Cheap Trick burst onto the scene in 1977 with a potent blend of new wave, power pop, blues, and even a little touch of punk. Robin Zander’s pin-up worthy good looks, Rick Nielsen’s blistering guitar, Tom Petersson’s grounding bass, and Bun E. Carlos’ whack-a-mole style drumming combined to create something altogether new, and altogether special. They’re still around and still recording – they even managed to push out an album earlier this year in the midst of the pandemic. With such a huge back catalog to draw on, picking their finest moments is no easy task. Everyone has their favorites, but in our opinion, these are the 10 best Cheap Trick songs of all time.
10. Stiff Competition
Ranked by Louder Sound as one of the best Cheap Trick songs ever released, 1978’s ‘Stiff Competition’ combines one of the toughest, meanest riffs in rock history with one of the band’s trademark big, anthemic choruses. One of Cheap Trick’s most pleasing talents has always been that rare ability to marry hard rock with radio-friendly bubblegum pop: here, they do it in style.
9. Tonight It’s You
‘Tonight It’s You’ is a silvery piece of power pop that puts the stunning partnership between frontman Robin Zander and guitarist Rick Nielsen on full display. The way Nielson’s fuzzy guitar weaves in and out of Zander’s harmonies demonstrates just how impressive the band’s musicality is. The chorus, meanwhile, is nothing short of heavenly.
8. Southern Girls
No one could accuse Cheap Trick of being one-trick ponies. As much as they’re masters of pop-rock, they can work their way around the blues with the best of them. ‘Southern Girls’ is a big, ballsy blues number with a swagger and a groove that hooks you in and keeps you hooked from start to finish. The only thing sweeter than the piano licks are Zander’s sublime vocals. There’s no attempt to be clever or complicated – it’s simple, straightforward, and swinging.
7. The Flame
The early 80s wasn’t a great time for Cheap Trick. Their records failed to chart, internal difficulties saw the departure of several band members, and CBS launched a $10 million lawsuit against them for contract coercion. But you can’t keep a good band down for long. In 1988, they released ‘Lap of Luxury.’ It was the first record they’d made in collaboration with professional songwriters, a move Nielsen described as ‘tough’ but a ‘lesson.’ The album spawned several hit singles, not least ‘The Flame,’ an instantly recognizable, punchy number that gave the band their first-ever No. 1 hit.
6. Heaven Tonight
The titular track from the 1978 album ‘Heaven Tonight’ is one of the most disturbing songs in the Cheap Trick songbook. Everyone has their opinion on which bands influenced the sound most (some say the Beatles, others say Led Zeppelin), but the one thing everyone agrees on is that it’s as creepy as hell. The psychedelic-tinged harpsichord, choppy riffs, and eerie refrain all combine to (in Zaleski’s own words) “ooze dread.” Intended to replicate the disorientation of an acid trip gone bad, it’s the anti-drugs song to end all anti-drugs songs.
5. Ain’t That A Shame
Although known primarily for their original compositions, Cheap Trick isn’t afraid to borrow the odd tune from time to time. In 1978, they decided to plow the back catalog of Fats Domino. The end result is a glossy, rollicking tune with enough creativity to set it wholly apart from the original.
4. ELO Kiddies
Even now, over 40 years after its first release, ‘ELO Kiddies’ is a favorite at Cheap Trick concerts, having lost none of its appeal in the intervening decades. The first song from the second side of the band’s debut LP is, as ultimateclassicrock.com says, a ‘formidable achievement,’ with Nielson’s glam rock-inspired guitars driving Zander along as he urges the ‘kiddies’ to go out and get wild before age kicks in with religion and headaches and stomach ulcers. Cynical and packed full of double entendres (even the title is a play on words – according to Wikipedia, it could either mean ‘hello’ or ‘ELO,’ suggesting the song may have been inspired by the Electric Light Orchestra, a band Cheap Trick are known to admire), it was the song that put Cheap Trick on the map.
3. Dream Police
The titular track from the album that still ranks as one of Cheap Trick’s most celebrated is, on the surface, a bright and breezy piece of power pop. But Cheap Trick in their prime was a band that warranted a deeper listen. Dig beneath the hand claps, the harmonies, and the anthemic chorus, and you’ll find disorienting arrangements, disquieting lyrics, and a slow, purposeful menace that contrasts with, if not detracts from, the simple pop layered on top.
‘Surrender’ was the single that gave Cheap Trick their first chart success in America. It’s little wonder. With lyrics that take on the generation gap in a typically perverse way and a big, sing-along chorus that demands to be played at full volume, this is the sound of a band that’s found its groove and is ready and waiting for an audience to find it too. It’s eccentric, musically challenging, but still radio-friendly – in other words, classic Cheap Trick.
1. I Want You To Want Me
Everyone has their favorite Cheap Trick song, but few would deny the sheer genius of ‘I Want You To Want Me.’ Taken from the band’s 1977 sophomore album ‘In Color,’ it failed to make inroads until a revised version appeared on the incredibly popular live album ‘Cheap Trick at Budokan.’ On its re-release, it became the band’s biggest-selling single, certifying gold and taking Cheap Trick to No.7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Described by producer Tom Werman as a ‘fabulous dance hall type of song’ and a ‘perfect pop tune,’ it combines elements of camp with tongue-in-cheek lyrics, exuberant drumming, and some incredibly beguiling vocals – in short, everything that makes Cheap Trick the band they are.
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