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Back Tracks: Cheap Trick

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In reading about Cheap Trick on Web sites like the All Music Guide, one keeps finding aspects of the band’s work described as “perverse.” That’s a weird way of defining it – not in the sexual sense, mind you, but as a means of describing how unusual they are – but I guess it fits well enough, for a number of reasons.

In the Rockford, Ill.-based band are, visually, one of the most arresting bands ever; vocalist Robin Zander and basist Tom Petersson look like your typical gorgeous rockers, while guitar whiz Rick Neilsen resembles an overgrown class clown, with his Huntz Hall-esque baseball caps, checkerboard fashion sense and kinetic limbs (limbs that manipulate his many guitars like few others). And Bun E. Carlos, one of the strongest drummers of the late ’70s and early ’80s, looks like your dad.

But it’s not the physical style of the band that captivates us so. Cheap Trick’s early discography helped write the book on American power pop, that nearly-indescribable genre. It was a striking sound coupled to some darkly comedic lyrics (perhaps most famously “Surrender,” in which a typical teen finds out his parents are probably cooler than he’ll ever be), and it was a combination that had to be heard live to truly believe (to justify this, the band has what may be one of the Top 10 best-known live records of all time).

The other perverse qualities of Cheap Trick shine through on their catalogue titles. The band’s early works (from 1977 to 1980) were reissued, remastered and expanded between 1998 and 2008 (a major gap, to be sure) – then nothing. Finally, there’s some hope – Sony looks to be partnering with indie label Friday Music to get the band’s ’80s catalogue back into print. But very recently, the ICE boards report that Wounded Bird is tackling some Cheap Trick CDs as well. The inevitable question of what’s remastered and/or expanded rears its head once more between both companies. Ahh, reissue fandom!

So in celebration of these ongoing developments (and a back catalogue that is pretty darn good no matter who releases or re-releases it), here’s a look at the bigges, baddest and best of the Cheap Trick catalogue, as seen through the eyes of Back Tracks.

Surrender (but don’t give yourself away) after the jump.

Cheap Trick (Epic, 1977 – reissued Legacy, 1998)

The band’s heavy debut album (not heavy in sound but content – songs deal with suicide, pedophilia and other cheery topics) is nonetheless considered a classic, and was re-released with five studio outtakes, including early versions of “You’re All Talk” and that inescapable classic “I Want You to Want Me.”

In Color (Epic, 1977 – reissued Legacy, 1998)

Released only seven months after Cheap Trick, this LP – which had future live staples like “Hello There” and “I Want You to Want Me” – fared a bit better than its predecessor (making it all the way to No. 73 on the Billboard charts) but copious amounts of success still eluded them. Still, Legacy delivered some goods with their reissue, including instrumental B-side “Oh Boy” (which backed the “I Want You to Want Me” single), a pair of demos and a duo of live cuts. (Another interesting set of In Color-related vault content exists, too: in 1998, the band started re-recording a rawer take on the album with producer Steve Albini. The only officially released take from the sessions was a new version of “Hello There” that surfaced on the Rock Band 2 video game, but Rick Neilsen has chatted up its existence and hopeful release in recent times.)

Heaven Tonight (Epic, 1978 – reissued Legacy, 1998)

Heaven Tonight is considered to be the album where both sides of the band – the dark side that shone on Cheap Trick and the effervescent pop of In Color – finally began to gel. This culminated in tracks such as “Surrender” (a song millions wished they could write), “How Are You” and “Auf Wiedersehen.” Perhaps it’s odd that for its beloved status, there were only two bonus cuts on the Legacy reissue (alternates of “Surrender” and “Stiff Competition”).

At Budokan (Epic, 1979) / Budokan II (Epic, 1994) / At Budokan: The Complete Concert (Legacy, 1998) / Budokan! (Legacy, 2008)

It’s one of the best stories in rock history: after three records, the only market Cheap Trick seemed to have put a major dent in was Japan. The show recorded at the Nippon Budokan on April 28, 1978 presents the band as Beatlesesque gods, working the crowd into histrionics with “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender” and the rest (including two then-unreleased songs and a cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame”). After At Budokan sold like hotcakes in Japan, it was pressed in the U.S. and became a smash there, too. Such a definitive album (seriously, this is something you need in your collection in some way) was obviously ripe for reissuing and repackaging. The first volley was 1994’s Budokan II, which hosts another nine tracks from the original Budokan date (plus three from the post-At Budokan tour in 1979). All the tracks were shuffled back into their original set list order for 1998’s The Complete Concert (a worthy set, though not as striking as the original). A decade later, that set was later released as Budokan! and packed with a third CD (the entirety of the second Budokan date two days after the original) and a DVD of the original show as broadcast on Japanese television with other extras.

Dream Police (Epic, 1979 – reissued Legacy, 2006)

Not content to replicate the formula that made them so famous right after At Budokan, Cheap Trick went experimental, adding synths and strings. Cuts like the title track and “Need Your Love” (recorded on At Budokan) still pack a punch, but don’t feel bad if you find yourself more than a little confused by this one. The four bonus tracks included an alternate version of “Dream Police” (without the orchestration) and three other live cuts (including the rare version of “I Know What I Want” that was later the B-side to the “Don’t Be Cruel” single in 1988).

Found All the Parts (Epic, 1980)

For a four-track EP, this one has a confusing legacy on CD. Split between two “live” tracks (a track from the Budokan concert – naturally available elsewhere today – and a studio take on The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” with audience overdubs added back in) and two new tracks, it was released on its own CD in Japan in 2003. Those not wanting to pay import prices can find it either on Legacy’s 2006 remaster of All Shook Up (see below) or – rather confusingly – the upcoming reissue of Busted (1990) from Wounded Bird.

All Shook Up (Epic, 1980 – reissued Legacy, 2006)

After confusing the pants off everyone with Dream Police, they did so again with All Shook Up. This time, things weren’t as well-received, even though the band took the opportunity to fulfill their birthright as the American Beatles by having George Martin as producer and Geoff Emerick as engineer. As previously stated, this reissue included the Found All the Parts EP plus another track, “Everything Works If You Let It,” from the obscure, Meat Loaf-starring film Roadie (1980).

One on One (Epic, 1982 – reissued Friday Music, 2010)

With a new bassist (Jon Brant, who’d replaced Pete Comita, who’d in turn replaced original bassist Tom Petersson) and the help of Roy Thomas Baker (producer of Queen’s classic rock material), Cheap Trick went back to basics. Singles like “If You Want My Love” and “She’s Tight” were modest radio hits, and while this would be a softer sales period for the band they were no doubt getting back to the formula that made them so beloved over the years. Long out of print for years (a sad sign for Cheap Trick fans wondering where the rest of the remasters were after 2006), the album was released as a two-fer with the next record, Next Position Please.

Next Position Please (Epic, 1983 – digitally reissued Legacy, 2006 and physically reissued Friday Music, 2010)

Another back-to-basics rocker with a famed producer at the helm (Todd Rundgren this time), Next Position Please fared about as well as its predecessor, with one minor difference: backstage tension with the label. The 12-track LP had a pair of bonus cuts appended to each side of the record when it came out on CD (those tracks were “You Talk Too Much” and “Don’t Make Our Love a Crime”). Those tracks were supposed to make the album proper, along with two others (“Twisted Love” and “Don’t Hit Me with Love”), but Epic replaced those last two with barely-there outtakes “Dancing the Night Away” and “You Say Jump.” “Twisted Love” made it to the Sex, America, Cheap Trick box set, but all 16 tracks would appear digitally as Next Position Please: The Authorized Edition (resequenced to the band’s preferences, with “You Say Jump” and “Dancing the Night Away” tacked to the end of the set). Oddly enough, the original LP lineup will be on the upcoming two-fer with One on One from Friday Music.

Standing on the Edge (Epic, 1985 – to be reissued Wounded Bird, 2010)

The band went back to electronics on this record, which was something not even the band themselves were pleased with (Bun E. Carlos is pointedly credited with “acoustic drums” on the sleeve). Nonetheless, “Tonight It’s You” proved to be a moderately successful single, and its single version is to be a bonus track on Wounded Bird’s upcoming reissue of the record.

The Doctor (Epic, 1986 – to be reissued Wounded Bird, 2010)

A total stiff at the time of its release, The Doctor was another power-pop-with-too-many-synths affair. Nonetheless, for completeness’ sake, it is on the docket for reissue by Wounded Bird, with the single version of it’s only spin-off track, “It’s Only Love.” (Of course, both Standing on the Edge and The Doctor will likely get two-fer treatment from Friday Music before long, so you may want to wait up a bit before buying.)

Lap of Luxury (Epic, 1988)

Lap of Luxury is a justifiably bittersweet record. It’s totally by-the-numbers – the band barely had any songwriting credits therein, with Diane Warren, Mike Chapman, Holly Knight and other hired guns contributing tunes – but it was not only a return to the classic band line-up but a return to commercial glory too, going platinum and spawning a No. 1 hit, “The Flame.” (It’s as yet un-reissued, but will likely get paired with Busted by Friday Music.)

Busted (Epic, 1990 – reissued Wounded Bird, 2010)

The guys and Lap of Luxury producer Richie Zito try to replicate the previous album’s sound with their own writing, but even with a decent radio hit (the Top 20 “Can’t Stop Falling Into Love) and some great guest vocals from Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, Cheap Trick would be dropped from Epic within a year. The forthcoming Wounded Bird reissue ridiculously includes the Found All the Parts EP from a decade before but also includes another genuine rarity – the Japanese-import track “Big Bang.”

The Greatest Hits (Epic, 1991)

The first Cheap Trick compilation includes one new track, a Lap of Luxury-era studio cover of “Magical Mystery Tour.” Other than that (and the Japanese double-disc version of the set), it’s not a must-buy.

Sex, America, Cheap Trick (Epic, 1996)

This was the first onslaught of Cheap Trick catalogue goodness: a four-disc set combining hits (many in their hard-to-find-on-CD single versions) and close to two dozen unreleased or rare cuts.

Music for Hangovers (Cheap Trick Unlimited, 1999)

Not a reissue, per se, but a live disc culled from four interesting dates commemorating the 1998 reissues. Long before it became popular for arena titans like Bruce Springsteen, Cheap Trick played a full album every night (including the order of the Budokan set almost 30 years to the day they first did it), and the best of each night ended up on the disc. It’s a hell of a set, enough to make you wish they’d released them all uncut.

Authorized Greatest Hits (Epic/Legacy, 2000)

So successful were Legacy’s Cheap Trick reissues that the label invited the band back to pick out their own playlist for Authorized Greatest Hits. The resultant list yielded a few tracks from the vault, namely the single version of “Southern Girls,” a live take on “The Flame” and “That ‘70s Song,” the band’s take on Big Star’s “In the Street” that became the unforgettable theme to That ‘70s Show.

Silver (Cheap Trick Unlimited, 2001/2004)

Another commemorative concert for the band’s 25th anniversary (hence the title), Cheap Trick took to their hometown of Rockford to play a star-studded set (guests included Slash, Billy Corgan, Art Alexakis of Everclear and former bassist Jon Brant) that covered all their records (even the grunge-filled Woke Up with a Monster, their 1994 effort on Warner Bros.) and more (covers of “Day Tripper” – a sly nod to Found All the Parts – and “That ‘70s Song”). Another strong set that proves what a live act they are, even all these years later. Buy the second issue of it from 2004 if you can; it has an extra two tracks thrown in.

The Essential Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy, 2004)

An entry into Legacy’s Essential series, this set is only worth it for its comprehensiveness for new fans; it includes tracks from almost everything the band put out at the time (even licensing some tracks from other labels). A notable, perhaps unsurprising exception is the lack of material from The Doctor.

Playlist: The Very Best of Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy, 2009)

Nothing more than a mix tape for your car should you need one. No new material here.

Written by Mike Duquette

April 15, 2010 at 14:49

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