Doin’ a long roadtrip involves a certain amount of planning – and one of the most important items on the plan chart is the music you’ll be bringing. Last week we had a thousand mile drive from Central Illinois to Savannah, GA, which meant bringing along a sampling of twenty discs, plus a supplemental carrying case of prerecorded cassettes. Since my wife and I both needed to be considered in the musical selections (no punk or Zappa from me – or, mercifully, no Dan Fogelberg from Becky), the selections can get a tad trickier. But one of the groups we both instantly agreed on was Cheap Trick.
To accommodate the long trek, I picked up a copy of the two-disc Essential Cheap Trick (Sony), a darn solid selection, though the fan in me would quibble over the “essential” moniker (to my ears, the band’s first three releases comprise the Truly Essential Trick). Sony’s Essential series is the label’s way of ransacking its sizable catalog and rekindling interest in its older acts. Back in ’98, the company issued spiffy remastered editions of the band’s pop triumvirate (Cheap Trick, In Color and Heaven Tonight) but stopped short of doing the same for Dream Police and beyond – so some of these tracks hadn’t received the dee-luxe treatment before. Essential rectifies matters some.
Disc One covers the band’s first four studio albums – with a couple of tracks from their chart-busting Budokan (the live “I Want You to Want Me” is naturally included, though personally I’ve always favored In Color‘s brighter studio version) – while Disc Two covers some eleven-plus discs of later material, up to the opening track from the group’s 2003 release, Special One. The division makes sense, though I’d argue that the near-return-to-form ’97 Red Ant release (also entitled Cheap Trick) deserves to be repped by more than one admittedly strong track (I’d also include the yearning “Shelter” and perhaps the Lennon-esque “You Let A Lotta People Down”). At their best, the quartet merged seventies hard-rock musicianship with Beatles composition smarts; at their weakest (cf. the extended live version of Dream Police‘s “Gonna Raise Hell”) they’re nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the 80’s era riff-thumpery.
Still, even later Cheap Trick has its divine moments: “Everything Works if You Let It,” the God-was-this-great-to-hear-on-MTV hit “If You Want My Love,” the snarky album title track (songwriter/showman guitarist Rick Nielsen has been a master of snark ever since “He’s A Whore”) “Woke Up with A Monster,” plus Special One‘s lyrically-dubious-but-still-fine “Scent of A Woman” (keep those yeahyeahs comin’, guys!) The boys from Rockford, Illinois, remain their commendable hard-&-zippy rockin’ selves: no-nonsense drummer Bun E. Carlos, flexi-voice purtyboy Robin Zander, onagain/offagain/onagain bassist Tom Petersson and onetime Huntz Hall imitator/guitar whizmaster Nielsen. One of our most criminally underrated long-standing rock units.
So, yes, Essential Cheap Trick stood us in good stead on the long road to Savannah, though I’ll admit that we didn’t blast “Southern Girls” (“You’ve got nuthin’ to lose. . .”) as loudly as we did the rest of the selections. Didn’t want to be misconstrued by the locals. . .