Tidal Catalog #17: Cheap Trick

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also though that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Flash forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I have ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for great formatting, you know?

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
  • Compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before)

Entrance Point: I had listened to everything from Dream Police in 1979 to Busted in 1990 before Cheap Trick dropped off my radar. But when I thought about doing this catalog, I was about to see Heart, Cheap Trick and Joan Jett in concert, so I wanted to get a good recap.

Included: At Budokan. Of course this seems like it doesn’t need to be called out but until this catalog I had decided to not include live albums in my lists and only do studio recordings. But then Cheap Trick hit and the catalog didn’t feel complete without it. So I revamped and from this point forward, I started including live albums as well. (And when I expanded the first 16, I added the live albums in).

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale.

  • At Budokan

Back in 2016, I originally finished this catalog without including At Budokan in it as I initially set out to only listen to studio records. My mindset at the time was that some of these artists could have tons of live albums that are really just greatest hits records, so no reason to bother. Plus, I really dislike live records. They rarely ever capture the band’s energy and the excitement of the stage show. But when I finished this catalog, it seemed very wrong to leave out what is widely considered one of the best live recordings of all time, if not the best. Like I said, I don’t generally like them, so unless it’s an artist I really like, I don’t even bother but it’s not like I’ve only heard one in my life – I’ve listened to plenty and Cheap Trick at Budokan is truly the best one I’ve ever heard. The record lives up to the hype. Back in the early days, before “The Flame,” Cheap Trick rocked fast n’ hard and while I never saw them live in their heyday, on disc, there was a lot of energy. And At Budokan is one of those few live recordings that seem to capture that energy perfectly. Rick Nielsen’s riffs are loud and heavy, Bun E. Carlos’ drumming is frantic and Robin Zander’s vocals are spot on and engaging throughout (I can’t pick up what bassists are doing unless it’s completely obvious aka Les Claypool.) This consists of 10 tracks from the show – not the full 19 they performed, so in a way this seems to be cheating just a little bit and pulling out the best parts and although the full concert was released decades later, it’s not nearly as essential as this original cut down. This makes me feel like I was at the concert, which is what all good live albums should do but rarely accomplish that feat.

“Big Eyes”
  • Cheap Trick (1977) (9.5)

Cheap Trick’s debut album is a rock n’ roll beast. It’s 40-minutes of punk rock that feels like it passes by in 20. The digital version has the tracks in a run order that’s different than the original LP – maybe, since the original LP was labeled “Side 1” and “Side A” – but this one starts off correctly with the blistering “ELO Kiddies” which while the title is said like “Hello…,” it also worships at the alter of Electric Light Orchestra. “Daddy Should have Stayed in High School” is one of their darker tracks about a dude that likes teen girls. The other possible lead track, “Hot Love” is a punk song through and through but the best tune on the record is the oft-covered “He’s a Whore” which may be the simplest track on the disc but the catchiest as well. If you want to get into Cheap Trick, start right here at the beginning as this is not what you heard on the radio in this 80s.

“He’s a Whore”
  • Dream Police (9.5)

Dream Police is the album that kind of bridged that heavier rock sound and power-pop band they became, perfectly. It’s not the album that started the movement towards power-pop but it’s certainly the record that encapsulates it the best. The title track is still one of the catchiest tracks in their entire catalog and the use of strings on the tune, signified a bit of a shift in their sound. Second single, “Voices” is a killer tune as is the pure rocker, “The House Is Rockin’ (with Domestic Problems).” This was yet another record from Cheap Trick that felt way shorter than the actual 45 minute run time due to how energetic and upbeat the tracks are. This would have gotten a perfect 10 from me had it not been produced by Tom Werman, who took the balls out of everything he touched. Fortunately, he wasn’t able to take all of them from the band here.

“The House Is Rockin’ (with Domestic Problems)”
  • Heaven Tonight (9)
  • In Color (9)
  • Rockford (8.5)

There’s no way you could consider Rockford being so good as anything but a shock at this point. Released in 2006, following album after album of being unable to figure out if they wanted to try to be on the radio again or revert back to their original sound, Cheap Trick finally just went into the studio and recorded a blistering rock album. It’s a pretty genuine rock ‘n’ roll meets punk disc from the first note down to the last and truly sounds like a band that just said “fuck it, let’s make a great album.”

“Come On Come On Come On”
  • The Latest (8.5)
  • One on One (8)
  • Silver (8)
  • Christmas Christmas (8)
  • Cheap Trick (1997) (7.5)
  • Lap of Luxury (7)

Well, after years of creating pretty unsatisfying music, Cheap Trick went to mostly outside writers to try to revitalize their career and it did in a big way, producing “The Flame” which was the only #1 song in their long career. As an 80’s collector, this is the album from Cheap Trick that I’ve listened to the most and ranking it even as a 7/10 might be a little biased on my part as I’m not sure it’s even that good. It’s easily better than all the albums surrounding it though but a quick listen in 2019 shows an extremely dated record. “No Mercy” is a great example of this, sounding sort of like a Richard Marx tune, again, as an 80’s fan, I find it quite representative of the era but not even remotely a Cheap Trick song. Every single track written by people other than members of the band, were made for that point in time. The best tracks are the ones actually written by the band which sound a bit more like timeless tracks – “Nothing Left To Lose” and “Ghost Town” fit perfectly into this model. Overall, it’s an interesting point in their career. They could no longer craft an album of Cheap Trick songs on their own, that kept up with the musical landscape, so they kind of sold out in that aspect. But without this album, I don’t think Cheap Trick would still be together today. Nothing else in the 80s made a dent in the charts and nothing was good again until Rockford in 2006, so I have to think that they would have split up a long time ago if not for the second wind that’s called Lap of Luxury. (Though, Robin Zander looks fucking miserable on the cover.)

“No Mercy”
  • All Shook Up (7)
  • Sgt Pepper Live (7)
  • Music for Hangovers (7)
  • Woke Up with a Monster (6.5)
  • Found All the Parts (6)
  • Bang Zoom Crazy…Hello (6)
  • Next Position Please (6)
  • We’re All Alright!! (5.5)
  • Special One (5)
  • Standing on the Edge (5)
  • Busted (4)
  • The Doctor (3)

The Doctor was released in 1986, the album before Lap of Luxury and is arguably their worst album. And I say arguably because frankly, I’ve listened to this album a lot and there’s a certain charm to it. Sometimes. I mean, most times I listen to it, it’s a pretty shitty record but other times it has at least has a few moments that I love. But overall, unless you’re a real fan, there’s no need to bother with this one. It’s an 80’s record through and through with drum machines and a ton of layered keyboards. I happen to think the first two tracks are pretty damn great, “It’s Up to You” and “Rearview Mirror Romance” are awesome rockers with super catchy hooks. But “Kiss Me Red” was a song that the record company forced on them and is one of the cheesiest songs in their catalog. And the tracks on the second side from the are pretty weak overall, “Take Me To the Top” and “Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)” lack the quality hook that Cheap Trick had been known for. Overall, it’s a busy, busy record that sounds like a machine made it rather than a rock band, even if I do like parts of it.

“It’s Up To You”

Summary: 24 albums, Average 7.1