I Want You To Want Cheap Trick
“Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander, or the charisma of Rick Nielsen? Come on! ‘Mommy’s alright, daddy’s alright, they just seem a little weeeeiiirrrdddd….’”
Ah, Mike Damone, one of the most memorable characters of the silver screen, ever. He’s a product of the mid to late ‘70’s, and if you’re 40-50 years old you went to high school with someone just like him. A cool character on the outside, always had weed and concert tickets for the coolest bands available at his disposal, but there was also a very real sense that the guy was lonely and sad and that his shtick was a veiled attempt at getting people to notice him.
Cheap Trick was also a product of the ‘70’s, but a much more genuine one. Their success made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Geeky, gonzo nerd guitar whiz kid extraordinaire Rick Nelson stood out like a sore thumb in the decade where every rock god looked like Roger Daltry from the movie adaptation of Tommy. The drummer, well he just looked like your weird uncle, or a narc, depending. Then there were the 2 ‘pretty boys’. Singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson. Cheap Trick didn’t act, or sing or play, like they looked, though. They were raw, at the beginning, more in tune with outdated and decidedly un-cool influences from the past (Big Star, The Rasberries, The Beatles, etc) but still had an ear for punk and the burgeoning new wave scene.
They shouldn’t have been as successful as they were for one reason: they were good. Really, really good. But as luck would have it, a cheap live album originally released for the Japanese market exclusively, broke them in the States, and it was all word of mouth and radio play from some forward thinking DJ’s, back when they were allowed to play what they wanted to play (albeit between payola—coke, cash—to play the newest Bay City Rollers and Donny Osmond releases), a-la Johnny Fever. But break they did, and 1979 was their year. They owned it, man! I remember hearing ‘I Want You To Want Me’ and ‘Surrender’ over and over and over, and just like the Bee Gees (another ubber talented band from the decade) the overexposure killed them dead. They released a very slick, and still very good album, Dream Police, which spawned 2 massive hit singles, and then died on the vine trying to recapture whatever it was that made them a success in the first place. I don’t think they ever knew what that was, to be honest.
Then, for well over a decade, they wallowed in semi obscurity until they inked a deal to re-record a Big Star tune for a new Fox TV show called That 70’s Show. The success of their version of ‘In The Street’, and the fairly massive cult following for the show kind of started a bit of a renaissance for the band. Suddenly new bands were name-checking them as a major influence, just as bands from the ‘80’s did with the Trick’s primary influence, Big Star, a decade earlier.
Reinvigorated and emboldened, they went back to their roots, as many bands do, and released a fantastic album in their 1997 self titled effort. Ever since they have been steadily releasing albums every 2-4 years, and they’ve all been pretty darn good. Rockford, their 2006 effort, is just as great as their first 4 albums.
These guys deserve more respect that they get. If you’re only familiar with their ‘hits’ you’re missing out on some of the best albums of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Start with their first release and buy everything up to Dream Police, then stop. Let those sink in a bit. Then, when you’re done absorbing those masterpieces, pick up with 1997’s eponymous release and buy with confidence everything since.