There’s the old saying about a songwriter’s creative cycle: you have your whole life to write your first album. And six months to write your follow-up.
Cheap Trick’s second studio album, In color, which celebrates its 45th anniversary in September, sounds every bit as fresh as their first – and, frankly, the band’s third and fourth studio albums. And there’s a reason for that: the band (especially head songwriter and guitarist Rick Nielsen) had countless worthy songs in store long before they even got into the studio.
As someone who grew up in Illinois, consciously Cheap trick A full year before the band signed to Epic Records and released their debut album in February 1977, I was already listening to songs from the first four albums in October 1975. Back then, at the tip of a kindred spirit, I took her to a 150-seat dive club called the UpRising Tavern in the college town of DeKalb, Illinois.
There you got three sentences for what appeared to be a hefty 5-dollar cover at the time, the relay a message, the see, the Logo and above all this Songs.
The band’s 1977 self-titled debut album captured its poignancy, an unvarnished document of what we were seeing on stage at the time. Jack Douglas (Credits: John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Aerosmith, New York Dolls) led the Rockford, Illinois band into the New York record factory in the fall of 1976 and emerged with offbeat power-pop songs like “He’s a Whore” and ” Elo Kiddies” on ” and “helmsman Mr. Thief”. Combined with the band’s unconventional look (two handsome boys, two nerds), the quirky songs caused a stir and the album became a full-fledged critical sensation. However, press buzz did not necessarily mean radio play.
So when it came time to record the second album, the band changed coasts and producers. Tom Werman (Blue Öyster Cult, Motley Crüe – and probably a few bands without umlauts in their names) took the band to Kendun Recorders in Los Angeles, and a few other changes were made. Keyboardist Jai Winding was brought in as a session player (he was retained for subsequent albums). sky tonight and police of dreams, also made by Werman in a similar way). Winding’s keyboard rolls softened the occasional stark gaps between Nielsen’s guitar runs and gave singer Robin Zander’s vocal phrasing a new platform. For Epic’s purposes, it also brought Cheap Trick closer to radio – although it would eventually take a live version of one of the In color Songs (“I Want You to Want Me”) taken from the band’s 1978 live performance At Budokan album to finally break through.
For us Midwest fans with a few road miles already driven, In color collected many of the songs we saw in the band’s early live sets: “Hello There,” with Nielsen’s deafening guitar chords, their opener has remained on stage to this day; “Downed”, “Oh Caroline” and “You’re All Talk”.
The latter, a raw rocker, could have been right at home on the Jack Douglas-produced debut. But it brought the needed advantage In color.
Related: Jack Douglas talks about Cheap Trick
There were also songs we hadn’t heard on stage but would soon become concert classics: “Big Eyes”, “Southern Girls”, “So Good to See You” and of course “I Want You to Want Me”. .
The band always held back a few good non-LP B-sides, and the flip to the original 45 of “I Want You…” was an up-tempo, guitar-driven instrumental called “Oh Boy”. Nielsen jokingly said in an interview: “[‘Oh Boy’] marks Bun E. Carlos’ singing debut. But since Bun E. has never sung, there’s no singing on it.” (Actually, after all, there is was also a vocal version of “Oh Boy” – of course Zander on vocals, not Carlos – recorded in 2003 which can be heard on youtube.)
Reviews were solid: Rolling Stone called the songs “hymns”. Robert Christgau noted in his Consumer Guide that Cheap Trick “doesn’t waste a cut”. Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine in Any musiccommissioned long after the album’s existence, inevitably noted Werman’s “shining, radio-ready sound” while citing Nielsen’s “encyclopedic knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll and a good sense of subverting it with a perverted sense of humor praised.” He concluded, “Parts of the album are not well dated simply because of the brilliant production, but the songs and the music on it are In color are as great as the band’s debut.”
No less than five of In color‘s songs were included on the live album At Budokanpublished 19 months later In color. And the song “I Want You to Want Me,” which many thought would be the least likely to break the band, peaked at number 7 on the charts billboard Hot 100 in its live rendition, honored by Zander’s English-as-a-second-language introduction of “I…want…YOU…want…ME.” And the band was gone for the big time.
Clearly Cheap Trick had pushed musical and lyrical boundaries, even defying the looks of a rock band, with one member (Nielsen) looking (and actually being) the actor Huntz Hall and another like a record collector (Carlos). , alongside two other traditional rock stars (Zander and bassist Tom Petersson). But the band, possibly the result of their corporate-rock-trained management, kept the nascent punk/new-wave revolution at bay. Cheap Trick tended to tour with radio stars: REO Speedwagon, Styx, Ted Nugent and Head East, Journey, AC/DC, Foreigner, Kansas, Rush, Michael Stanley Band and of course a few more offbeat acts: KISS, the Runaways , John Cale, Lou Reed, the Cars, Graham Parker and the Rumor and even a newer version of the MC5. Cheap Trick was known to push boundaries, and perhaps that was her secret to breaking through with music that was a little seditious for its time. (Even last summer, Cheap Trick opened for Rod Stewart, who happily gave concert-goers what they wanted most: his Mercury and Warner Bros. years and mercifully less time for his Arista years.)
Despite sharing stages with Styx and REO, Cheap Trick’s live show remained delightfully edgy. And while At Budokan Whoman’s production may have reflected, Cheap Trick recorded another live album in this window. It was an edgier, grittier set, recorded midway through the Whiskey a Go Go In color‘s LA Sessions, not released until last year. It was titled out to get you! Live 1977and has been called one of the best live albums of the rock era.
Cheap Trick recorded two more studio albums with Werman and a discography that spans (by my count) 18 consecutive albums.
Related: Cheap Trick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016
That was maybe all there was to tell In color were it not for the fact that in 1997 – disliking the compromises they had to make for radio maybe 20 years ago – the band actually decided to re-record In color. For the remake, they worked with a producer as seditious as Tom Werman, who was commercially attuned. The new producer was Steve Albini, head of Chicago’s Big Black and Shellac and producer of Nirvana’s in utero, alongside other punk rock classics. The goal was to record the album the way the band originally intended: a raw mix (what’s better?) of the new, stripped down, boosted In color go on the Internet (audible on YouTube), but was never officially released.
It should also be noted that thundering founding drummer Bun E. Carlos left the band as a performing and recording member, while remaining a shareholder, as a result of a reported 2010 dispute with Zander. Drumsticks are now – by no means inept – run by Daxx Nielsen, Rick’s son. (Carlos performs monthly at Mary’s, a Rockford, Illinois venue where fans flock from all over to join in and sit along.)
Finally, In color was a worthy follow-up to one of the best rock ‘n’ roll debut albums of all time and was the world’s first chance to hear 10 songs reborn live on a Japanese stage and later reinterpreted with no production frills with Steve Albini. The original In color reached #73 on the billboard 200. No one considered it a failure; Career development would prove lengthy, analogous to REM’s commercial development in that regard.
But given the band’s initial unorthodoxy, In color did its job of making us think about what came next.
And what came after that.
Bonus Video: Watch Cheap Tricks Don Kirshner’s rock concert 1977