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October 17, 2017


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UNDERRATED-a romp through musical history
By: Melanie Campbell

When I was a blossoming young lass, having given up on FM radio, which was then newly succumbing to that horrid AOR format, I found myself turning to Broadway and movie soundtracks. OK, guffaw if you must, but I believe that I kept my musical integrity intact by discovering stuff like 'The Music Man' and 'Oklahoma' and, dammit, it enriched me culturally, a concept that seems to be eluding some of the present generation of grunge-heads. Anyway, when I got to high school, I met this guy named Jason (who nowadays edits one of my favorite paper 'zines, 'Alternative Press'). He was REALLY into music, and had the biggest record collection that I had ever seen. He took one look at my copy of Streisand/Kristofferson's 'A Star is Born', and laughed until he turned purple. "Mel, Mel, please. Look. I'm going to teach you a lesson you'll never forget" (actually, he taught me a couple of lessons, but we won't get into THAT). And he lent me three records from his collection; The Ramones' first disc, 'Never Mind the Bollocks' from the Sex Pistols, and a self-titled LP from this little-known, Midwestern outfit called Cheap Trick...

Suddenly, it all became crystal-clear, as I sat contemplating the simple black and white cover (with REAL LINER NOTES that you could actually read without a microscope), and Jason cued up 'Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School'. On the cover was this complete screwball, lookin' like a methedrine-crazed reject from Cooperstown, but instead of swingin' a baseball bat, he was thrashin' a guitar, and here he was, on my stereo, with 3 of his best friends, loudly crankin' out an ode to pedophilia. Oh, yeah! THIS was REBELLION! Rock-n-roll really wasn't dead after all, it had just dug itself underground again, trying to escape from Fleetwood Mac and Styx! I was so relieved. I mean, when I was 5, all my little friends were singing 'Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush', while I, precocious little snot that I was, knew all the words to 'I Saw Her Standing There', and 'Gloria'. So it was no surprise later on, in my hitherto WASTED adolescence, that I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide every time the rednecks on my block cranked up 'Free Bird' (shudder!)...

Well, the Ramones have taken their honorably righteous place in the annals of rock music, but LOTS of people know THAT. I'll even go so far as to give the Pistols some credit, though I'm not known to speak very nicely about Mr. John "Oh, we've never been in this for the money" Lydon these days (HAH, and what did ya call that Pistols reunion tour, oh Rotten one? Sid's probably still spinnin' in his grave over THAT, you hypocritical WANKER). Cheap Trick, however, has done some really cool things to rock music over the years. And there still seems to be a very large part of the general population that has MISSED this fact.

Cheap Trick started out doing what any other self-respecting bunch of rockaholics did when they put together a band: they took what talents they had, added some ingredients from their own musical heroes, threw 'em in a blender, cranked it up to 'puree', and what finally got poured into the glass was their very own concoction! So what you've got here are a couple of cups of the Beatles, a pinch of Pete Townshend, a dash of Jeff Beck, not a small amount of the Faces, (and don't forget yer Hollies!), whipped up to a fabulous froth, and topped with a SHITLOAD of original image, and quite a few twisted lyrics. By now, you might be asking yourself "If they're so great, then why aren't they bigger than Moses?" Why, the answer is "Radio has pretty much ignored these guys". So what else is new? As it is with a lot of other great American bands, lack of airplay is the biggest reason that so many people never 'got it', 'it' being the Trick buzz (and 20 years of 'classic rock' stations playing 'I Want You to Want Me' until you're ready to puke does NOT count, at least, not in this context. Like THAT'S the only song the band ever did...). Most rock radio stations by 1977 had been formatted to serve the lowest common denominator. Woe aplenty would befall the PD who would've dared to sneak 'He's a Whore' in between 'Wheel in the Sky' and 'Magic Man'. (whenever will we learn to 'Hang the DJs'??) Of course, there were lots of great unknown bands schlepping around at that time, but none that had the cojones to release a song called 'The Ballad of Richard Speck' (and for those of you who don't know who Richard Speck is, you can read all about him in 'Mass Murderers', a Time/Life compilation), or the moxie, and the chops, to pull off something like 'Stiff Competition' ('I screw you, you screw me, they screw us, here we go again...', which would not have come across the same as it would had it been performed by, say, Debbie Gibson). So it's no wonder that a lot of people missed this boat. Hell, back then, if you wanted to learn about REAL music, you had to read 'The Village Voice', 'Trouser Press' or 'Creem', or have some really hip friends. And thanks to my hip freind Jason, that day in my bedroom, located in the truly mind-numbing hell that was suburban Pittsburgh, I 'got it' immediately. THIS I understood. After all, everybody needs a real hero. And here were FOUR of 'em, all in the same BAND! These guys had killer pop instincts ('Surrender', 'Southern Girls', 'Oh Caroline', 'If You Want My Love', 'Had to Make You Mine', the list goes on and ON), and at the same time enough crunch to shudder the foundations of yer house on a regular basis ('Auf Wiedersehen', 'Clock Strikes Ten', 'Baby oves to Rock', 'Just Got Back', and 'Hot Love', the slice-inist, dice-inist, meanest, most brutal guitar lick committed to vinyl since anything by the MC5) and they boasted the thumpin-est monster of rock drummer with the most classically cool-cat demeanor unrivalled by anyone in the biz, 'cept for maybe Charlie Watts-not to mention the fact that I decided that a glossy of Rick Nielsen, axe at the ready, along with his maniacal bug-eyed mugging, wouldn't look at all out of place up on the wall next to my 'Phi Zappa Crappa' poster. NO ONE else was God enough to hang next to Brother Frank until Uncle Dick came along. On top of all that, they had the voice of an angel one minute, and Beelzebub the next. And what beloved band would be complete without the lust factor? Besides the aforementioned vocal boy-wonder, who sent more than one gals' blood pressure soaring (and who, despite recent rumors to the contrary, is NOT Daddy Hanson), they also had this tall, dark, and handsome bass player, owner of the sexiest chin since Cary Grant's cleft graced the silver screen, who throttled my pulse, trashed my estrogen-meter, and swept my vivid imagination off to places I will keep to myself, thank you very much...

"Have you seen her face? She's got a face that could stop a clock..." Now how many of you guys ever said that when a real woof-woof walked by?? And didn't you always laugh uproariously, even if YOU couldn't get a date to save your life? That's an attitude that only an angst-ridden geek-a-zoid can relate to, and it's one of several attitudes that Rick Nielsen and Co. have foisted on the world since 1976, when Cheap Trick blasted out of suburban Chicago onto the national scene. They'd been playing gigs for anybody who would listen since '74, when the current lineup was finally completed: Rick Nielsen on guitars, Robin Zander on vocals, Tom Petersson on bass, and Bun E. Carlos on the drums. All four had honed their collective chops in previous musical incantations: the Grim Reapers, Fuse, Sick Man of Europe, the fabled Nazz and others that crossed paths along the way with folks like Todd Rundgren, Jeff Beck, Terry Reid, Roy Wood, and Frank Zappa. As a matter of fact, it was Zappa who once offered to sign the band to his Bizarre label; unfortunately, this was about a day after the bands' discovery at the Sunset Bowl (yes, Virginia, Cheap Trick's big break came in a bowling alley!) by Jack Douglas, then a staff producer at Epic Records, who had gotten to the band first (One can only wonder what would have transpired if Bizarre had signed them before Epic did. Die-hard Trick fans don't like to think about stuff like that, for reasons which will be explained further).

Cheap Trick turned out to be one of the most exuberantly creative bands that Epic had ever had on its roster-their first 4 studio releases, as well as the legendary 'Live at Budokan' are, without a doubt, sheer classics by any definition of the word: their debut, 'Cheap Trick', 'In Color', 'Heaven Tonight' and 'Dream Police'. The first, which featured 'He's a Whore', 'Hot Love', 'Oh Candy' (their first single), 'Mandocello' and a cover of the Terry Reid tune 'Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace', didn't do squat on the charts, but landed on a LOT of critics' 'Best of' lists in '77. 'In Color' eschewed the preferred grungy Trick skronk of the first release, but highlighted the bands' stellar pop sensibilities. It was this release that contained the studio version of 'I Want You to Want Me', as well as a good portion of the material that showed up live on 'Budokan'; 'Clock Strikes Ten', 'Downed', 'Big Eyes', and 'Southern Girls'. 'In Color' also went absolutely nowhere Stateside, except, again, with the critics, many of whom by then were calling Cheap Trick the next Beatles. But it was in the Land of the Rising Sun where all the little girls already understood: 'In Color' quickly zoomed to the top of the Japanese charts, prompting Epic to send the band on an extended tour there. Thankfully, someone on the bands' staff was enough of an Einstein to bring along a 12-track to record some of the shows, and it was on this tour that 'Live at Budokan', to this day one of the biggest selling imports of all time, was laid down for posterity's sake. Meanwhile, back in the States, Epic fired round 3, (pre-dating the domestic release of 'Budokan') the bands' 'Heaven Tonight', which kicked off with that anthemic lament to parental misunderstanding, 'Surrender'. 'Heaven Tonight' was a watershed release for rock albums in the late '70's. It had everything: cocktail piano on the intro to the chipper 'How Are You'; downright ear-bleeding nasties; 'Auf Wiedersehen', which copped a lyric or two from Hendrix, 'On Top of the World' and 'Stiff Competition'; a dirge, of all things, on the title track; as well as some more simply charming, yet in no way kitschy, pop-rock; 'Takin' Me Back', 'High Roller', and a cover of the Roy Wood tune, 'California Man'. 'Heaven Tonight' is probably the release that inspired everyone from Kurt Cobain to Steve Albini to Billy Corgan to decide that they, too, could make a living choking a slab of wood with some catgut and electrical wire attached to it. 'Heaven Tonight' did respectably well on the US charts, hitting the Top-50, but, by now, word was getting around the US about the bands' live performances. The BIG buzz was "You gotta see Cheap Trick live, man, they're tight, they kick ASS, and their guitarist is a trip!" referring of course, to Nielsen, whose image-'Mr. Rogers on acid', and on stage antics-tossing metric tonnage of personalized picks into the audience, strapping on 3 or 4 guitars at a time, playing a short solo on one, tossing it off to the side of the stage, and hitting the strings on the one underneath without missing a note, made for a mighty fine way to pass an evening. OK, he wasn't an Eddie Van Halen-type guitar virtuoso, but nobody gave a shit about THAT, he reminded ya that you too could look like a dork and still get chicks, all you needed was an axe, some talent, and an attitude! Now you wouldn't expect a corporate label to try and cash in on all this buzz with a LIVE record, would you?? Oh, you big sillies, of COURSE they would! Epic almost dropped the ball here, the first of their MANY fumbles with this band-as mentioned earlier, the 'Budokan' recordings were in such demand that even the biggest import warehouse in the US, Jem Records, couldn't keep orders filled. When Epic finally got their act together and released 'Budokan' Stateside, everyone involved hit the jackpot...both 'Budokan', and its' single release, 'I Want You to Want Me', hit the Billboard Top-10, and stayed there for quite awhile. Cheap Trick were now Headliners. There were sellout crowds everywhere they went, and in arenas, as opposed to smoky little clubs. There wasn't Beatle-esque pandemonium, but they were doin' alright...lots of limos, drugs, booze, and loose women, you know, the standard measurements of Rock Star Success.

By now, Epic was itching to release 'Dream Police', but with 'Budokan' still firmly lodged in the upper echelons of the charts, they decided to hold off, to avoid overkill. (Fumble #2-Strike while the iron is hot!) Finally, in the fall of '79, 'Dream Police' hit the streets. It contained yet more tasty tunes; the title track, a happy nod to paranoia; 'I'll Be With You Tonight' another primo pop song; 'Voices', a ballad, which was released as a single, and made the Top-40; 'I Know What I Want', Peterssons' vocal debut on vinyl with the band; 'Need Your Love', which had also appeared live on 'Budokan'; 'Gonna Raise Hell', a blistering riff about ANOTHER naughty boy, the one and only Jim Jones (of Jonestown Massacre fame); and 'The House is Rockin (with Domestic Problems'), that one being perhaps a sinister omen of things to come. By this time, however, American radio, having discovered this AOR format to be worth BIG BUCKS, found that the new release didn't fit very nicely in between 'Stairway to Heaven' and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Consequently, 'Dream Police' with its synths, its gloss and its promo package, which included cardboard standees of the guys in their policeman getups, suddenly seemed to infect Cheap Trick with the dreaded "Peter Frampton Disease" (though anybody with half a brain can tell you that 'DP' was light-years better than 'I'm In You', Frampton's follow-up to 'Frampton Comes Alive'). At least, this was the gospel according to many critics, who seemed to do an ugly about-face, suddenly declaring the band to be yesterdays news. Of course, we all know that critics don't know what the hell they're talking about, don't we? Nevertheless, there was trouble ahead...

Epic, sensing this trouble was coming, decided to take the opportunity to cash in on the "New Wave" that had suddenly swept the country. They attempted to repopularize the 10" EP format, releasing 2 or 3 mini-collections from 2 or 3 talentless hacks, and a marvelous release titled 'TV Glotzer' from the disco diva of the heroin set, Nina Hagen (whose US career stalled mightily for some reason, even though she was a mega-star in Europe. We can't IMAGINE why that might be...). But, bless Epic's pointy little corporate head, they managed to put out a Trick release on this format as well, and 'Found All the Parts' made an effort to keep the bands' 'Framptonitis' from getting the better of them. This one contained a live version of the Beatles' 'Day Tripper', and 'Can't Hold On', a dreamy hunk of pop-metal, and a couple of studio numbers. Unfortunately, this EP series didn't last long, but 'Found All the Parts' was a good way to hold all the Trick fans at bay while the boys plotted their next move. That move involved George Martin, who, it was hoped, could put the band back on track producing the follow up to 'Dream Police'. 'All Shook Up' set the volume knob back to '11', unleashing 'Go For the Throat', 'Stop This Game', and 'Just Got Back', all of which could make you believe there was an earthquake a'coming, as well as 'Baby Loves to Rock', a favorite of Corgan's, whose Smashing Pumpkins highlight it in their live sets occasionally. All the loud and obnoxiously rabid music, and even some of that ol' Beatles karma that Martin managed to bring with him, however, couldn't do much to save the personality crises that were bubbling under the groups' happy demeanor. After 'All Shook Up' was in the can, bassist Petersson left the group, suffering from 'burnout'. There's also a certain school of thought that dictates that there was a 'Yoko'-type presence at work here around this time (hangin' off of Peterssons' right arm), but, she's been history for awhile, so we won't digress.

The band scrambled to replace him-troupers that they were-and from 1982-87, they first introduced Pete Comita, who for some still unexplained reason left as abruptly as he came; and Jon Brant, who joined the lineup, recording and touring with the band for this period. The next 4 releases found the bands musical output, while getting literally no airplay, proffering still more gems. All are worth noting, still more ingeniously simple rock-n-roll: 'She's Tight', 'If You Want My Love' and 'Love's Got a Hold On Me', from 'One on One'; 'I Can't Take It', 'Y.O.Y.O.Y.' and 'Invaders of the Heart', from 'Next Position Please', produced by Todd Rundgren, an experience which Nielsen described, among other things, as 'trying'; 'Little Sister', 'Cover Girl' and 'Tonight It's You', from 'Standing on the Edge': 'Standing....' coulda been a GREAT record, but this was now the mid-80's, and even the luscious good looks and limitless vocal talent of Robin Zander couldn't compete with all the eyeliner and slicked-up 'new wave' hype of bands like Duran Duran. The bands' signature straight-ahead rock sound was completely lost in a pseudo-schlockpop mix here, which was a great shame, indeed. Further damaging the band's by-now rapidly disintegrating reputation was the fact that Epic, having signed the band for the rest of their natural lives, wasn't 'moving product'. With that in mind, Epic decided that THEY knew what was best for Trick, and hired Tony Platt to produce their next effort, 'The Doctor'. Platt (whom absolutely no frame of reference to can be found other than 'MIDI stockholder', thanks to Jay Karlson for that wacky little tidbit!) took what remained of the bands' original sound and buried it under masses of gunky, cheesy, techno-yeccchh. It was so thick that the good songs on here couldn't even be recognized as Cheap Trick, unless you were a real fan, and even the real fans weren't sure. There ARE 3 good tunes on this release, 'It's Only Love', an upbeat pop number; 'Take Me to the Top', and 'Kiss Me Red', ballads both, and had they been given instead to one of the 'haircut metal bands' (Poison, Warrant, et.al.) that were starting to make names for themselves about this time, woulda been major contenders. Not unexpectedly, at least from a fans' standpoint, this release crashed and burned in record time, and there's a reason for that, the cover art notwithstanding...

Not long after these debacles, however, in 1987, Petersson had allegedly bottomed out, and was ready to rejoin his former bandmates. The story goes that he saw Nielsen in a club, and went up to him and said "hello" by dumping a pitcher of beer in his lap. Ahh, old friends, they stand in the corner like bookends... Whatever messy B.S. that had transpired, and to the bands' credit, never aired in public as so much 'dirty laundry', which many celebs are wont to do, had been relegated to the past, and Petersson was invited back to the lineup. By this time, however, Epic had lost complete faith in the band, and told them if they wanted to record anymore, they were going to have to perform songs from OUTSIDE WRITERS. Lesser men would have written 'SLAVE' across their faces and showed up at the Grammys unannounced, given this new development, but not these guys. They swallowed their pride, and went into the studio to record the follow-up to 'The Doctor', 'Lap of Luxury'. Produced by Rich Zito (responsible for the formulaic comebacks of Heart and Eddie Money), THIS was the record that signaled a return to the upper reaches of the Billboard Top-10 for Cheap Trick. Here, we have 'The Flame', which went to Number 1, and some other cookie-cutter pop ditties penned by the likes of Holly Knight and Diane Warren (though ya gotta hand it to these guys, they made the MOST of this stuff. And we ain't just whistlin' Dixie when we say that, 'cause WE'VE heard 'Wherever Would I Be' ). This release nonetheless contained some treats-a cover of Elvis' 'Don't Be Cruel', for one. The video for this enjoyed a great run on MTV, due to the bands' stark approach with the scenery, the bit with Bun E. parodying Elvis at the very end, and the singing backup babes probably didn't hurt, either. (Why MTV never took this bands' image and ran like hell with it is one of the great mysteries of all time). The band used a complete black and white motif on another cool video from this same disc, 'Never Had a Lot to Lose', recorded live at a club gig in Rockford, Il., the bands' hometown. This song, a first class barnburner, was also the only one on 'Lap of Luxury' penned solely by the band; the credits list Zander and Petersson. Also included here is a nut-busting stomp called 'All Wound Up', and 'Ghost Town', a ballad that sounds really icky on record, but is currently being performed live by the band as a stripped-down, 'unplugged' version, in which they show that it's actually a very good song. With the band selling again, Epic decided that they were entitled to a big 'Haha, we told you so', and decreed that 'The Formula' must be followed with the next studio outing, 'Busted'. Again, with Zito at the boards, 'Busted' proved to be an apt title. It contained 'Can't Stop Falling Into Love', which was released as a single, and did passably well. This song, which a LOT of Trick fans seem to despise, nonetheless had a rather inventive bass-line, which was about the only thing that really carried this poppy tune, other than Zander's 'ye-ahh-ah-wooos'. And, since we've mentioned the word 'bass' here, this is probably a good time to talk about Petersson's basses. He plays a 12-string bass, which is a monstrous thing to behold, and it's something he invented. It's given even the lamest of songs a groove that'll make yer eardrums rattle, no small accomplishment! Rumor has it, again from the Gospel of Trick according to Jay Karlson, that 'a family of four lives in the cutaway beneath the strings, snicker-snicker' (and you can check out Jay's Trick site at http:/web2.airmail.net/jkarlson/index.HTM -that site, and Brian Hartmann's 'Unofficial Cheap Trick Links Page', at http://home.earthlink.net/~chptrk/chptrk.html are, as the young-fry say nowadays, 'da bomb'. Oh, there are a couple of 'official' Trick websites, but, not as much care seems to get lavished on them as Jay's and Brian's). The only other song on 'Busted' worth mentioning is a mid-tempo number, 'I Can't Understand It'. Neither could we...

With the iron cooled considerably, Epic finally decided to cut their losses, and set the band free from their perpetual servitude. The label put out a 'Greatest Hits', which threw in a cover of 'Magical Mystery Tour' as a bonus track, and another live set, the inventively titled 'Budokan II', which is actually a better-recorded live set than the first one. 'Part II' offers up some different takes of the first 'Budokan' songs , as well as 'Speak Now...', from their first release, 'How Are You' from 'Heaven Tonight', and it mixes the shrieking of the audience down to a more palatable level. Apparently, the label has also kept the rights to the bands' back catalog, as you can still purchase everything mentioned thus far, on Epic. Perhaps someday they'll realize what a freakin' gold mine they're sitting on, and re-release the entire catalog as 'Remasters', with bonus tracks, or something (hint-hint!). It should be clarified, for the record here, that even though mud has been slung at Epic Records throughout this story for their seemingly boneheaded handling of Cheap Trick over the years, one must of course conclude that the bands' management has to share some of the blame as well for not seeing to it that the guys BECAME bigger than Moses. We were expecting the Second Coming of the man, oh, say, following the release of 'All Shook Up', you know, that would have been a good time. Woulda had it's own theme song and everything! 'Who 'D King', baby... Apparently, the band must have thought the same thing, because not long after this parting of the ways with Epic, Ken Adamany, the bands' longtime manager, suddenly found himself the first of the original Trick-staff to be shown the proverbial door. Many more were given a pass to the dole-line in the months to follow. But, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves...Finding themselves label-less, the band took themselves a little time off, ostensibly to look at their futures, and to attend to some personal concerns. But they weren't finished yet...

Welcome to 1992. 'New Wave' had come and gone, as had 'Techno-Pop'. The latest cash cow for the big cheeses on Wall Street was walking down the Main Streets of the country in their parents' recycled bell bottom jeans and oversized flannel shirts. Bless them, and thank God, the new Generation X was more bored than the last one (imagine that!) and, as all good little teenagers are honor-bound to do, had their own music up their collective sleeves to horrify their parental units with. Indeed, the music du-jour, morphed from 'New Wave', 'Punk Rock', 'Industrial', and 'Goth', (and like it or not, derivatives of 60's music) was now known as 'Grunge', and it was ROOOOLED by a scruffy looking bunch that called themselves Nirvana. And the airwaves, all now owned by either Rupert Murdoch or Westinghouse, were still trying to fit everything into nifty little categories, and it was still mighty difficult to find a station with Metallica and Kate Bush on the same playlist. Isn't it nice to know that some things never change?? But, musically, the world was looking to be a little bit brighter again. Labels were actually signing some decent bands (think Primal Scream and Pavement). Tours were starting to come to town in the festival format again (think 'Lollapalooza'). There was all kinds of great new music to spend yer hard-earned bucks on. Let's see...there was Red Kross, Material Issue, and Stone Temple Pilots. Not to mention Anthrax, Urge Overkill and Big Black. Or how about the Gin Blossoms and the Smashing Pumpkins? All of these bands have one thing in common. See if you can guess what that is...(sound of 'Final Jeopardy' song playing here...). TOOT TOOT! Time's up!! A matter of public record, darlings, in various interviews with the aforementioned groups: when asked who were some big influences on them artistically, every last damn one mentioned, at least once or ten times, that Cheap Trick records were required listening, that they'd put Rick Nielsen right up there with Clapton, Hendrix, Zappa, and Page, and that the band was a major influence on them, both musically, and attitude-wise. HAH! NYAH! Nanny Nanny BOO BOO. Thought my ass was suckin' on wind tunnels all this time, didn't ya?? Listen closely, my little lost souls, for I did not spend the last 3 weeks of my life writing this tome because I had nothing better to DO, see! Now you know why this is such IMPORTANT STUFF here, and to paraphrase that Dave Barry guy, "we ain't makin' this shit up"! So, now, lessee, where was I? Oh yeah...

In late 1993, Cheap Trick found themselves with a record deal again, this time with Warner Brothers. Traipsing into the studio with Ted Templeman, they cut their next schlice of plastic, 'Woke Up With a Monster'. Released in early '94, this one generated more opinions of the 'love/hate' variety than any other Trick slab to date. The general consensus, though, was that after 17 years of chain-jerking by the label mucks at Epic, the guys were walking on proverbial eggshells, trying to find their collective voices again. The songwriting here was sometimes brilliant ('Let Her Go', a moody thronk which seems to be about adventures in escaping the clutches of rabid groupies), and sometimes incredibly banal and quite lame ('Ride the Pony'. Ladies and Gentlemen, I swore I wasn't gonna use the phrase 'mid-life crisis' here, but nothing else will do. And I'm not referring to their CAREER when I say that. Of course, I coulda just said 'Ride THIS, Zander', but it wouldn't have had the same effect. Well, now, I suppose if YOU were lucky enough to be schtuppin a former Playmate, you'd be writing about sex, too, wouldn't you? Anyhoo, Zanders' solo release, which came out a tad before 'WUWAM', was more than penance for this silly bit of tripe, so all is forgiven). Thankfully, real talent cannot be crushed by years of repression, no matter how evil the repressors, and this disc does contain a few flashes of the ol' wizardry. If you can find 'WUWAM', check out the title track, which has a MOST annoying chorus, but that was the whole POINT, it made the tune quite memorable. 'My Gang' and 'Girlfriends', meanwhile, rocked the house, and upon first listen to these two tracks, Trick fans the world over flopped back in their chairs, heaving a collective sigh of 'Thank God they're back...'. And, 'Didn't Know I Had It' was, hands down, top-of-the-charts material. Catchy, commercial-sounding, and sing-along ready, why it got nowhere near the top is anyone's guess. The band had made the rounds of the late-night gabfests, but they were doin' the title song. Bad choice? Well, maybe...less than a year after its release, 'WUWAM' did a spectacular belly-flop into the sea of cutouts. Everyone was crushed by this fact: The band, of course, who had pinned high hopes on this release, and new label affiliation; Warner Brothers, who quickly bid the band a fond adieu; the fans, by now seething with anger that there didn't seem to be a label on Earth who knew what to do with these guys; and especially that CLOWN on the cover-we were gonna call him ugly, but we know who he is underneath that makeup, and he's just the sweetest thing...but we aren't gonna say who it is, 'cause he's STILL livin' THAT one down...

Well, hey, half-a-million Trick fans can't be wrong, eh? The band, resigning itself to the inevitability of corporate puppet-mastering, decided that the only thing to do now was to just go back to touring, and forget about labels for awhile. And tour they did, hey, it was a living, and besides, it's what they've always done best. They weren't packing arenas anymore, but they did their fair share of filling clubs. Between dates, the band appeared on the John Lennon tribute, 'Working Class Hero', covering 'Cold Turkey'. This contribution points up to the Lennon influence on Zanders' vocal stylings, and one listen to this song will assure you that ol' Johnny woulda been proud. Zander NAILED the attitude that Lennon was trying to convey on the original, and all the cacophonous feedback the other guys laid down behind him made it that much better. You could almost see someone jonesin' right before your very eyes while listening to this, it's downright frightful (It's also about the only Lennon-worthy cover on this tribute, other than Mary Chapin Carpenter's version of 'Grow Old With Me'). In 1995, the band, realizing that they had accumulated quite a collection of recorded material over the years, spent the next 6 or 7 months diggin' through the vaults, the attics, the storage bins, and Bun E's basement, and in the summer of '96, turned a box set loose on the world, called 'Sex, America, Cheap Trick'. Way better than Mom, apple pie and baseball, this collection features some damn fine B-sides, outtakes, and some live rarities from the bands' early career ('Mrs. Henry', the Dylan song, a blasting romp through 'You're All Talk', and 'Violins', a nod to-Dvorak?). There's even a Rick vocal here ('World's Greatest Lover'), as well as some chestnuts recorded for the movie soundtrack to 'Rock and Rule'. Hey, you remember that one, right?? Oh, the music was gratifying, even if the movie never even saw general release, let alone sell-through video (or did it?). Trick has made a quite a few contributions to soundtracks over the years. Folks still talk about the songs they recorded for 'Heavy Metal', and Mighty Wings', from 'Top Gun'. Of course, they're still trying to forget that Robin Zander/Ann Wilson duet. And the duet he did with one of those doggone Jackson gals. Hey, the guys had kids by this time...they hadda pay the rent, now, didn't they?? What were they supposed to do, go back to dental school or something? What are you, nuts??

In late 1995, Cheap Trick suddenly found themselves once again the center of attention of a LOT of A & R folks at a multitude of labels. These new label powers-that-be knew that the band had done something besides 'The Flame'. The guys went into the studio with Ian Taylor, cut some demos, and those demos became the subject of a major bidding war amongst these seemingly intelligent moguls. Among other choices, Trick dabbled with Sub-Pop, recording a single, 'Baby Talk' b/w Brontosaurus', produced by Steve Albini (who must have been drooling all over the boards, rendering the equipment less than useful during the session, which is the only plausible explanation of the muddy mixes on these otherwise mighty tunes). However, they decided to take a chance with a label called Red Ant, a division of Alliance Entertainment. Alliance, whose President, Al Teller, spun yarns of 'not having to kiss corporate asses', and promising the band that they could do things THEIR way, managed to ink their signatures to reams of paper, and Trick had a home once again. They even got their own label out of the deal, not too shabby after all these years. And it is on this label that you can find the bands' latest output, simply titled 'Cheap Trick'. (if you want to read about THAT music, which is also produced by the aforementioned Mr. Taylor, you must hasten thine mouse pointer to the 'review' section. BTW, we're damn proud of you for reading this far, can we just tell you that??) Wouldn't you know it, though, at press time, there were all these ugly little stories hitting the business pages, having to do with Alliance, where the word 'Bankruptcy' kept popping up. Oh, the newsgroup-that legend of Usenet, alt.music.Cheap-Trick, the only NG on the 'Net with its' own commemorative T-Shirts-shed many vowels and consonants over this bit of bad news. You'll be happy to know, however, that despite the dearth of adversity endured in a mere 20 years, Cheap Trick is not planning on hanging up their gear any time soon, no matter what transpires with this new label affiliation. They seem to be very happy with Red Ant thus far, as well as their new management staff. And dont'cha worry, baby, they have lots more good music in them, and if old Red Ant gets schpritzed by that big can of Raid known as the United States Bankruptcy Court, well, then, they'll just have to hit the road again (Not that they've ever left the road-you ain't never seen a harder working band, freinds. If they haven't hit Podunk, USA, yet, give 'em time, they'll get there, eventually...). They've said that themselves, and we believe them (well, they didn't say anything about Raid, I made that up, thank you...). You should too. And for those of you that have missed the ride thus far, tickets are still available at the gate...and this is still an 'E' ticket, folks, so get in line already, willya?

What the future will bring to this preeminent foursome from the heartland of the US, no one knows. Of course, one might observe that, after all the challenges they've endured, it would be understandable if Cheap Trick decided to rename themselves, just in case they thought it could be a way to shake that AC rep they acquired with 'The Flame'. Might we suggest 'Murphy's Law'...? Naahhh, it'll never happen. They could never be known as anything else. Then again, I, personally, would pay to see a band called 'Tom Peterssons' Chin'...

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