover of The Move’s “California Man”, “On Top of the World”, “Auf Wiedersehen”, “Heaven Tonight” and “Stiff Competition”. This is the best Cheap Trick album of the classic late-70s era.
I have been a HUGE Cheap Trick fan ever since I bought In Color during the Fall of 1978. As a matter of fact, many of my high school friends still associate me with loving the band as I did nearly 40 years ago. Today, I am a Prince fan first, but Cheap Trick remains my second favorite artist. Back in the ’90s, I used to tease all of the kids who were discovering and falling in love with Weezer that they were falling in love with a band that shared many similarities with one of my favorite, Cheap Trick. So, when those students listened to Weezer followed by a little Cheap Trick, they heard what I was saying and became converted fans.
So, here is to a band that helped me through some difficult years in my life and continue sound great to this day. Cheap Trick rules!