Since forming in 1973, Cheap Trick have enjoyed spectacular highs and equally spectacular lows. When they’re good, they’re very, very good, and when they’re bad, they’re… well, not horrid, but not necessarily a band you’d pay to listen to. But if there’s one thing that sets them apart from their peers, it’s their capacity to rebound from failure. That, and their refusal to see growing older as an excuse for becoming jaded. Even now, multiple decades into their career, they’re still capable of firing out albums that have more energy and vigor than bands half their age. With over 20 million album sales under their belt, they’re a band that deserves your attention, and your respect. Here’s how we rank all the Cheap Trick albums from worst to best.
20. Woke Up With A Monster
Woke Up With A Monster, Cheap Trick’s twelfth studio album, was the band’s first release with Warner Bros. It was also their last… for very understandable reasons. Not only was it a commercial disappointment, stalling at number 123 on the Billboard 200, but it was also a critical nightmare. It might not be a complete washout (My Gang and Girlfriend are both fun), but overall, it sounds bland, bored, and boring. One for hard-core devotees only.
19. The Doctor
Much of the problem with 1986’s The Doctor lies in the production, which swamps the songs in swirling synths and mechanized drum loops. The songs themselves are decent enough, but robbed of the nuanced power that has always made Cheap Trick such a force to be reckoned with, they sink beneath the weight of the overblown arrangements. Despite its desperate attempt to keep up with the times, the album was a flop, stalling at No. 115 on the Billboard 200 Chart.
18. Lap of Luxury
Cheap Trick have often written off Lap of Luxury as one of their weakest efforts – listening to it, it’s hard to disagree. Despite a few saving graces in the shape of the number one hit The Flame and the cover of Elvis’ Don’t Be Cruel, the sketchy song choices and awful production are hard to overlook. Commercially, it was the band’s biggest hit in years, peaking at number 16 on the Billboard 200 and certifying platinum. But popular doesn’t always mean good, and here, it’s very much the opposite.
17. Special One
After a six-year hiatus, Cheap Trick returned in 2003 with Special One. While it doesn’t sink to the depths of some of their 80s material, neither does it come close to matching the heights of their ’70s output. Although there’s the occasional hint of promise, it never comes to anything, resulting in an album that lacks both passion and inspiration. A commercial disaster, it spent one week at number 128 on the Billboard 200 before sinking without trace.
Anyone hoping the band’s run of disappointments would end with the ’80s was left out of luck with 1990s Busted. There are a few enjoyable moments – Wherever Would I Be and the zippy cover of Roy Wood’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Tonight have style for miles – but while the band sounds tight, the bulk of the material is too dispiriting for the album to appeal to anyone but the most committed fan. Released in June 1990, Busted peaked at number 44 on the Billboard 200. Disappointed with the poor sales, Epic Records dropped them within the year.
15. Standing on the Edge
In an attempt to revive their glory years, Cheap Trick enlisted the help of Jack Douglas, who’d produced their debut album, for 1985’s Standing on the Edge. The intention was to forge a return to a harder, rockier sound, but mixer Tony Platt threw a spanner in the works by chucking in a load of extra keyboards and electronic drums. There’s a scattering of gems, but even the dazzling title track gets bogged down by the dated production techniques. Released as their eighth studio album in July 1985, the album spent 18 weeks on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 35.
14. All Shook Up
After three albums with Tom Werman as producer, Cheap Trick decided to mix things up for their fifth studio album. Out went Werman and in came legendary producer George Martin. If the band were hoping he’d impart some of the Beatles’ magic on All Shook Up, they were in for a shock. On paper, the album should have been astonishing. In reality, it was anything but. Described by All Music as their first genuinely disappointing album, the absence of any beefy hooks is palpable, while the songs lack the caustic humor of the band’s earlier material. Martin, while an extraordinary producer, doesn’t get away scot-free either, not necessarily through any fault of his own, but simply because his production style is too far removed from the band’s style to work.
13. One on One
As Louder Sound notes, the band’s first album after the departure of bassist Tom Petersson adopts a more straightforward, singalong approach to the previous All Shook Up, resulting in a good selection of minor hits such as If You Want My Love and She’s Tight. But while it may have the edge on its predecessor, it’s by no means faultless, with the lack of consistency and uninspired production pointing to storm clouds on the horizon.
12. In Another Word
In April 2021, Cheap Trick returned with their twentieth studio album, In Another Word. Despite following the band’s tried and tested formula a little too closely than’s comfortable, it’s a decent effort, compensating for its lack of freshness with muscular performances and sharp melodies. Although by no means a hit, it fared reasonably well for a late-career offering, reaching number 142 on the Billboard 200 and number 22 on the US Top Rock Albums chart.
11. Christmas Christmas
Christmas albums tend to be enjoyed once then instantly forgotten. Not so Christmas Christmas. Cheap Trick’s first foray into the festive market is swathed in so much fun and performed with so much enthusiasm, it’s impossible to resist gems like Chuck Berry’s Run Run Rudolph and The Ramones’ Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight). If you’re still listening to it come July, don’t be surprised.
10. Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello
Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello is the first album in the band’s history not to feature Bun E. Calos on drums. Although his presence is missed, his replacement, touring drummer Daxx Nielsen, steps up to the challenge well. Released in April 2016, it became the band’s highest-charting album in almost two decades, peaking at number 31 on the Billboard 200. Overall, it’s a satisfying effort, with highlights like Heart On The Line and The Sun Never Sets recalling the band’s heyday.
9. We’re All Alright!
Released just a year after their surprise hit Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello, We’re All Alright! continued the band’s renaissance with a raucous blend of power and pop. It didn’t fare quite so well as its predecessor, reaching number 63 on the Billboard 200, but it’s still a very solid outing, with the hell-raising opener You Got It Going On and the atmospheric Nowhere standing out as particular highlights.
8. Cheap Trick
Following the dismal reception to Woke Up With a Monster, Warner Bros. dropped Cheap Trick like a hot potato. Down but not out, the band found a new home with Red Ant Records/ Alliance and promptly fired out one of their best albums in years. While the songs aren’t in the same class as those on their earliest albums, there’s enough vitality and vigor in the band’s performance to show they were ready to face the new millennium as far more than a nostalgia act. The record label went bust three weeks after Cheap Trick hit the shelves, but considering the strength of the album, the band’s hands were clean.
7. Next Position Please
As ultimateclassicrock.com says, tapping Todd Rundgren as producer seemed like a perfect move, and even though he casts too large of a shadow at times, Next Position Please is still a very fine album. Rundgren runs a tight ship, resulting in a level of quality control the band had rarely been subjected to before. It’s very shiny in a very ’80s way, but thanks to highlights like Robin Zander’s superlative I Can’t Take It and the very lovely cover of the Motors’ Dancing the Night Away, it still ranks as one of their very best releases of the decade.
6. The Latest
If commercial success was the only barometer of success, The Latest, an album that stalled at number 78 on the Billboard 200, would deserve a much lower ranking. But fortunately, it’s not, as The Latest is a very fine album. Released as the band’s sixteenth studio album in June 2009, it finds Cheap Trick firing on all cylinders, blazing through hard rockers like Miss Tomorrow, California Girl, and Sick Man of Europe with all the vim and vigor of performers half their age.
If Cheap Trick has taught us anything, it’s to never write them off. While their output since the 1970s has been uneven, every now and again, they’ll surprise us with an album like Rockford. Released in 2006, the album heralded a welcome return to form, giving us a band as far from jaded as you can get. A blast of energy, fun, and enthusiasm, it sticks to the band’s signature style closely enough to please older audiences, while adapting well enough to the times to attract a younger crowd. Standout tracks from the killer tracklist include Perfect Stranger, Welcome to the World, and Give It Away.
4. In Color
On the band’s second album, In Color, Cheap Trick settle on the formula that would turn them into international contenders. The playing is vigorous, the harmonizes are sweet, and on highlights like Downed, I Want You to Want Me, and Southern Girls, the band shows their talent for firing out classic rock anthems with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humor to set them apart from the crowd. The production might sound a little dated to modern ears, but even that can’t detract from the album’s gutsy splendor.
3. Cheap Trick
In 1977, Cheap Trick unleashed their self-titled debut on the world. It’s a little rough and ready, but the rawness only serves to enhance the songs, which veer effortlessly from tender beauties like Mandocello to abrasive rockers like He’s a Whore. It’s a giant kick to the guts, but one you’d happily stand in line for. While it didn’t make a dent in the charts, it enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive reception from the critics, with Rolling Stone heaping praise on Robin Zander’s vocals and favorably comparing the band to the Who.
2. Dream Police
After the live album At Budokan sent Cheap Trick stratospheric, expectations were riding high for its follow-up. Dream Police didn’t disappoint. The production might be a little too polished, but the quality of the songs shines through, with the title track, Voices and Need Your Love easily ranking among the band’s most exemplary efforts. Released in September 1979, it became their biggest hit to date, reaching number 6 on the Billboard 200 and certifying platinum within just a few months of its release.
1. Heaven Tonight
On the band’s 1978 breakthrough, producer Tom Werman hit on the perfect middle ground between the rough, heavy rock of the band’s debut and the lighter, pop-oriented sound of In Colour. Teaming with hooks and dripping with attitude, Heaven Tonight jumps from one insanely catchy tune to the next without missing a beat. The anthemic Surrender was the song that drew the crowds, but tracks like Auf Wiedersehen, California Man, and the haunting title cut are no less glorious. A true tour de force, and one that remains their greatest achievement to this day.