Thursday, January 23, 2020

Happy 67th Birthday Robin Zander And The Ten Best Cheap Trick Songs EVER!

As Robin Zander celebrates his 67th birthday by getting to be Robin Zander the rest of us are left to marvel at his roof-rocking vocals and the legendary output of his band Cheap Trick. Today, we're happy to provide our "Outsiders List" of the Ten Best Cheap Trick Songs Ever (until the next time).

Keep in mind that, unlike, say, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. whose hit singles represent the band at their best, Cheap Trick's deep cuts are where the magic often resides.

10. I Can't Take It

After a few years of headlining arenas, by 1983, Cheap Trick had been reduced to playing clubs or, even worse, carrying lesser bands' water so, in hopes of righting the ship, the band hit the studio with Todd Rundgren with the goal of making a stripped-down Trick record that simply allowed the music to do the talking.

While Rundgren's final mix left a LOT to be desired, when the song is this top-shelf, no amount of studio negligence can hide the fact that this Robin Zander composition is a stone-cold gem that screams "hit single" to everyone except the suits at Epic Records, who took one listen to the song and sent the band back into the studio to record a fucking Motors song.

9. Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School

At the time, there was no shortage of "shock rock" acts dabbling in dark song matter, but seeing a band fronted by two hunks who looked like they could make teenage girls forget all about that Andy Gibb fellow tearing off one savagely perverse song after another without ever getting heavy-handed or gratuitous about it was a sight to behold. Sadly, nobody but a few discerning souls took notice.

Lyrically, the song is a subtle exploration of the sort of fellow played to perfection by Matthew McConaughey in "Dazed And Confused", albeit ten years later when trying to pick up high school girls takes on a decidedly darker edge.

Even so, it wouldn't have been the darkest thing to ever become a smash hit had it been released as a single.

8. Reach Out

With All Shook Up scaring off all the fair-weather fans and bassist Tom Petersson's sudden exit leading many to write off the band, Trick contributed a song by new bassist Pete Comita to the "Heavy Metal" soundtrack in 1981 and, quite frankly, should have had their first hit of the new decade.

After all, the song opens with a perky synth line that was tailor-made for '80s radio and the rest of the song rocks harder than anything Trick had previously done, meaning they could hold their own against the Sammy Hagars and Billy Squiers of the rock world.

The mistake the band made was in letting Elektra Records release and promote the single, which they did halfheartedly, to say the least.  Considering that they were rumored to be attempting to lure Cheap Trick away from Epic Records, one would think they'd have tried just a wee bit harder to give this single the push it needed to begin the '80s on a positive note.

7. Had To Make You Mine

If ever there was a Cheap Trick song that you could imagine the Beatles performing to thousands of screaming kids at Shea Stadium, "Had To Make You Mine" is that song.

By 1990, however, when the song was released, it stuck out like a sore thumb (in a good way) next to their second Diane Warren power ballad, their second Roy Wood/Move cover, and their second ballad written by Nick Graham (co-writer of "The Flame").

Had it been released as a single instead of the aforementioned Diane Warren tune, one imagines the album might have been seen as less of an attempt to make Lap of Luxury 2.

6. Take Me I'm Yours

To this day, Found All The Parts, the 10" Nu-Disk EP that Cheap Trick released in between All Shook Up and One On One, has left this listener torn. On one hand, the live material (a cover of the Beatles' "Day Tripper" and the bluesy "Can't Hold On) picks right up where Budokan left off, but is far from essential.

As for the two studio cuts, recorded as part of the band's song demo used to secure a new publishing contract, "Such A Good Girl" while an inspired piece of hook-rock, is not Nielsen's best lyrical work by any stretch, but "Take Me I'm Yours" is a stone-cold gem that should have been fleshed out further for one of the band's studio albums.

This Zander-Nielsen co-write remains one of the oddest, yet most inspired songs in the Trick catalog.    
5. ELO Kiddies

After discovering the band during their At Budokan era, it was now time to begin working backwards in order to catch up on all the music that we'd missed. Naturally starting with the band's first album, nothing on Budokan could have possibly prepared us for what we were about to hear.

"ELO Kiddies" was the first song we played and, to this day, we can still feel the visceral thrill as Bun E. Carlos' tom work builds the anticipation to a fever pitch before Nielsen's searing guitar lines start ripping the place to shreds.

4. Way of The World

By the time the band's fourth studio album Dream Police came around, Cheap Trick's studio albums had gotten increasingly slicker and more polished, but, for those who loved the raw energy of their first album, you couldn't help wonder if the band had completely lost touch with their younger selves.

Sure, it had been only three years prior, but, in that time, Trick had cut three studio albums and a live set, so maybe going back to their least commercially-successful period was not on the top of their list of priorities, but "Way of The World" is, without a doubt, a song that could fit on the band's first album with zero effort at all.

3. Just Got Back

To this day, this writer views All Shook Up as a wasted opportunity. While I could give or take the band's constant nods to the Beatles, working with George Martin should have been the sort of "meeting of the minds" from which historic musical achievements are created.

That's not to say the album isn't full of great moments, but, when you remove the completely worthless "Who D'King" and skip over the Vocoder-heavy "High Priest Of Rhythmic Noise", you're left with less than a half hour of music when you'd think Martin and the band could come with with a double-album of winners.

While "World's Greatest Lover" will be played at my wedding, should such a tragedy ever occur, "Just Got Back" is the song that showed Cheap Trick still moving forward and firing on all cylinders.

Was it released as a single? Of course not.

2. He's A Whore

When you hear a song like "He's A Whore" one's first thought is not of its potential as a hit single, but of seemingly endless meetings with label brass where they try to talk you out of putting such a song on your first (and perhaps only) major label album.

After all, there are no promises that a second album is in the cards, which must have been how Cheap Trick approached their first album. because if ever there was a major label album that appears free of all major label compromise and hand-wringing, Cheap Trick's 1977 debut effort is that album

And if there was ever a song that showed just how few fucks Cheap Trick had about pandering to AM radio, "He's A Whore" is that song.

1. Stiff Competition

What makes "Stiff Competition" the #1 tune in Cheap Trick's arsenal is its ability to draw upon the same savage social commentary that made their first album completely inspired, it is the song's pre-chorus breakdown that makes it supremely radio ready and cleanses the listener's palette before that hell-fire chorus comes back around.

For any other band, by the time "Stiff Competition" was mixed, any major label worth their salt would immediately begin pressing up singles and rushing them to radio.

Sure, one can argue that Heaven Tonight was so full of worthy single contenders ("California Man" anyone?) that there was no way to release every track that could have been a hit, but, where I come from, that's the only way to have any hits.

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