“I defy anyone to be in a bad mood after listening to a CHEAP TRICK album.” My good friend, frequent collaborator, and radio host Jim Chinnici said this some years ago and it still holds true here and now in 2016. So what better way to revisit Classic Albums than with CHEAP TRICK – The Greatest Hits? Released in 1991 this is one of the single greatest compilations I’ve ever laid ears upon. Best part is, I didn’t even get it till Thanksgiving 1997, even though I was a fan, especially in the summer of ‘88. Let me explain…
I was 24, in Philly and at the now defunct Tower Records and hit the 3 for $10 cassette bin for some music for the drive back to Mom’s in NY. Now, my cover band RED DOWN BELOW was just starting to come into our own and while one CHEAP TRICK song was already in our repertoire we knew we needed another, an anthem. So picking this up was a no-brainer. What I didn’t expect was the huge effect each and every one of these tracks would have on me, not only barreling down the NJ Turnpike that night but days, weeks, months, and years later.
Sure, I remembered some of these tunes as a kid during MTV’s Golden Era, but there were quite a few undiscovered gems that I have since burned into my memory. The minute the band launched into their version of THE BEATLES’ “Magical Mystery Tour” I knew I’d be hooked on this record for years. “Dream Police” followed and everything about this tune just spoke to me: Robin Zander’s vocal, Rick Nielsen’s iconic guitars, and the rhythm section of bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos. How the Hell did I only ever give this band passing attention at best?
Up next is one of those covers that recently popped into my head and cemented me writing about this record: “Don’t Be Cruel.” It’s SOOOO 80’s, but I love it!! From the memories of 1988, working at 7-11 and seeing them on this tour with my cousin Franc, I will always love this version. I didn’t recognize “Tonight It’s You” but that didn’t stop me from banging the steering wheel of my ‘91 Nissan Sentra when that chorus kicked in somewhere around Exit 7A. Then of course we come to one of my all-time favorites in 1982’s “She’s Tight.” I used to stop EVERYTHING when this video came on. Franc and I even shared the biggest high-five when they did it live in ‘88 because there we were rocking out in his basement again, a couple of silly kids. On that car ride home, and even now, I couldn’t/can’t go without rewinding it a minimum of six times before moving on to…
…“I Want You To Want Me”. Instantly recognizable, an American classic, and a RED DOWN BELOW live staple for years, this is the perfect example of a live recording blowing the doors off the studio version. I know a few ladies who used to come see us try not to butcher this one too bad in some shitty little dives in Philly and Jersey. It never fails to bring me rushing back to that simpler time or make me grin from ear to ear. “If You Want My Love” is very BEATLES-esque, and it’s such a simple and elegantly written song . Another live classic follows with “Ain’t That a Shame”. You wanna talk about a band having the crowd in the palm of their collective hand? Here it is. The extended jam only prolongs the foreplay, making the release so much sweeter.
So what was the song RDB ultimately chose to be their big anthem? None other than “Surrender” my 100% absolute favorite CHEAP TRICK song of all time! I close my eyes and I can still feel it, being up there in front of our friends, getting up on a barstool at the Tower Tavern shouting, “We’re all alright! We’re all alright!!” And having them scream it back at us, night after night, show after show. From here 15-year old me still gets a bit misty every time “The Flame” comes on next, because this was not only a great comeback for the band, but one of the finest songs of 1988. And yeah, when Zander hits those notes they don’t tug, they PULL at my heartstrings.
“I Can’t Take It” is a sorely underrated gem, and even though it was obviously an attempt to cash in on the ‘88 success “Can’t Stop Fallin’ Into Love” is still a great song, as is closer “Voices”. This is such an amazing number from 1979, and years later it was so cool to see it featured on How I Met Your Mother. CHEAP TRICK – The Greatest Hits is one of those albums that when I put it on I can’t skip a single track, and I also can’t stop smiling. It is that musical shoe box full of memories we all still have hidden away in a closet somewhere and will never ever throw away. It is a testament to terrific songwriting and to a band that all these years later is still going strong because they wrote those songs not just for anyone, but for us. ~dc
FOR ALL MY RED DOWN BELOW BANDMATES