I surprised even myself with how much I liked last week’s selection. I think others who know me may have even been disappointed in me. Eugene liked my review. Still waiting on him and Jon to catch up. Next…
#35 – Cheap Trick (1977) by Cheap Trick.
I will start off by saying that this is not my favorite Cheap Trick album. It’s not my second, third or even fourth favorite Cheap Trick album. But, it did pave the way for the ones that I consider my faves.
It certainly has some grimy rock on it and that’s okay. Cheap Trick, to me, always flashed between gritty, nasty rock and clean cut, preppy rock. Sometimes on the same album. Not necessarily on this one. It’s much rawer than a lot of their later stuff. It’s their debut and I’m sure that contributed to some of it.
However, the most idiosyncratic elements that the whole “Cheap Trick Sound” was to become is definitely here: arpeggiated chords, distorted-but-bright 12-string bass, witty lyrics and Robin Zander’s over-exaggerated word enunciation and vocal scoops with sweeping, ethereal harmonies. All of it from the get-go; out of the gate, if you will. I’ll start with what I don’t like about it first.
I’ll start with what I don’t like about it first.
I’m not a fan of that “boogie rock” as I’ve stated numerous times. For the musicians out there, it’s the unnecessary use of the 5th to 6th interval. For the non-musicians, think of the “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” intro. It’s been used for decades prior to this and is really a blues technique. That’s fine, I just don’t like it. Luckily, it’s not over used on this album. I know KISS used it a bit and I didn’t like it then, either.
Also, I just feel this was just more of the raw than I wanted. A little is fine but it’s more than I’d like. I also feel that the overall track listing isn’t as strong as the follow-up Cheap Trick album, In Color (which is my favorite CT album) or even as strong as the next two studio releases, Heaven Tonight and Dream Police. That’s not to say there aren’t good songs on here. That’s really all I can think of the bad side. Let’s do the positives.
The band shows the talent they have. The songs are well-written, but I prefer later albums. Zander’s gritty-yet-smooth voice (with Nielsen and Petersson’s harmonies) is/are amazing. He has amazing range and has great swoops. Tom Petersson’s 12-string bass (which supposedly he invented) is strong and fills what little gaps they have in the sound. He uses slight distortion on it, too, which makes the sound even fuller. The bass has always been a central instrument in Cheap Trick, not just a background/rhythmic tool like some other bands treat their bass players (can’t you tell I am one?) and Tom crushes it and it sounds like he crushes it a few times. That’s really the “pretty boy aspect of the band.”
Cheap Trick was always a duality within itself. The pretty boys on one side and the nerds/geeks on the other. Neither Rick Nielsen nor Brad Carlson (or as may know him, Bun E. Carlos) looked “rock and roll,” or even musician-like in the early days. Oh, they looked like band folk, for sure, but more like high school band. But, man, those cats can play. Nielsen is a guitar legend. If not just for his playing – which he is known for – but for his amazing and extensive collection of custom made guitars, most of them from Hamer, including a double neck in his likeness (the headstocks are his feet) – I believe it’s called “Uncle Dick” – and a massive five-neck guitar. But, it’s not just flash and balls, the man can play. He can blaze, although he doesn’t much. He can be melodic and his rhythms are also pretty far out. Also, with the exception of two tunes, he’s the sole songwriter on the album. Bun E. looks like a Magic the Gathering geek that played trumpet in high school (not that there’s anything wrong with that) that grew up, smoked a lot of cigs and worked as an accountant. He didn’t, of course, and that’s a great thing. He is world-renown for his drumming, his style, and his cool presence. His chops are well on display here.
The album is the first that I’ve gotten to actually listen to on vinyl for this list. It’s unique because the label reads Side A and the other side is Side 1. The joke being they didn’t feel there was any “B” material on the album. Some of my favorite tunes are “The Ballad of TV Violence (I’m Not the Only Boy),” “Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School” (featuring that 12-string bass), “Taxman, Mr. Thief” (an homage to “Taxman” from The Beatles) and darkly-themed and veiled “Oh Candy.” My absolute fave, though, is “Mandocello.” It’s melodic in all ways and I love the vocal melody.
Like I said, not my favorite CT album but it is solid. Much better than the Red Ant Records self-titled Cheap Trick album from 1997. I didn’t like that at all. Thanks Eug for including it. I can’t wait to hear your take. Jon, hope you catch up soon. I bet I even hear from Clay Howard on this one. He’s probably upset with me. Incidentally, my top five CT albums in order? In Color, Dream Police, Lap of Luxury, Heaven Tonight and their version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“Oh Candy, why did you do it? You should’ve called me on the telephone. I didn’t expect for you call me ’cause I didn’t think that you were alone. So alone.” – “Oh Candy” (Nielsen)