Cheap Trick could go one-on-one with almost any Rock band and hold its own
(No. 48 in a series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
In Japan, they are known as “the American Beatles.”
In their home state of Illinois, April 1 has been declared their day – no foolin’.
For close to 40 years, the original four-man lineup – Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos, along with Jon Brant – has remained virtually intact, steadily touring and recording.
They have accomplished a musical rarity, having top 10 singles and albums, all the while maintaining their status as “critics’ darlings.”
They make appearances in person and on record with today’s top artists, maintaining a popularity with younger audiences seldom found with groups who began long before most of today’s fans were born.
Readers who have sent in comments – some of which I can actually print – often cite this band as one that should be included in this series as in…”Hey, what about …….?”
The band in question is, of course, Cheap Trick.
So why isn’t Cheap Trick in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
Perhaps their prolific and experimental nature has worked as much against the band as for it. Their recorded output, even diehard fans should admit, has been inconsistent, while their ability to excel in just about any form of Rock has made it impossible to pigeon-hole them. Are they power pop, heavy metal, punk…?
The allmusicguide.com’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine acknowledges they’re all of the above…and more, writing, “Combining a love for British guitar pop songcraft with crunching power chords and a flair for the absurd, Cheap Trick provided the necessary links between ’60s pop, heavy metal, and punk. Led by guitarist Rick Nielsen, the band’s early albums were filled with highly melodic, well-written songs that drew equally from the crafted pop of the Beatles, the sonic assault of the Who, and the tongue-in-cheek musical eclecticism and humor of the Move. Their sound provided a blueprint for both power pop and arena rock; it also had a surprisingly long-lived effect on both alternative and heavy metal bands of the ’80s and ’90s, who often relied on the same combination of loud riffs and catchy melodies.”
Mark Coleman and Chris Ryan echoed those comments in (the New) Rolling Stone Album Guide, writing, “From bar band could-be’s to arena rocking superstars, from bargain bin has-beens to objects of hipster rediscovery, Cheap Trick has always been, well, Cheap Trick. Playing Beatlesque melodies with the might of Kiss or Nugent, they’re humorous, hook-filled, bracingly loud, and subtly sensitive.”
Cheap Trick hails from Rockford, Illinois, the state having declared April 1 “Cheap Trick Day”
Really, it’s hard to find anyone to say anything bad about Cheap Trick, except for an occasional release such as 1988’s “The Flame,” which caused some noses to go high into the air at the release of what was classified by some “a typical ’80’s power ballad.” Of course, it became the band’s only No. 1 single – and a great one, at that.
Other great singles had mixed results. The band’s first chart hit, “Surrender,” which since has become one of the group’s heralded anthems, peaked at just No. 62 in 1978, slightly higher than 1982’s classic “She’s Tight.” The remake of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” only reached No. 35 in 1979, though on the heels of the No. 7 breakthrough smash “I Want You To Want Me.” “Dream Police,” “Voices” and “Ghost Town” all stopped in the lower half of the top 40, while the 1988 cover of Elvis’ “Don’t Be Cruel” got to No. 4 on the heels of “The Flame” and 1990’s “Can’t Stop Fallin’ In Love” just missed the top 10, stopping at No. 12.
Their album success also has been quite erratic, “Cheap Trick At Budokan” and “Dream Police” being the only top 10 entries, both coming in 1979. But they have had 18 reach the Billboard top 200 from 1977 to 2009, all but three climbing into the upper half of the chart.
Of course, Japan, which first broke the band, leading to the Budokan concert release, has been a steady supporter of the group’s releases throughout the years.
Sometimes referred to as “the little band that could,” Cheap Trick remains today “the little band that still does.” Their long and storied career should – one day – be recognized by The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another band sometimes called “the little band that could” as Wednesday, September 21, for some, became another “day the music died.” I’m referring, of course, to R.E.M., already rightfully entrenched in the Hall of Fame, but, perhaps more importantly, at least in my household, my wife’s favorite band.
Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck announced the band’s retirement.
Thanks for 30+ years of great listening.