Welcome to the new series The Cheap Trick Collection Series. That means we will be going through every Cheap Trick album that I have in my collection whether it be on studio album, live album, compilations, singles or whatever it may be and it doesn’t matter if it is on Vinyl, CD, 7″ Single. We will go through them in chronological order starting with their 1977 debut and all the way up to the 2021 release ‘In Another World’ and most things in between…not all as I don’t have everything. Currently I’m missing some live albums, some greatest hits albums and even the Christmas album which I don’t think I can convince myself to buy (not a fan of Christmas albums). So, why don’t we get started with the debut, self-titled album from 1997, ‘Cheap Trick’.
Cheap Trick’s roots stem back to a band called Fuse which Rick Nielsen formed back in 1967 with Tom Petersson back in Rockford, Illinois. They recruited Bun E. Carlos on drums and they moved to Philadelphia where they changed their name for a short time to Sick Man of Europe. was formed back around 1973 and then lead singer, Randy “Xeno” Hogan, left the band shortly there after in 1974. They quickly replaced Randy with lead singer Robin Zander and the current line-up of Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson, Bun E. Carlos and Robin Zander was born. By 1975, they recorded a demo and they played a ton of shows. They shopped the demo around and by very early 1976, they were signed to Epic Records. Epic Records didn’t waste much time and got the band in the studio to record their first album, simply titled ‘Cheap Trick’.
Now the above story is what Wiki has you believing, but if you read the back of the album sleeve, you get a different history of the band. One that has them spending a lot of time in Europe (which they did) and forming the band while they were there. That European influence the guys had opened them up to so many different sounds and influences that broaden the scope of the type of music they would perform. If you have the sleeve, give it a read.
The album was released on February 3, 1977 and the album went all the way to #207. Yep, the album basically flopped. It didn’t break in to the Billboard 200 Album Chart. Not a good start. Although they had some muscle behind the album is it was produced by Jack Douglas who was the engineer on numerous albums in the 1970’s for Aerosmith. He knew what he was doing.
The band was compared to the Beatles and I’d heard them called the American Beatles before. They were lambasted for their lyrics as they touch on some very controversial topics as you will see. They have a hard rock, power pop and even borderline punk sound on this album. Man, it is a raw sounding record and that is the charm about it and it is an album that was probably ahead of its time as it is fantastic so too bad the listening public all but ignored it upon its release.
Let’s talk about the packaging before we get to the songs. My copy is on Vinyl and still has the original album sleeve as you can see above. The album has a Side A and a Side 1 which I’d never seen before. My first thought was it was a mistake, but nope. Done on purpose. The band was cocky enough to believe that all their songs were A-Side material and they don’t make B-Sides. Every song was a hit!! They had the balls, but sadly this album didn’t see the hits. The back cover of the album, which was photographed by Jim Houghton, shows the band in doesn’t appear to be rock star attire. You had three guys in suits and guy looking real goofy wearing a bow tie. They didn’t look like rock & rollers, but man, they were! Looks can be deceiving.
The album kicks off with “Hot Love” and just listen to the serious riffage by Rick Nielsen. The band had an explosive energy and Robin Zander’s vocals were slick and had a wild style to them like he was ready to scream at the top of his lungs. Tom Petersson’s bass was loud and along with Bun E. Carlos the rhythm section was tight and solid. The fast paced rocker lit the fuse that would explode on the rest of the album. All the songs on the album were written by Rick except for two of them which I will note in the discussions.
The next track is a cover and wasn’t written by Rick. It was the song “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace” which was written by Terry Reid and from his 1973 album ‘Terry Reid’. It opens with a blues guitar sound and some a pounding drum. The guitar work is simple and effective. It is a much slower paced song and the band feels like they are holding back. I love how you can hear each instrument so well. The bass is a thumping beast, the guitar strokes are perfection and the drum beats lay down the groove. With only three musicians they make a solid wall of sound.
“He’s a Whore” is a wild, no nonsense song. It is pure power pop gold and Robin’s vocals are golden as well. The song lyrics are crazy like the energy of the song. The band is borderline punk with the unbridled energy exuding from the song. I like the turn on gender roles and they talk about a male gigolo as opposed to the obvious female prostitute. They keep you on your toes as you don’t know what will come next.
The next track, “Mandocello”, sucks the energy right out of the album. With a heavy bass line and and slowed down tempo, the song drags along while Robin’s angelic singing style doesn’t actually breathe any life in to the song. The chorus though feels like the Beatles with the harmonies and is almost a saving grace but not quite.
“The Ballad of TV Violence (I’m Not the Only Boy)” is where the lyrics take a much darker turn. The song is about serial killer, Richard Speck, who murdered and tortured a lot of people in Chicago. The song has a blues vibe to it and the tempo is upbeat and fun for such a dark story. By the end, it sounds like Robin has gone off the deep end in to crazyville and I’m along for the ride. The song is from the viewpoint of the killer and I believe is giving the reasons why he did what he did because he needed some love. Rather disturbing, but as a song goes, is a killer way to end the first side.
Side 1 (really Side 2) kicks off the “ELO Kiddies” telling kids to fuck school and go out and be nuts. It is a blast of a track with a catchy ass chorus and a Rick Riff that is memorable and you’re able to singalong and that is a good riff if you can do that. What teenage kid doesn’t think that school is a waste, but only Cheap Trick has the balls to tell you it’s true. This to me is a pure punk attitude.
The prior songs transitions perfectly in to the next with a bunch a school kids making noises. “Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School” keeps up the controversy giving us a song about a guy who loves to pervert around with teenagers. I believe that is called an ephebophile. The song chugs along and is just so wrong, but it feels so right. With lyrics like “I’m thirty, but I feel like sixteen / I might even know your daddy” is plain hysterical and so rock & roll. You can’t help but love it even if it is so, so wrong.
“Taxman, Mr. Thief” play just straight up rock with this one. Nothing overly dramatic, more simple and straightforward and it works. In the song they even give a shout out to the Beatles in the lyrics which is a band they’ve been compared to a lot. Although the song is a little softer, calling the Taxman, Mr. Thief is another punk and rock & roll thing to do. I like the attitude they had at this stage in their career. There was a hunger and angst which you can’t help but love.
The next track gets a little heavier and opens with a nice groove from the great rhythm section of Petersson and Carlos. “Cry, Cry” is simple sounding song. It is basic and I am a little luke warm to it as I like the simplicity, but it does get a little boring despite the fine guitar playing by Nielson and Robin’s great vocals.
Things pick back up with “Oh, Candy”. The song is personal to the band and has a lot of heartache as their friend Marshall Mintz committed suicide. The song was written by Nielsen, Zander and Petersson. The lyrics keep asking the question why he did it and that they all loved him despite him not loving himself but that wasn’t enough. I love Rick’s guitar on this one as well and Robin put as much emotion in his vocals as he could muster. It is a sad song, but musically they contradicted the darkness of the lyrics with a more upbeat track which is great as I always love that dichotomy.
- Hot Love – Keeper
- Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace – Keeper
- He’s a Whore – Keeper
- Mandocello – Delete
- The Ballad of T.V. Violence (I’m Not the Only Boy) – Keeper
- ELO Kiddies – Keeper
- Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School – Keeper
- Taxman, Mr. Thief – Keeper
- Cry, Cry – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Oh, Candy – Keeper
The Track Score is 8.5 out of 10 or 85%. This is a solid start and I don’t understand why this album was ignored upon its release. This thing is fantastic. I love the raw energy, the power pop sound, the punk attitudes and the fact they didn’t shy away from any topic on the album. When you really listen to this album, you really hear the fine guitar playing of Rick Nielsen as it sounds so simple, but there is more meat on the bone than you realize. Tom Petersson’s bass smoking and when you pair him with the finesse of Bun E. Carlos, you have one of the great rhythm sections out there. And then the Voice Man himself, Robin Zander, who I think has one of the greatest rock voices to every come along and he still sound great today. This band is special but the world wasn’t ready for them yet. But they didn’t have long to wait. I give the album a 4.5 out of 5.0 Stars as it wasn’t perfect, but it was damn near close to it. If I was a teenager when this album came and not 9 years old, I would’ve been all over it. I had heard this album before many times, but deep diving like I have over the last week, I have a whole new appreciation for the album and the band and this could wind up near the top when we are all said and done.
UP NEXT: ‘IN COLOR’ (1977)
The Cheap Trick Collection Series:
- Cheap Trick (1977)