They have often been referred to in the Japanese press as the "American Beatles". In October 2007, the Illinois Senate passed a resolution designating April 1 as Cheap Trick Day in the state. The band was also ranked #25 in VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.
Early years (1961–1974)
In 1961, Nielsen began playing locally in Rockford, Illinois utilizing an ever-increasing collection of rare and valuable guitars. He formed several local bands with names like The Boyz and The Grim Reapers. Brad Carlson, later known as Bun E. Carlos, played in a rival Rockford band, the Pagans. Finally, Nielsen formed Fuse in 1967 with Tom Peterson, later known as Tom Petersson, who had played in yet another local band called The Bo Weevils.
Fuse released a self-titled album for Epic Records in 1970, which was generally ignored. Frustrated by their lack of success, Fuse recruited the two remaining members of Nazz in 1970 and ended up playing around the Midwest for 6–7 months under two monikers, Fuse or Nazz, depending on where they were gigging. With Bun E. Carlos joining on drums, Fuse moved to Philadelphia in 1971. They began calling themselves "Sick Man of Europe" in 1972–1973. After a European tour in 1973, Nielsen and Petersson returned to Rockford and reunited with Carlos.
Randy "Xeno" Hogan was the original lead singer for Cheap Trick. He left the band shortly after its formation and was replaced by Robin Zander. Contrary to an often repeated rumor that the band name originated from a Ouija Board, the name was inspired by the band's attendance of a Slade concert, where Petersson commented that the band used "every cheap trick in the book" as part of their act.
Classic years (1975–1978)
With Robin Zander now on vocals, the band recorded their first official demo in 1975 and played in warehouses, bowling alleys, and various other venues around the midwestern United States. The band was signed to Epic Records by A&R man Tom Werman, at the insistence of producer Jack Douglas, who had seen the band perform in Wisconsin.
The band released their first album, Cheap Trick, in early 1977, produced by Jack Douglas. While favored by critics, the album was not successful in terms of sales. The album's lone single "Oh Candy" failed to chart. However, the band began to develop a fan base in Japan and "ELO Kiddies" was a hit single in Europe. Their second album In Color was released later that year and was produced by Tom Werman, who brought out their lighter and more pop-oriented side, producing an album much more polished than their first. However, the band bemoaned In Color's production and would re-record it many years later. Moreover the album was largely unsuccessful. The singles "Southern Girls", "I Want You To Want Me", and "So Good To See You", failed to chart. However, "I Want You To Want Me" and "Clock Strikes Ten" were hit singles in Japan, with the latter going to #1 on the charts. In Color ultimately was ranked #448 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The band's third album, Heaven Tonight, released in 1978 and again produced by Tom Werman, combined elements of the first two albums. Regarded by many fans and critics as their best album, the lead-off track "Surrender" was Cheap Trick's first single to chart in the United States, peaking at #62. It has gone on to become one of the band's signature songs. Heaven Tonight is also noteworthy as the first album recorded with a 12-string electric bass. Perhaps most importantly, this album made the band megastars in Japan.
Budokan brings success (1978–1981)
None of Cheap Trick's first three albums made it into the Top 40 in the United States. In Japan, however, all three albums became gold records. When Cheap Trick went to Japan to tour the country for the first time in April 1978, they were received with a frenzy reminiscent of Beatlemania. During this tour, Cheap Trick recorded two concerts attended by their loyal Japanese fans at the Nippon Budokan. Ten tracks taken from both shows were compiled and released as a live album titled Cheap Trick at Budokan, which was intended to be exclusive to Japan. Demand for the import album became so great that Epic Records finally released the album in the United States in 1979.
Cheap Trick at Budokan launched the band into international stardom, and the album went triple platinum in the United States. The smash track was the live version of "I Want You to Want Me," which had originally been released on In Color. It reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and became Cheap Trick's biggest-selling single. The second single, "Ain't That A Shame," peaked at #35. "Need Your Love" had already been recorded for the forthcoming Dream Police album that had already been finished, but after the unprecedented success of At Budokan, Epic postponed the album's release. Dream Police was released later in 1979 and was their third album in a row produced by Tom Werman. The title track of the album was a hit single, as was "Voices." Dream Police also found the band taking its style in a more experimental direction by incorporating strings and dabbling in heavy metal on tracks like "Gonna Raise Hell".
A four track EP entitled Found All The Parts was released in mid 1980 and consisted of previously unreleased material. One side of the record contained live recordings and the other side had studio recordings. The live tracks were a faux live cover of The Beatles' "Day Tripper", and "Can't Hold On", a bluesy track performed at Budokan concerts in 1978. The studio tracks were "Such A Good Girl" and "Take Me I'm Yours", which the record claims were recorded in 1976 and 1977, respectively. However, while they were older songs, they were recorded with Jack Douglas in early 1980. A total of nine tracks were recorded with Douglas, and remain obscure as they have only been issued on compilations, promotional samplers, and contest giveaways. For years, there was a false rumor that this was an album that had been rejected by Epic Records.
By 1980, when All Shook Up was released, Cheap Trick was headlining arenas. All Shook Up, produced by former Beatles producer George Martin, reached #24 on the charts and was certified gold, but the album's high-class background did not save it from descriptions like "Led Zeppelin gone psycho." Many fans of the band's earlier albums saw All Shook Up as too weird and experimental. One song from the sessions, "Everything Works if You Let It", appeared on the soundtrack of Roadie, and Nielsen and Carlos participated in sessions for John Lennon and Yoko Ono's album Double Fantasy.
Departure of Petersson (1981–1987)
On August 26, 1980, before the release of All Shook Up, Petersson left the group to record a solo album with his wife Dagmar. The five-song mini-LP titled Tom Petersson and Another Language was released in 1984. Pete Comita replaced Petersson for the All Shook Up tour and the band recorded five songs with Comita to contribute to two movie soundtracks. "I'm the Man", "Born to Raise Hell", and "Ohm Sweet Ohm", which were produced by Jack Douglas, went to the film Rock & Rule. An accompanying soundtrack album for the film was never released and the songs weren't released until 1996 (on the Sex, America, Cheap Trick box set). "Reach Out" and "I Must Be Dreamin'" went to the film Heavy Metal and were produced by Roy Thomas Baker. "Reach Out" was written by Comita and Bob James. Comita left the band after completing the 1980-81 World Tour that promoted the "All Shook Up" album as well as the demo sessions for the band's forthcoming album. He would later claim that he co-wrote songs that appeared on the band's next two albums and was not credited. Jon Brant became Petersson's steady replacement. In July 1981, CBS Inc. sued Cheap Trick and their manager Ken Adamany for $10 million, alleging they were attempting to coerce CBS into re-negotiating their contract and had refused to record any new material for the label since October 1980. The lawsuit was settled in early 1982 and work commenced on the next album—One on One, produced by Roy Thomas Baker. The band changed direction again, this time opting for an album full of brash, shout-along hard rock songs. The album spawned two minor hits with the power ballad "If You Want My Love" and the innuendo-laced rocker "She's Tight." The music videos for both songs received heavy rotation on MTV.
The following year, Cheap Trick released Next Position Please with Todd Rundgren as producer. Rundgren downplayed the band's brash side and returned them to a more clean, pop-oriented sound similar to that of In Color. The album never found much of an audience and Cheap Trick's commercial fortunes were in decline. The first single was a cover of The Motors' "Dancing the Night Away". Epic Records, desperate for a hit from the band, forced the group to record the track, which had been a hit single in Europe. Rundgren refused to produce the song, and it was instead produced by One On One engineer Ian Taylor. It failed to chart, as did the second single and fan favorite "I Can't Take It". The Ian-Taylor-produced "Spring Break," which was a contribution to the soundtrack of the 1983 comedy film of the same name, was also issued as a single, which also failed to chart. In 1984, the band recorded the title track "Up the Creek" to the Tim Matheson comedy Up The Creek, which Nielsen later called "one of the worst" songs he'd ever written. The track reached #36 on Billboard's Top Tracks but was off the chart after two weeks.
In 1985 they were reunited with Jack Douglas, who had produced their debut album, to record Standing on the Edge. The band originally intended to return to their rough-sounding roots on the album, but Douglas backed out of the mixing process due to the legal issues he was having with Yoko Ono at the time. It was instead mixed by Tony Platt, who added more elements of typical 1980s production. This album was called their "best collection of bubblegum bazooka rock in years." The album also featured Mark Radice on keyboards, and he was also enlisted to assist in the songwriting process. The album's first single, "Tonight It's You", reached #8 on the Billboard's Top Rock Tracks chart and the video received heavy rotation on MTV. The following singles "Little Sister," and "How About You" were released as promotional singles only.
In 1986, the band recorded "Mighty Wings", the end-title cut for the film Top Gun. They then released The Doctor. Some of the songs contained elements of funk, and the band utilized female back-up vocalists for the first time. However, synthesizers and computer-programmed sound effects drowned out most of the prominent instruments, most noticeably the guitar. Produced by Tony Platt, it is widely considered the bands' worst album. The album's lone single, "It's Only Love" failed to chart, but many blame the album's poor success on the record label's lack of promotion. The music video for "It's Only Love" made history as the first music video to prominently use American Sign Language. The Doctor turned out to be the final album with Jon Brant as bassist, as Tom Petersson expressed interest in rejoining the band. Brant parted on good terms with the band, and has performed with the band a number of times since as a special guest or filling in for Petersson.
Lap Of Luxury (1987–1997)
Petersson rejoined the group in 1987 and helped record 1988's Lap of Luxury, produced by Richie Zito. Due to the band's commercial decline, Epic Records forced the band to collaborate with professional songwriters. "The Flame", a typical '80s "factory ballad," was issued as the first single and became the band's first-ever #1 single. The second single, a cover of Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel" also reached the top 10. Three other singles from the album were "Ghost Town", "Never Had a Lot to Lose", and "Let Go". Each one charted successfully, and Lap of Luxury went platinum and became recognized as the band's comeback album.
Busted was released in 1990 and was also produced by Richie Zito, as the band attempted to capitalize on the success of Lap of Luxury. This time, however, the band was allowed more creative control and professional songwriters were only used on a handful of songs. The first single "Can't Stop Falling Into Love" reached #12 on the charts but failed to reach as high as the label expected. The second single, the Diane Warren penned "Wherever Would I Be," suffered a worse fate reaching only #50. The following singles, "If You Need Me" and "Back N' Blue" were not successful, although the later single reached #32 on the US Mainstream Rock charts.
In 1991, Cheap Trick's Greatest Hits was released. It included twelve (twenty-eight on Japan pressing) of the band's most successful or popular singles and one new track, a cover of The Beatles' song "Magical Mystery Tour", which was an outtake from the Lap Of Luxury sessions.
In 1993, Budokan II was released. It featured the tracks that had been omitted from the original live album, plus three more tracks from their follow-up tour in 1979. The release was not authorized by the band, and it is now out of print. That same year, Robin Zander released his eponymous debut solo record on Interscope, produced by Jimmy Iovine. Guitarist Mike Campbell, best known for his work with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, collaborated with Zander on most of the album's tracks. The album was largely unsuccessful but the single "I've Always Got You" reached #13 on the US Mainstream Rock chart and #64 in Canada.
The group left Epic after the disappointing sales of "Busted" – to sign with Warner Bros. Records. In 1994 the band released Woke Up With A Monster, which was produced by producer Ted Templeman, best known for his work with Van Halen. The album's title track was issued as the first single and reached #16 on the US Mainstream Rock charts. The album's sales were poor, and it peaked at only #123. By the time the album came out, there had been a variety of significant changes in the band, both music-wise and appearance-wise. The style of music is more on the "hard rock" side, their "heaviest" album since One On One. Ted Templeman's heavy-handed production was also the subject of much criticism. Rick Nielsen grew a goatee, and Robin Zander's voice grew noticeably deeper. The band also contributed a cover of John Lennon's song "Cold Turkey" on the Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon album.
The band quickly parted ways with Warner Bros. and decided it was time to go back to basics. They concentrated on the strength of their live shows, which were near-legendary, and they decided to release new recordings to independent labels instead of major companies. Over the next few years, Cheap Trick toured with several bands they had influenced, such as Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam. At the end of 1995, the band independently released Gift, a two track Christmas CD that benefited Chicago-area charities. They spent the next year recording demos with Tom Werman and Steve Albini. They then released the 7 inch vinyl single Baby Talk/Brontosaurus on Seattl-based indie label Sub Pop Records, which was produced by Albini. Now back on speaking terms with their former label, the band released Sex, America, Cheap Trick, a four disc box set that included dozens of rare and unreleased studio and live recordings along with some of the band's singles and favorites, on Epic Records. The collection, however, was criticized for lacking several of the band's most well-known and much-loved songs.
In 1997, Cheap Trick signed with indie label Red Ant Records and released Cheap Trick, produced by Ian Taylor, who the band had previously worked with in 1982 and 1983. The band attempted to re-introduce themselves to a new generation, as the album was self-titled and the artwork was similar to their first album which had been released twenty years before. Tom Werman would later claim that he had produced a track on the album and was not credited. The album was critically acclaimed and hailed as a return to form. Eleven weeks after the release, Red Ant's parent company Alliance Entertainment Corporation declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The single "Say Goodbye" only reached #119 on the charts, and the band again found themselves without a record label.
Cheap Trick Unlimited (1998–2005)
Cheap Trick began to rebuild in 1998 by trying to restore normal relations with Sony/Epic and the music retail community. They established their own record company, Cheap Trick Unlimited. They toured behind the release of At Budokan: The Complete Concert, and the remastered reissues of their first three albums. One of the multi-night stands from this tour resulted in Music for Hangovers, a vibrant live effort that featured members of The Smashing Pumpkins on two tracks.
In 1999, the band recorded a reworked cover of Big Star's "In the Street" for use as the theme song for the television show That '70s Show. It was released on the show's soundtrack, That '70s Album (Rockin'). The group also re-recorded "Surrender," which was available exclusively at Getsigned.com.
In early 2000, Cheap Trick entered into a license with the now-defunct Musicmaker.com to directly download and create custom CDs for over 50 songs. After spending a good part of 2001 writing songs and about six weeks of pre-production, Cheap Trick went into Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York in March 2002, where the band put together their first studio album in six years, Special One in May 2003. At the same time, the band brought their record label to Big3 Entertainment. While the lead-off single "Scent of A Woman" was typical Cheap Trick fare, most of the album's tracks were acoustic-based. The album was met with mixed reviews, with one of the larger subjects of criticism being that the last two tracks on the album were basically the same song. The band also contributed the 1999 re-recorded version of "Surrender" to the comedy film Daddy Day Care and made a cameo in the film. They toured with Cake on the Unlimited Sunshine Tour that same year. In Japan, the band's entire catalog released between 1980 and 1990 was re-issued in remastered form.
In late 2003, Bun E. Carlos starred in a Target commercial with Torry Castellano, drummer of The Donnas.
In April 2005, Cheap Trick released the five-track Sessions@AOL EP for digital download.
Independence (2006 onward)
In 2006, Cheap Trick released Rockford on Cheap Trick Unlimited/Big3 Records. The first single from the album was "Perfect Stranger" (produced by Linda Perry and co-written by Cheap Trick and Perry). The band promoted the album through appearances on the Sirius and XM satellite radio networks and a North American tour. That same year, "Surrender" was featured as a playable track in the hit video game Guitar Hero II, and the albums Dream Police and All Shook Up were re-issued in remastered form with bonus tracks. One On One and Next Position Please (The Authorized Version) were released as digital downloads. The band also appeared in a McDonald's advertising campaign called "This Is Your Wake-Up Call" featuring the band.
passed Senate Resolution 255, which designated April 1 of every year as Cheap Trick Day in the State of Illinois. In August of that year, Cheap Trick honored the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by playing the album in its entirety with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by Edwin Outwater, along with guest vocalists including Joan Osborne and Aimee Mann. Geoff Emerick, who engineered all the sound effects on Sgt. Pepper, engineered the same sounds for the two live concerts. The Chicago chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences honored Cheap Trick at the 2007 Recording Academy Honors event in Chicago on October 11, 2007. Nielsen and Carlos were on hand to receive the award, which was presented to them by Steve Albini.
In 2008, Cheap Trick were selected to be featured in the John Varvatos Spring/Summer 2008 clothing ad campaign. The black and white commercial put the group on a boardwalk with bicycles, the filming backdrop was a beach for a very modern look for the band. "California Man", a song written by Roy Wood and covered by the band on Heaven Tonight was used in the advertising promotion. On April 24, Cheap Trick played live at the Budokan for the 30th anniversary of the 1978 album Live at Budokan. On July 5, at their concert in Milwaukee, Rick Nielsen announced to the crowd that the show was being recorded for a future CD and/or DVD release. On November 11, the band released At Budokan: 30th Anniversary Collectors Edition, a box set that featured 3 CDs of the band's two concerts at Budokan recorded on April 28 and 30, 1978. A bonus DVD contained concert footage that originally aired on Japanese television, plus bonus features including footage from their return to Budokan for the original album's 30th anniversary.
Also in 2008, the song "Dream Police" was featured as a playable track in the hit video game Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. Rock Band 2 also featured the unreleased 1998 re-recorded version of "Hello There" as a playable track and it was also used for the game's opening sequence.
In an October 2008 interview, Rick Nielsen revealed that several Cheap Trick releases were in store for the future, including a new album produced by Julian Raymond and Howard Willing, and the re-recorded version of In Color.
In 2009, the band released The Latest. It was also available in both vinyl and 8-track tape versions on the band's website. The group also performed the theme song for the film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The group released Sgt. Pepper Live, their interpretation of the classic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on August 25, 2009. This was released as both a compact disc and a DVD. 2009 also saw Bun E. Carlos launch a separate project including members of Smashing Pumpkins, Fountains of Wayne, and Hanson: Tinted Windows, a power pop quartet whose debut album quickly earned critical praise and repeat airplay on leading syndicated FM radio programs. The band headlined a homecoming show at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL on Thursday, December 10, 2009 as the main act at the 104.3 WJMK-FM holiday show, Jack's Cheap Christmas.
.In 2010, Cheap Trick's "Dream Police", re-recorded as "Green Police", appeared as the music bed in an Audi commercial that first aired during the Super Bowl. The Audi commercial depicts a man enjoying his Audi TDI, which is apparently painlessly compliant with environmental regulations.
On March 19, 2010 it was announced that Bun E. Carlos was not currently the touring drummer for the band but remains a band member. Rick Nielsen's son Daxx is currently the touring drummer.
On April 6, 2010 Sony Music began to reissue Cheap Trick's albums that have been out of print via reissue specialist labels Friday Music and Wounded Bird Records. One On One and Next Position Please were released first and have been combined to fit on to one CD. Standing On The Edge and The Doctor were released separately and Busted was combined with the Found All The Parts EP.
In November 2010, the band played a set of shows in the UK, each with an individual setlist and their album The Latest was given away as a free disc with the UK magazine, Classic Rock. On July 17, 2011 at The Bluesfest in Ottawa, 20 minutes into Cheap Trick’s set, a thunderstorm blew through the festival area. The band and crew were on the stage when without warning the 40-ton roof fell. It fell away from the audience and landed on the band's truck which was parked alongside the back of the stage, breaking the fall and allowing everyone about 30 seconds to escape.
On November 10, 2011 Cheap Trick announced plans to open a restaurant/music/museum venue in historic Motor Row in South Loop Chicago.
Aerosmith and Cheap Trick have announced 2012 summer tour dates, labeling the pair-up the Global Warming Tour. The tour starts in Minneapolis, Minnesota on June 16.
Cheap Trick is well known for their four decades of almost continuous touring. Their album Cheap Trick at Budokan (1978), along with Bob Dylan at Budokan (1979), elevated the status of the Budokan as a premier venue for rock concerts.
Cheap Trick is known for its use - and large collection - of unusual and vintage guitars and basses.
Robin Zander has played a 1950s Rickenbacker Combo 450 Mapleglo since the late 1970s, as well as a Hamer 12-string guitar, a Schecter Guitar Research Corsair Bigsby, a Gibson Firebird, and various Fender Telecaster-styled guitars.
Rick Nielsen is an avid collector who has over 250 guitars in his possession. He has collaborated with Hamer on trademark 'themed' guitars, some based on Cheap Trick albums such as "Rockford," "The Doctor," and even songs such as "Gonna Raise Hell." Hamer has also made unique five-necked guitars and electric mandocellos for Nielsen.
Tom Petersson is generally credited for having the initial idea for a twelve-string bass. He previously had used an Alembic and Hagstrom 8-string basses, and asked Jol Dantzig of Hamer Guitars to make a 12-string bass. The company initially made him a 10-string bass. Following the successful trial use of that bass, the prototype 12-string bass, The Hamer 'Quad', was produced. Petersson later used 12-string basses made by Kids (a Japanese guitar maker), Chandler, and signature models from Waterstone. His primary choice of 4-string bass is a Gibson Thunderbird, though he also owns a very impressive array of 4, 5 and 8 stringed basses from other guitar makers. He is also an endorsee of Hofner basses.
Bun E. Carlos has played with many different commercial drum accessories, including Ludwig and Slingerland Radio King drums, Zildjian cymbals, rare Billy Gladstone snare drums, and Capella drum sticks. He is also an avid collector of vintage drums. Each year Carlos' collection can be seen at several drum shows in the Midwest.
Carlos has also recorded and written songs for many Rockford bands, such as Mark Willer and The Blues Hawks and also put together the short-lived Bun E. Carlos Experience, which also included Jon
Brant, who replaced Tom Petersson in the mid '80s, on bass.
Cheap Trick is highly respected by its peers and an influence on its descendents. The band was one of Joey Ramone’s all-time favorites and has received acknowledgment from such peers as Gene Simmons, Joe Perry, and Angus Young. In 1979, Robin Zander was informally approached to join British glam rockers Sweet after the departure of singer Brian Connolly. In the 1980s, Cheap Trick garnered support from the hard rock community where bands like Mötley Crüe, Ratt and Guns N' Roses were citing its influence. An interesting shift happened during the early to mid-90s that helped fortify the band’s credibility. The band was now being seen as influential within the blossoming alternative rock scene. Kurt Cobain mentioned the band as an influence while Smashing Pumpkins showed their admiration by having Cheap Trick open shows for them. SP leader Billy Corgan has made a number of onstage guest appearances with Cheap Trick over the years. Other bands that have mentioned Cheap Trick as an inspiration and influence include Gin Blossoms, Urge Overkill, Pearl Jam, Weezer, Stone Temple Pilots, Everclear, Extreme, Enuff Z’Nuff, Green Day, American Hi-Fi, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, Fountains of Wayne, Red Hot Chili Peppers, OK Go, Terrorvision, Kings of Leon, Husker Du, Slipknot, and the Wildhearts.
Tomorrow we rock and roll our way in another direction, so keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!