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Discovering Your Idols (a moment in time with Cheap Trick)


I can pinpoint the specific moment when Cheap Trick reached out and grabbed me.

The explanation of this moment comes with a bit of a confession: I am a child of the MTV generation. True, my first exposure to music and Rock’n’Roll came from my parents (the Rock’n’Roll part being attributed to my dad), and local FM radio in Ann Arbor and Detroit Michigan, but MTV exploded in my youth and revolutionized the way people heard and saw pop music and Rock’n’Roll.

The convergence of MTV, Cheap Trick and me came in 1988, with the video for Cheap Trick’s cover of the Elvis Presley classic: Don’t Be Cruel.

Who were these guys!?! The name kind of sounded familiar, maybe… But how cool—fantastic singer, nerdy/hip guitarist playing hot licks, lock-tight rhythm section, and their look—two pretty-boy types with teased hair. A Lester Bangs look-a-like (inexplicably dressed in a Don Johnson/Miami Vice style white sports jacket) on the drums. And last, but certainly not least there was Rick Nielson, sporting his trademark black baseball cap and that amazing skull sweater! I mean who ever heard of a purple skull sweater, where do you even get one of those (I remember trying to convince my knitting expert Grandmother to make one for me, but even she couldn’t figure it out)?

Needless to say, I was hooked. This love affair was enhanced when three buddies and I made the 50 mile trek from Ann Arbor, Michigan, across the border to Toledo, Ohio for a free concert in an enormous park on the banks of the Ohio River, for an event in formally known as Party in the Park. The total attendance was tallied somewhere south of 50,000, and to date remains the largest concert I’ve ever attended.

Most importantly, it was AWESOME! Cheap Trick rocked the house, or park as it were, and I was ecstatic, not to mention having shared a bonding moment with three guys I still, 20 years later, remain friends with.

The two albums that arrived around this time, the 1988 “comeback” release Lap of Luxury followed by 1990’s  Busted seemed like a great place to start for the Sparkle Lounge to kick things, as this will be a Blog dedicated the all that’s cool, quirky and out of sync with the Rock’n’Roll we Love.

Eric is first up with Lap of Luxury, and I will follow with Busted, we sincerely hope you enjoy!

By Ryan Anys - Sparkle Lounge Thing 2

(I’d really like to hear the stories of all Cheap Trick fans of how they got into the band. I find it fascinating.)

Busted But not Broken—Cheap Trick Ushers in the 90s


When Cheap Trick stepped on the scene in 1977, they didn’t really fit. Not quite Punk Rock, the music dominating youth rebellion at the time, with the Sex Pistols and the Clash importing the second coming of a very rocked up British Invasion. Certainly not Disco, the music de jure dominating radio’s airwaves and owning the Billboard Charts. Who were these four oddly matched Midwesterners (Rockford Illinois natives). What a strange persona: two cute guys and two goofy guys, playing a quirky version of Rock’n’Roll music once known as power pop - a nearly forgotten genre. Could these oddfellows be really make it in the music business, where would the y be in ten years?

The horizon was dark after an extremely lukewarm reception to their first two albums, but then something unexpended happened: Cheap Trick gave new meaning to being “big in Japan.” The break-out success of Live at Budokan (recorded at Japan’s famed music arena, meant to be a Japanese only release)yielded an unintentional hit single with a live version I Want You to Want Me. This success solidified their position as staples of FM Rock Radio.

The brilliance of Heaven Tonight and the Dream Police, the two fantastic albums that followed Live at Budokan, held so much promise, indicating that Cheap Trick was poised for super-stardom. This was not to be, however, as over the next ten tumultuous years (12-String Bassist extraordinaire and founding member Tom Petersson departed in 1981, amid sketchy and still unexplained circumstances) Cheap Trick churned out a string of mediocre albums with few bright spots. Chasing their prior success, attempting to conform to the New Wave dominated rock radio, and kowtowing to Epic Record label pressure all equated to the Trick trying to be something they were not.

But then something happened. First, bygones were let be bygones and Tom Petersson, the prodigal son, returned to the foal. Next, New Wave disappeared from the charts, quickly replaced by glam-metal bands like Motley Crue and Poison, a genre who’s sound, when you stripped away the makeup and posturing, really owed a heavy debt to Cheap Trick. Suddenly the Cheap Trick’s crunchy, riff oriented sound, clean and clear vocals, and soaring harmonies where the new sound de jure of Rock Radio.

And Cheap Trick jumped on the bandwagon, which really amounted to them returning to their roots, and scored a big success with their comeback album Lap of Luxury, which included two hit singles, and their only #1 hit with one of the decade’s ultimate power ballads, The Flame.

Lap of Luxury success was a bitter pill for the band, however, as it was largely the result of Cheap Trick giving in to record company pressure by recording and releasing cover songs as singles, and working with outside songwriters (The Flame was not penned by the group). But if it worked once, why not take another shot? Or so the potential logic goes behind their next release.

And this bring us to 1990s Busted. My first comment about Busted actually relates to the future, and what some may consider to be a bold claim, but one I believe to be true none-the-less. The real “Cheap Trick Sound” was not captured on record until their second eponymous release, 1997s Cheap Trick. At their core, Cheap Trick is raw and gritty guitar-rock band, who are 100% comfortable playing in a bar, knocking back drinks and letting it all hang out. Prior to this release, however, the Trick was always forced to adhere to the confines of convention, foisted upon the producers and record label execs that were dictating the bands sound.

Nowhere is this more evident than on Busted. The production is so sparkling clean you could throw the album on public bathroom floor and eat off it for days without a care in the world. Air tight guitar riffs, soaring vocals, sanitized synths, sequenced strings and a 2-story tall drum sound with crushing back-beat—nearly every dated 80s production convention is here.

Now don’t get me wrong, this not an indictment of the albums sound, in many ways, I really love the way the album sounds, it’s just not the authentic Cheap Trick sound. The towering drums and massive backbeat are actually pretty cool, especially considering how poorly the drums were recorded and mixed in most of Cheap Trick’s “classic albums.” Another benefit of the crystal clear production is the sparkling chime from the deluge of 12-string guitar sounds strew across the album.

But what about the songs? Many historical reviews criticized the album for being one of the bands weakest song collections. I would have to disagree, however, because though Busted is not Heaven Tonight (or even Lap of Luxury for that matter) it still boasts some really great tunes. I Can’t Stop Falling in Love straddled the linebetween mid-tempo rock tune and power ballad, and became a top 40 hit.

The lead in track, Back in Blue, is a fun, rocked up radio anthem, with razor sharp riffs and floating 80s synths that actually work.

Grammy winning 80s pop tunesmith Diane Warren penned Wherever Would I Be, a soaring power ballad with a picture perfect quiet/loud verse/chorus construction that nearly rivals Lap of Luxury’s the Flame.

The most exciting and up-tempo (and possibly the best) track is the album’s title track Busted, boasting a hot, fuzzed out guitar riff, speedy verses, and infections sing-a-long chorus.

Another stand-out is Walk Away, a waltz driven Ballad (it’s in ¾ time!?!), featuring lilting chorus background vocals from another Midwestern native, the incomparable Chrissie Hynde.

While Busted may not rank among Cheap Trick’s best efforts, in certainly doesn’t rank among their worst. And as far as over-produced 80’s albums go, it’s pretty good—I recommend you check it out.

By Ryan Anys - Sparkle Lounge Thing 2

Cheap Trick – Not quite living in the Lap of Luxury


A decade after their ascension to the mass conscious with their monster hit I Want You to Want Me, and a decade before they really took on the mantel of one of the pillars of the 70s Power Pop sound, Cheap Trick was in the doldrums. Their last couple of albums had failed to connect with critics and audiences alike.

Having flirted with a variety of sounds, and despite being positioned to surf the keyboard-pop tinged waves of the era though the age of New Wave, Cheap Trick faltered. While hair metal popsters who owed them a heavy debt sound wise were storming up the charts Cheap Trick seemed lost and muddled.

Founding member and Bass player Tom Petersson left the band in 1981, and there was pressure from their label, Epic Records, to perform commercially. The label machine and radio were changing as MTV had changed the face of pop music, signaling tough times for formally vital acts, who now seemed destined for classic rock radio playlists.

The band needed a hit, or at least they needed a record that would sell enough for the suits at Epic to keep them on their roster. When a band is in need of a hit there are two things you can do, and Cheap Trick did both. They went to outside songwriters and they released a cover song. Both of these paid off and their biggest hits came as a result of covering the Elvis Presley classic Don’t Be Cruel, and the power ballad not written by the band) The Flame.

The band has been candid about the fact that they were resistant to both songs, but in the long run they were able to both revive and sustain their career in the mainstream music business, and not find themselves prematurely destine to the oldies circuit..

The album, Lap of Luxury, turned out to be the hit the band needed. With a strong set of songs and a couple of hit singles, Cheap Trick retook the charts and managed to hold on, at least commercially, for a while longer.

The title Lap of Luxury is interesting when you consider where the band was, which seemed to be anywhere but living high on the hog. They seemed a bit desperate and somewhat ready to engage in the dreaded “selling out.”

The songs are fine in-and-of themselves, it’s the taint of 80s production, however, that make them sound less than classic. While a song like Surrender, both sonically and lyrically, sounds as if it could have arrived at any point between the 70s and today. The songs on Lap of Luxury, however, are dated, firmly rooting them in the 80s.

The obsession with overly clean, clear, perfect production leaves the album sounding like fellow lost in the 80s production power pop touchstones, The Cars. I have to wonder if a live recording of the songs from the album from the same era would sound more passionate and have more grit and heft?

The Flame, which became a number one song, is probably the most well-known song in the Cheap Trick cannon. While fans will talk about I Want you to Want Me, or Surrender (which I think is really the best thing they ever recorded) The Flame is the tune most people know. A power ballad that tells the tale of a romance that has fallen apart and the loneliness of the partner left behind, and not yet ready to move on. It’s a cry at the world saying that I will be strong and not only for me, but for you, if you want me back. The song is a variation of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer and a forerunner to Big Head Todd and the Monster’s Broken Hearted Savior.

Of course the theme is an updated a riff on what might be the greatest country song of all time, George Jones classic He Stopped Loving Her Today. Despite the production and the power ballad status of the song, it holds up quite well as a mid tempo melancholy song.

Ghost Town, co-written by guitarist Rick Nielsen, who had long been the bands chief songwriter, was another favorite of mine. This track is also about lost love, and the feeling of desolation after being jilted. The mid tempo pace and mournful lyrics juxtaposed with the bands more typical up-tempo tunes (for which they were known in the 70s) is incredibly jarring.

The song spoke to me personally, because I found it was jarring to be depressed and disillusioned, in addition to cynical and somewhat bitter at that point in my life. I identified with the loss and melancholy of the song. Listening to it again, I wonder what a Goth version by a Shadow Project or a Kommunity FK might have sounded like.

I have to wonder if I were to ask these men, and the songwriters are all indeed men, about their lost loves, and how they feel today. Do they, all these years later, still feel the same? Just as I have grown beyond the feelings that connected me to those songs, I suspect that age and life experience has changed the desire to hold onto that long departed love.

Maybe the question that really needs to be asked is: do I still love this album? I haven’t given it a listen in full since I don’t know when… I suspect the early 90s. After re-listening to the album on iTunes, amazing to me how many of the tracks I had forgotten, and while the mournful tone of The Flame and Ghost Town stuck with me, the more up tempo more 70s era tracks like Never Had a Lot to Lose and All We Need Is a Dream didn’t.  

The closing track, All We Need is a Dream is perhaps the album’s final statement of the album, or was it wishful thinking? Was it all just wishful thinking, and did the “commercially” motived compromise, and giving in to the record label really pay off for the band? What of the albums that followed? I would say in the short term it paid off, but I don’t think it lasted as long as the band would have liked. When I saw them live in the spring of 1992, it was literally at the edge of America. They played the Hockey Arena at Lake Superior State University, roughly a mile from the Canadian.

I’ve included songwriter’s credits with the album’s track listing, to give you an idea of just how much, Robin Zander, Bunny Carlos, Tom Petersson and Rick Nielsen really had to do with you songwriting:

"Let Go" (R. Nielsen, T. Cerney) 4:25

"No Mercy" (J. Lind, J. Scott) 3:54

The Flame" (B. Mitchell, N. Graham) 5:37

"Space" (M. Chapman, H. Knight) 4:16

"Never Had a Lot to Lose" (R. Zander, T. Petersson) 3:22

Don’t Be Cruel" (O. Blackwell, E. Presley) 3:06

"Wrong Side of Love" (R. Nielsen, T. Cerney) 3:59

"All We Need Is a Dream" (R. Nielsen, R. Zander, G. Giuffria) 4:20

"Ghost Town" (R. Nielsen, D. Warren) 4:11

"All Wound Up" (R. Zander, T. Petersson, J. Allen) 4:45

By Eric Peterson - Sparkle Lounge Thing 1





Mothballed until next gig…whenever that might be (and where ever it might be, for that matter).

Did you ever get the coffee stain out?

Not completely, but it’s faded enough that I don’t think you’d notice if you didn’t know it was there.
The Male thinks I should get a new one, but….history. And autograph.

I bet if you were to try again it would get more of it out. But yeah, history. Besides, that stain is from Beaver Dam and you had some great memories that gig. :3

That stain was starting to take on the importance of Monica Lewinski’s blue dress. But I hit it with the stain remover and I think it’s history. The autograph is still surviving by the skin of its teeth. If it ever fades, I might consider a replacement.

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