Cheap Trick and “underrated” kind of go in hand.
The quartet from Rockford, Ill., is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — but it took nearly 15 years of eligibility to achieve what should have been a slam dunk honor. Perhaps too ubiquitous for their own good, Cheap Trick have been, quite wrongly, easy to overlook amidst the hard touring, opening and package slots, and the noble feat of just being dependably around for some 48 years.
And they’ve been productive: 20 studio albums (plus EPs) during that time, with platinum or better five times over. Yes, it took a live album, 1978’s Cheap Trick at Budokan, to put them over the top. But this is a group that never, er, surrenders — and certainly knows what to do when the red light is on, as this deep dive into their catalog reveals.
From: Cheap Trick (1977)
Track one from Side A (as opposed to side one — it had both) is a blazing rocker that attacks with punk rock speed and garage-y grit. It’s more power than pop, truly Cheap Trick at their most raw, but we’ll argue that it’s all the better for that lack of polish.
From: In Color (1977)
In Color gave us “I Want You to Want Me,” and with producer Tom Werman Cheap Trick found a comfortable, trademark-making fit for three consecutive outings. “Downed” is one of the band’s most sophisticated arrangements, a prototypical ’70s AOR ebb and flow built on Rick Nielsen‘s chiming guitars and a soaring, airy chorus of vocal harmonies. An early career favorite that’s settled below the radar during subsequent decades.
“How Are You?”
From: Heaven Tonight (1978)
Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson teamed up on this bouncy, jovial and eccentric pop gem that blends a little bit of bit of Mersey with its Sparks-like whimsy. Put the headphones on ’cause there’s a lot going on inside the mix, from the playful piano licks to blink-and-you-miss-it quoting of the Lord’s Prayer. Sly devils, they are.
“Way of the World”
From: Dream Police (1979)
This propulsive, lushly produced rocker was a U.K. single — and one of the first tracks credited to Nielsen and Robin Zander as a songwriting team. It also popped up as a B-side for “Everything Works if You Let It” in some countries. Fans certainly noticed, but it paled in the wake of Dream Police‘s title track and the hit power ballad “Voices.”
“Can’t Stop It But I’m Gonna Try”
From: All Shook Up (1980)
Throw this one on and few are going to guess it’s Cheap Trick — at least the first time through. All Shook Up, produced by George Martin, was all about pushing parameters, and in three and a half minutes here Cheap Trick ventures into glammy hard rock, with Zander channeling the likes of Mick Jagger and Roger Daltrey into his performance.
“One On One”
From: One On One (1982)
With new bassist Jon Brant in tow, Cheap Trick got back to basics — albeit with Roy Thomas Baker, not necessarily known for sonic restraint, in the producer’s chair. “If You Want My Love” and “She’s Tight” made their way into the band’s legacy oeuvre, but One On One‘s title track is every bit as good: a pumping, melodic rocker that could hang with the New Wave thanks to Bun E. Carlos’ four-on-the-floor kick drum beat.
“Next Position Please”
From: Next Position Please (1983)
Another title track that didn’t really get its due. The muscular anthem actually dates back to Dream Police, but its message about working class ambitions and frustrations may have been even better suited for the complicated economic times of the early ’80s.
“Good Girls Go to Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)”
From: The Doctor (1986)
Cheap Trick tried a little too hard to get back on the charts, and radio, with The Doctor, which made for a challenging and at times painful listen. “Good Girls…” got it mostly right, though; Steroid drums aside, it’s got a solid melody and super fun, sly chorus that merits a spot on the group’s A list.
“Never Had a Lot to Lose”
From: Lap of Luxury (1988)
Cheap Trick were hot again thanks to “The Flame,” although some fans were disconcerted by the power ballad. “Never Had a Lot to Lose,” which Zander wrote with the returned Petersson, was the album’s under-appreciated fourth single, an aerobic power pop prototype of what we’ve loved about Cheap Trick since day one.
“I Can’t Understand It”
From: Busted (1990)
Swagger restored, Cheap Trick continued to embrace co-writers throughout their 11th album — including Foreigner‘s Mick Jones, Diane Warren and Taylor Rhodes. But Nielsen and Zander are responsible for this big-beat anthem themselves, which — like Lap of Luxury‘s “Never Had a Lot to Lose” — showcases a self-aware Cheap Trick doing exactly what they do best.
“You’re All I Wanna Do”
From: Woke Up With a Monster (1994)
A committee wrote this little-noticed second single from …Monster, with Nielsen, Zander and Petersson teaming with Illinois homeboy Jim Peterik, British rock vet Terry Reid and Julian Raymond. The lusty rocker stays true the power pop side of Cheap Trick’s roots, with just enough gloss — blessedly steering away from the era’s grunge obsession — courtesy of producer Ted Templeman.
From: Cheap Trick (1997)
A sense of renewal and new era greeted Cheap Trick’s second eponymous album, 20 years after their debut. “Carnival Game,” the set’s third single, is grown-up Cheap Trick, a melodically solid pop song with overtones of ’70s solo John Lennon and just a hint of Tommy James. Nielsen’s neat wah-wah guitar break and the vocal arrangement during the final chorus only boost the track’s stock value.
From: Special One (2003)
After a six-year gap, Cheap Trick re-emerged and made Special One as a self-contained unit, eschewing the co-writes of the previous decade and a half. With its chiming acoustics, “Too Much” is as pretty as you’d want, with enough dynamic build and rock muscle to get the punters on board. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel like a mature Cheap Trick is perfectly acceptable, even exciting.
“All Those Years”
From: Rockford (2006)
Home is where the heart is, and naming an album after their home town — and writing most of the songs as a four-piece band unit — certainly worked in Cheap Trick’s favor. Sentiment hasn’t always been the band’s strong suit, but this easy-tempoed pop paean, dripping with hooks, is a lyrical and sonic celebration — and a testimony to the group’s resilience.
“Everyday You Make Me Crazy”
From: The Latest (2009)
One of the shortest Cheap Trick tracks ever at just 1:17 (and therefore easy to overlook), this blast of pure energy started life as a Pepsi ad during the mid-’90s. It gets in, does its bit and gets out without overstaying its welcome — although another verse or chorus would just be more of a good thing.
“Blood Red Lips”
From: Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello (2016)
You can’t go too wrong with a big beat (courtesy of new drummer Daxx Nielsen) and a little lust, which this track has in abundance. You can slide this one into any point of a set list, or onto a house party mix, and have everyone bouncing along with unconscious glee. Absolute pop perfection.
“Listen to Me”
From: We’re All Alright (2017)
Are we back on the Sunset Strip during the mid-’80s? Cheap Trick certainly play the part, without the spandex, on this gritty, full-throttle rocker, blazing from the first riff to the chorus call and response. Absolutely alright.
“Merry Christmas Darlings”
From: Christmas Christmas (2017)
Cheap Trick reach full Spector-ian glory on the opening track from their first holiday album — one of three originals they wrote for the 12-song set. An effervescent trifle that’s better than another holiday tie or sweater.
From: In Another World (2021)
The jury’s still out on what will be truly appreciated or underrated on Cheap Trick’s latest release. Just a hunch here that this rare dip into the blues — featuring Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall on harmonica, some of Nielsen’s most ferocious playing and biting social commentary — will wind up on the overlooked list, which would be a mistake.
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2 thoughts on “Ultimate Classic Rock: Underrated Cheap Trick: The Most Overlooked Song From Each Album”
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