Cheap Trick: 10 Insanely Great Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know - Rolling Stone
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10 Insanely Great Cheap Trick Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know

Explore Illinois power-pop kings’ hidden gems, from early-career deep cuts to soundtrack one-offs

Cheap Trick; Rolling Stone; 10 Insanely Great Songs

Cheap Trick photographed in Holland in 1977. From top: Bun E. Carlos, Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen & Tom Petersson. ** UK + USA ONLY ** © Peter Mazel / Sunshine / Retna/Photoshot.

Peter Mazel/Sunshine/Retna/Photoshot

It’s been more than 40 years since Cheap Trick first started plying their unique brand of hard-nosed, guitar-driven power pop in any Midwestern bar that would have them, and in the ensuing decades, the Rockford, Illinois, quartet have seen more than their fair share of ups and downs. There have been hits — “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender,” both from band’s late-Seventies heyday, are classic-rock-radio mainstays, while the 1988 ballad “The Flame” made it all the way to Number One on Billboard‘s Hot 100 singles chart — but there have been a bunch of misses, too, and depending on the musical climate, you could see the group, which has played more than 5,000 shows since forming, in a sports bar, at a state fair or sometimes, when fortune smiled upon them, in an arena.

By all estimations, however, 2016 is shaping up to be a banner year for the band. On Friday, the group released the excellent Bang, Zoom, Crazy … Hello, its first studio album in seven years. A week later, on April 8th, Cheap Trick’s founding members — guitarist Rick Nielsen, vocalist Robin Zander, drummer Bun E. Carlos and bassist Tom Petersson — will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, something that hardcore fans have been clamoring for since the band became eligible in 2003. We hope that after you’ve enjoyed this compendium of deep cuts and rarities, you’ll agree that it is an honor both well-deserved … and long overdue.

Cheap Trick; Rolling Stone; 10 Insanely Great Songs

Cheap Trick photographed in Holland in 1977. From top: Bun E. Carlos, Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen & Tom Petersson. ** UK + USA ONLY ** © Peter Mazel / Sunshine / Retna/Photoshot.

Peter Mazel/Sunshine/Retna/Photoshot

“Reach Out” (1981)

"Reach Out" is another soundtrack gem, this time from 1981' s Heavy Metal, an animated fantasy film that also included musical contributions from Sammy Hagar, Black Sabbath, Journey and Grand Funk Railroad. Guitarist Rick Nielsen traditionally handled the bulk of Cheap Trick's songwriting duties, but "Reach Out" has the distinction of being one of only a few tracks penned by Pete Comita, the first of two replacements for bassist Tom Petersson after his departure from the band in 1980 (he would return in 1987). The song's introductory buzzing synth riff and outro motif are very much the products of a bygone era, but drummer Bun E. Carlos infuses "Reach Out" with a post–Ringo Starr swing that is truly timeless.

Cheap Trick; Rolling Stone; 10 Insanely Great Songs

Cheap Trick photographed in Holland in 1977. From top: Bun E. Carlos, Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen & Tom Petersson. ** UK + USA ONLY ** © Peter Mazel / Sunshine / Retna/Photoshot.

Peter Mazel/Sunshine/Retna/Photoshot

“Heaven’s Falling” (1983)

Much to their consternation, Cheap Trick's collaborations with hit-making producers have frequently served only to dilute the group's sound without yielding desired rewards. Next Position Please, the group's 1983 collaboration with Todd Rundgren (Meatloaf, XTC) was no exception. While the songwriting is solid, the sound of the album is anemic, and lead single "I Can't Take It" failed to significantly impact the charts. The band should have placed its bets on "Heaven's Falling." Perhaps because it was actually a Rundgren composition, the producer's sonic fingerprint on the chorused guitar riff and pumping bass seems perfectly appropriate, and Robin Zander positively slays the dizzying vocal melody.

Cheap Trick; Rolling Stone; 10 Insanely Great Songs

Cheap Trick photographed in Holland in 1977. From top: Bun E. Carlos, Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen & Tom Petersson. ** UK + USA ONLY ** © Peter Mazel / Sunshine / Retna/Photoshot.

Peter Mazel/Sunshine/Retna/Photoshot

“Cold Turkey” (1995)

Shortly before John Lennon's death in 1980, Jack Douglas, who had produced Cheap Trick's debut album, summoned Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos to New York to record with the former Beatle for the Double Fantasy album. The resulting tracks were deemed too aggressive for the more subdued tenor of the final release, but "Cold Turkey," Cheap Trick's contribution to Working Class Hero, a wildly uneven 1995 tribute album to Lennon, demonstrates why both John and his producer thought that Carlos and Nielsen might be a good fit. The performance recasts the schizoid 1969 Lennon original as a more conventional quiet/loud hard rocker, and in doing so, transforms it into a chilling and ferocious beast, much like the excruciating withdrawal it addresses.

Cheap Trick; Rolling Stone; 10 Insanely Great Songs

Cheap Trick photographed in Holland in 1977. From top: Bun E. Carlos, Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen & Tom Petersson. ** UK + USA ONLY ** © Peter Mazel / Sunshine / Retna/Photoshot.

Peter Mazel/Sunshine/Retna/Photoshot

“Clock Strikes Ten” (Steve Albini Version) (1997)

Legendary post-hardcore and alt-rock producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, the Jesus Lizard) has always been an outspoken advocate for Cheap Trick, and his group Big Black once went so far as to cover the band's "He's a Whore" for a 1987 seven-inch. In 1997, Albini invited Cheap Trick to Electrical Audio, his Chicago studio, and had the band re-record their entire 1977 sophomore album, In Color, which fans have often derided for its saccharine production. The results of these sessions were never officially released, but as a listener can hear on this impossibly heavy reinvention of "Clock Strikes Ten," a song whose original version topped the Japanese charts, it's no surprise that Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain once proclaimed, "We sound just like Cheap Trick, only the guitars are louder."

Cheap Trick; Rolling Stone; 10 Insanely Great Songs

Cheap Trick photographed in Holland in 1977. From top: Bun E. Carlos, Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen & Tom Petersson. ** UK + USA ONLY ** © Peter Mazel / Sunshine / Retna/Photoshot.

Peter Mazel/Sunshine/Retna/Photoshot

“My Obsession” (2004)

Despite its title, Cheap Trick's 2004 LP, Special One, is not a standout out in the band's discography and was anything but a hit — the release entered the album charts at Number 128 and sank out of sight the following week. "My Obsession," however, is unquestionably deserving of rediscovery by fans of tuneful, melancholy, guitar-driven power pop. Fair warning: The song's chorus, replete with 12-string guitars and heart-tugging vocal harmonies, is a merciless earworm that cannot easily be removed.

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