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Sometimes there are one hit wonders and they truly are just that. They had a moment when their songwriting skills peaked, and then unfortunately spent a good part of their career trying to recapture that initial moment. Then there are other "one or two hit wonders" or "Best of bands" (bands where their best of collections are all that are worth listening to) who have been unfortunately given these titles by pop culture, mainstream media, "music historians" and plenty of other people who consider themselves musically enlightened.
I'll admit that even I have been guilty of this sin, labeling some bands like T-Rex and the band we're talking about today with similar labels. When I finally discovered T-Rex it was like a revelation and they have since become a favorite of mine. I'm currently going through a discovery of Cheap Trick as well and it too is proving to be most productive and enlightening.
Yep, for years the only Cheap Trick song I had in my collection was "I Want You to Want me". It was the only song I knew and subsequently I natively assumed that said song was obviously the only one I needed to listen to. Time passed and then I added "Surrender" to make a grand total of two Cheap Trick songs in my collection. More time passed and on a whim, just like with T-Rex before, I decided to pick up a Cheap Trick album and really take a listen. The album I picked up just happened to be their 1979 live album: At Budokan (I have since added a few more... like 5)
Not only is this album a great demonstration of the band's fun, slightly absurd, social comment in pop songwriting; it's also a terrific live album. It shows a band that has power and great musicianship on stage combined with almost punk rock energy and raw charisma to create something truly fun and compelling.
And so today I thought, what better way to share my newfound appreciation of Cheap Trick (and especially the underrated guitar playing of Rick Nielsen) than by sharing a clip of the band playing live.
This is a clip from Chicagofest '81and features a "three guitar" guitar solo right into "Dream Police". Special thanks as always go out to YouTube DannyFnSaint.
So... wow... how bout that Rick Nielson on guitar eh? What guitarists out there will wear three guitars at once during a song? Or launch them across stage when they're done? Nielson also has been seen on stage with a massive 5 neck guitar too for some songs and guitars with something like 6 pickups and a ridiculous number of knobs... just taking the arena rock vision to it's ultimate absurdist conclusion. And lets not forget he can really wail too; one of the more underrated guitarists in history in my opinion.
Guitar playing aside though, Cheap Trick puts on quite a fun, high energy live performance in this clip. It speaks for itself I think... equal parts punk and hard rock, combined with melodic, light hearted fun.
I also picked this song because I think it's a great example of Cheap Trick's often misinterpreted songwriting style. Yeah they have a strong pop musical sense that when combined with straight forward driving rock crunch creates some catchy, "get up and move" sort of songs. To say that that is all this song and all other Cheap Trick songs is about though I think is really selling them short. I think "Dream Police" is a good example of why. It may have been a radio hit for them, but it's also a great example of the subtle depth contained within their songwriting. Contained in the lyrics and in personae is a humor and a touch of the absurd that is in itself a very effective social comment. It's a style of writing I've really come to appreciate recently and is a big part of why I think Cheap Trick is far more than just a "One hit wonder" or a "Best of" band.
If you've never really looked deeply at the Cheap Trick catalog before... or even at all... or maybe dismissed them as nothing more than their radio hits, I hope this killer live clip has inspired you to take another look. I think that the band's early works are where it's at and the best place to start, but their most recent album from 2006 is also proof that they can still rock and is quite good.
Check them out, I'm glad to have a few Cheap Trick albums as part of my collection... you might too.