A shorter, slightly different version of this list first appeared in my 2007 book, Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide. Now that Cheap Trick is (finally) (and deservedly) on this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot, I thought it was time to revisit and update the selections. So, without further ado – and in no particular order – here are 25 special musical moments courtesy of the boys from Rockford, Illinois.
1. “He’s A Whore” – First off, how the powers-that-be (or powers-that-were) could have left this gem from the band’s 1977 debut off the Sex, America, Cheap Trick box set is beyond friggin’ belief. That monster Rick Nielsen guitar riff. That wailing Robin Zander vocal. Damn. The sheer spastic simplicity of it all pushes it straight to the head of the class.
2. “If You Want My Love” – Best Ballad of the ‘80s, anyone? For sheer Lennon-meets-McCartney-head-on splendor, it’s pretty damned hard to top this one. One of Zander’s finest ever vocals, punctuated by his oh-so-Paulie “woooos.”
3. “Surrender” – An obvious no-brainer selection to be sure, but since it’s a firmly held belief that it’s clinically impossible for anyone to ever tire of this way-cool rock and roll funhouse, it belongs here. A stone classic for the ages.
4. “Voices” – Another sureshot of a slow one, and a number that still raises goosebumps 35+ years after its release. The original simply kills – has Zander ever sung better? – but the live version on Silver is pretty swell as well.
5. “She’s Tight” – Guitar riffs don’t come any simpler than this one, but the keyboard squiggles, highly horny lyrics and head-bobbing rhythms on this supercharged track (from the underrated One on One) are undeniably fun.
6. “I Can’t Take It” – A Zander-penned goodie from Next Position Please, this is pure, unfiltered power pop for the masses, with Todd Rundgren’s bright ‘n’ shiny production giving it a radio-friendly sheen. One of the great, semi-ignored Cheap Trick numbers.
7. “Dream Police” – Entire careers have been built around lesser songs than this monster, which sits proudly alongside “Surrender” as the quintessential Cheap Trick song. Everything about it is perfect, from Zander’s alternately cute and menacing vocals to Bun E. Carlos’s pounding drums to Nielsen’s cracked spoken-word interlude. Oh, can’t forget the instrumental build up heading back into the last chorus, which is pure genius.
8. “Baby Loves to Rock” – From 1980’s All Shook Up, this nugget is CT’s answer to Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”: an over-the-top rocker with multiple starts and stops, along with tons of Nielsen’s patented stinging guitar. Oh yeah, and it’s got roosters and crickets and airplanes, oh my!
9. “Southern Girls” – All hail Bun E.’s mighty kick drum, which propels this peppy, poppy treat straight into the stratosphere. Proof positive that popsters can rock and vice versa. Consider it power pop’s version of “California Girls.”
10. “Next Position Please” – “I wanna be the biggest gun in the world/I wanna see the tits on every girl.” With wacky-ass lyrical couplets such as that married to a typically propulsive CT rock attack, it’s a win-win deal.
11. “Shelter” – From 1997’s excellent self-titled CD, “Shelter” is highlighted by Zander’s most restrained, heartfelt vocal performance to date, a sobbing cello and a set of emotionally-charged lyrics dealing with heartbreak and loss. As the song heads into the final verse, the feel is very Plastic Ono Band-like, upping the emotional ante considerably. Wonderful.
12. “California Man” – It’s a Move cover, Rick Nielsen is playing guitar and Robin Zander is singing. Need we say more? No, but we will anyway: Bun E.’s drum fills are magic, guest Jai Winding’s keyboard meshes perfectly with the powerful guitar, bass and drums slam-bang, and the band manages to out-Move the Move.
13. “You’re All I Wanna Do” – A fab, straightforward pop number from the relatively disappointing Woke Up With A Monster, “YAIWD” is graced with one of those patented CT singalong choruses. It also features six (!) composers, including former Ides of March/Survivor guy Jim Peterik.
14. “I Want You to Want Me” – The In Color version of this radio staple lacked anything resembling balls, but that was remedied on the hit version from the groundbreaking Cheap Trick at Budokan disc. A piece of history and a damned cool tune, to boot.
15. “Had to Make You Mine” – 1990’s Busted was pretty much a disappointment, but buried under piles and piles of dross (Diane Warren’s “Wherever Would I Be” = no bueno) was this Hard Day’s Night-inspired nugget. Fueled by the jangliest guitars that Cheap Trick has ever dragged out, it’s a sweet, refreshing treat
16. “Sick Man of Europe” – From 2009’s The Latest (the most recent CT record) comes this furious rocker, which grooves along with almost punk-like intensity. And all you Cheap Trick nuts know where the song’s title comes from, right? “We ain’t late for the British invasion,” indeed.
17. “Dream the Night Away” – Penned by the band along with power pop/country rock songsmith Bill Lloyd, this one is definitely a popster’s delight, all melody and harmony, and catchier than all get out. Zander’s falsetto on the choruses proves for the 1,798th time what an incredible vocalist he is.
18. “Tonight It’s You” – Sure, it sounds a bit dated now and seems, in retrospect, to have been a calculated effort to get the boys back on the pop charts in ’85, but still, that chorus…pure heaven. Zander sings it like he means it, too, but it’s docked a notch for spawning one of the silliest music videos of the era (remember, the dope who ignores his girlfriend in favor of a televised boxing match?).
19. “Come On, Come On” – A straightforward little ditty with a typically hooky chorus, ingrained into the listeners’ memory courtesy of that bratty-sounding “come on, come on” refrain.
20. “Everything Works if You Let It” – Produced by George Martin and recorded during the All Shook Up sessions, it speaks to the high quality of the band’s material that this pounding, balls-out rocker was left off the album. (It did appear on the soundtrack to the forgettable film Roadie, which starred the unlikely triumvirate of Meat Loaf, Art Carney, and Don “Soul Train” Cornelius.)
21. “Hello There” – It gets in, kicks major ass, and gets out, all in 1:48. Oh, and it’s always been the perfect set opener, too. How could it not be here?
22. “Welcome to the World” – Another brief kick-in-the butt of an opening track, this time from 2006’s Rockford. It fairly explodes from the speakers, and Bun E. pounds out some more of his patented crazy fills as the song slams to a close in just over two minutes.
23. “Say Goodbye” – Cut from a similarly poppy cloth as “Dream the Night Away,” “Say Goodbye” was the single from Cheap Trick’s eponymous 1997 effort. It’s definitely single-worthy, and another of those great, later-period CT tracks that only the diehards seem to recall.
24. “On Top of the World” – Quite possibly one of the most insanely intense Cheap Trick cuts, “On Top of the World” has long been a concert favorite (check out the manic version from the 1979 Reading Festival on You Tube). Nielsen’s guitar hero moves are out in full force here, and Tom Petersson’s bass is, as always, the band’s secret weapon.
25. “Invaders of the Heart” – This hilarious, powerful album cut from the Next Position Please record showcases some of the great Bun E. Carlos’s most manic drumming ever, along with a chuckle-inducing false start (courtesy of “My Generation”) and about 12 fake endings. Rockin’, nutty and exceedingly memorable, which actually could describe a good 75% of Cheap Trick’s catalog.