In the middle of October 1997, I had my usual weekend of no sports between my Cross Country and Basketball seasons. It was my weekend to stay with my dad, which was really Saturday night, since Friday had been the Sectional Cross Country meet, and I always liked to sleep in my bed after a sporting event. But, I also knew that this was new album weekend, not to sound like the guys on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and their “New Comics Wednesday”. But, I could usually count on getting one new album every other month when I went with Dad, which was kind of cool, all things considered, though I would have rather had my parents back together then.On “New Album Day”, Dad would take my brother and me to Service Merchandise (remember that place?) and let us get something. In the weeks leading up to this day, I was doing my due diligence by pouring over the album reviews in Creem, Circus and Rolling Stone magazines. In all three cases, they were pushing a relatively new band’s sophomore album. This band was from Rockford, Illinois, and was called Cheap Trick, and their new album was In Color. This album was getting great marks from the magazines, but I still wasn’t sure.
In those magazines, I learned about the dichotomy of their image: two guys who were the “sex symbols” and two guys who were the “music nerds”. Well, that appealed to me for some reason. The writers and critics all talked about the sense of humor in the band being sarcastic and parodist. Of course, even at the tender age of 14, those sensibilities appealed to me. Then, at the time, for some reason, the band was being lumped into the American brand of punk and new wave music. Finally, I got a look at their artwork of the album, and I was sold. This album had move to the top of the Keller list with a bullet.
When I got to the store, I noticed posters hanging up around the music section displaying the album cover. That was “cool enough” in my mind, seeing the “sexy half” of the band on the cover on motorcycles. So I flipped the album over. And, lo and behold, this was the image I saw.
I laughed and laughed! Now, that’s what I was talking about, putting the “nerds” upside down on mopeds in a black-and-white photo on the back in order to contrast the two halves of the band.
The only thing is that when I got the album home and gave it a listen, I heard a band that played and created with a unity that was unparalleled at the time and ever since. These guys were diving back into the music of their youth – the Beatles, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Small Faces, the Move – assimilating that music and using it to create their own muscle power pop sound that would go on to influence new wave music, power pop music, hair metal music and alternative music. But, I did not realize Cheap Trick would go on to continue to influence musicians to this day. What I had on my turntable was an album called In Color, and it was blowing my mind.
Throughout the record, I heard potential hits, from “I Want You to Want Me” to “Southern Girls” to my personal favorite “Downed”. I was hooked. This band was playing directly in my undiscovered musical wheelhouse. From the opening chords of “Hello There” through the slamming ending of “So Good to See You”, and all points in between, I was hit with an album that could easily be the setlist of a concert that year.
No other band had a guitar hook that sounded like an old clock chiming the hours that Cheap Trick put into “Clock Strikes Ten.” They could blast the listener away with a punkish “You’re All Talk”, all the while creating a pure pop song that you were certain would pop in concert with “I Want You to Want Me.” And with songs like “Big Eyes”, “Oh Caroline” and “”Come On, Come On” rounding out the set, I knew I was listening to MY band.
During the ensuing years, many people have been disappointed with In Color‘s glossy production. The band even went as far as to re-record the whole album with Nirvana-producer Steve Albini in the mid-1990s in order to make it sound like it should. The album has never been released to the public, but bootleg copies can be found on the internet. The Albini-mix is much more muscular, and probably conveys what these songs actually sound like in concert than the original mix. Now, as to why this new production has never been released as been the speculation of many, but it may come down to the one reason that Cheap Trick never really took over the music world that many thought would, and that has to do with poor management and lukewarm backing from their label. If the life and times of the band known as Cheap Trick interests you at all, there is a fantastic book from the mid-1990s that covered the band as well as any musical artist before or after. The book is titled Reputation Is a Fragile Thing: The Story of Cheap Trick by Mike Hayes with Ken Sharp. Currently, I have seen the book listed on eBay from upwards of a $1000 (no kidding!). However, it was recently announced on Pop Geeks Heaven website run by Bruce Bodeen that a second run of the book will be released soon. You might look at Bruce’s great website about all things power pop in order to get the details.
Of course, since Cheap Trick was just recently inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (my faux boycott is now over!), they have become a “hot” commodity. On April 1, 2016, the band released their first new album of material since 2009’s great The Latest. The new album’s title is Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello. Plus, on Record Store Day, they had two special releases. First, they released a 10″ EP called Found New Parts, which had four new songs on it, three from the new album and one that was unreleased, titled “Arabesque”. The other RSD release with a double vinyl album release of their 1997 CD, The Complete Budokan Concert, which includes all of the music played for that immortalized Japanese audience from the 1979 classic album Cheap Trick at Budokan.
If you are not familiar with Cheap Trick, I can only encourage you to take the plunge and purchase one of their first five albums, which will give you the best overview of the band. If you were a fan, go back and listen to them to rekindle your friendship with the band’s music. Cheap Trick has the ability to cover all emotions from loneliness and sadness to joyfulness to party time! Plus, they are still together, without original drummer Bun E. Carlos, who has been replaced by guitarist Rick Nielson’s son Daxx, touring and knocking concert fans out with the energy. They are still a very vital band, though many of us have forgotten about them.