The year was 1980.
Cheap Trick had just come off their most successful studio album, Dream Police, which had followed the platinum success of their At Budokan album in fine fashion and seemingly cemented the band's stature as an arena rock favorite. My friends and I, upon procuring a copy of the band's new album, anxiously gathered around the stereo.to give it a listen.
Keep in mind that 4 of the 5 of us had attended the recent Cheap Trick concert and took special pride in wearing our Cheap Trick concert shirts to school the next day, and on a weekly basis thereafter.
Yet, within three songs, I watched as the excitement drained from my friends' faces. It was then that I realized that I was surrounded by fair-weather rock fans: the sort who followed whatever band was big that year and then moved on to the next one.
While they were off listening to Def Lep, Loverboy and Bon Jovi, I was crazy enough to play One On One in mixed company, which immediately led to comments such as "You're still listening to these guys?" or the ever-popular "Cheap Trick sucks, ha ha!", but, as a fan of the band, I remained undaunted.
Even so, by 1983, even I had reached a point of saturation in regard to the band's most popular song ("I Want You To Want Me") yet, without fail, every time the band appeared on TV to promote a new album, what song would they invariably play first?
"I Want You To Want Me", of course.
Did the band not know how many strings I'd had to pull to get the parental OK to stay up past my bedtime? Now I'd have to anxiously pull more strings and/or promise to do more chores, in order to stay up even later to see them finally get around to playing a new song off the new album, which was THEIR SOLE REASON FOR APPEARING ON THE SHOW IN THE FIRST PLACE!
30 years later, as the band appeared on NBC's "The Today Show" in conjunction with their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, and with a new studio album to promote, what song did the band perform first?
Yep, you guessed it: "I Want You To Want Me".
Granted, on the wine-soaked "fourth hour" of The Today Show - the one hosted by Hoda Kotb and Kathy Lee Gifford - the band returned to perform "When I Wake Up Tomorrow" from their new album Bang Zoom Crazy Hello, but, by then, the TV audience was but a fraction of what it had been earlier.
Now, I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but it would stand to reason that, while you have the attention of the largest audience on morning TV, it would make the most sense to play something from the new album and save the hits of yesteryear for Kathy Lee and Hoda's portion of the show when most of the audience has trudged off to work or school.
Without question, "I Want You To Want Me" is the song that put Cheap Trick on the map, but that was almost 40 years ago and, trust me, any human being with ears is fully aware of it. Generally speaking, we die-hard Cheap Trick fans - the ones who've been to hundreds of shows, bought hundreds of shirts, driven thousands of miles, and own every Cheap Trick record ever released - still get excited by the idea of seeing the band on TV or in a movie.
Unless, of course, the first thing they do is perform "I Want You To Want me" with, say, Billy Ray Cyrus at the CMT Awards.
Before the dawn of the DVR and Youtube, many of us would actually stay up late, wake up early, or pay good money to see a bad movie ("Daddy Daycare" anyone?) just to catch a glimpse of the band in action and, without exception, how has Cheap Trick thanked us for our devotion?
By playing "I Want You To Want Me" again and again and again and again.
Doing so at this point isn't just an insult to the die-hard fans who helped put them in the RRHOF, but to the band's sizable canon of stunningly great songs that most of the world-at-large remains completely unaware of because, given an opportunity to blow them away with any number of other great songs, the band has chosen to play "I Want You To Want Me" again instead.
ADDENDUM: Upon publishing this article, I got a few messages from friends and fellow Trick fans alike thanking me for addressing something they hadn't yet verbalized. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I'd never actually been that crazy about the song in the first place.
YES, I know that it's a worldwide smash and helped change Rick Nielsen's tax bracket forever, but at what expense? Answer: At the expense of every great song they've written since that they didn't have the balls to showcase to the largest possible TV audience when given the opportunity.
Keep in mind that my first exposure to the song was via the ultra-lame and misguided version that first appeared on their second studio album In Color. Even on an album that was already hideously watered-down compared to their masterful debut (that didn't sell), it stood out like a sore thumb.
So, while it was nice to see the band stop trying to force the song into being something it wasn't, even stripped down to propulsive mid-tempo rocker, it never really fit in with their other stuff.
Notice how they've never written another song like it? Trust me, this is a band that certainly would have if they could have, and, no, "I Want You" from One On One doesn't count.
So when people rush to defend the song because it brought the band their greatest success (until "The Flame", anyway), let's first stop to consider what Cheap Trick might have gone on to do if not so weirdly hamstrung by its success.
I liken it to those who suggest that Led Zep would not have been as huge in any other configuration, such as Terry Reid being their singer. What if Plant didn't get that gig, but went on to find one even better and THAT band became bigger than the Beatles?
Highly unlikely, sure, but plausible.
So maybe Cheap Trick would have gone on to only be a cult band a la the Ramones or Stooges, but by staying as weird and subversive as they'd been when they signed to Epic in '76, just imagine the fucking great music we might be listening to now instead of "IWYTWM" for the bagillionth time..