Contrary to the claim in a free comic book promoting Cheap Trick’s 1990 album Busted, (the comic carried a warning label: “Another Cheap Promotional Trick!!”), the band did not form in Sweden during bassist Tom Petersson’s stint in a sardine factory. The event actually took place in Rockford, Illinois, during the mid-1960s, when guitarist Rick Nielsen started a band originally called the Boyz. By the late 1960s, when Petersson joined the group, the name had been changed to Fuse—the name the band used on their unsuccessful debut album in 1969. Drumming for Fuse was Brad Carlson, who used the stage name Bun E. Carlos. The band moved to Philadelphia and adopted the name “Sick Man of Europe.” Following a 1973 European tour, they returned to Illinois, added folk singer Robin Zander, and became known as Cheap Trick.
The foursome created a sound that was an appealing blend of hard-edged rock and hummable pop melodies; their music was often compared to that of the Beatles. Cheap Trick played clubs and bars throughout the Midwest, gathering a legion of loyal fans and
Members include Bun E. Carlos (bun Brad Carlson, June 12, 1951, in Rockford, IL), drums; Rick Nielsen (born December 22, 1946, in Rockford, IL), guitar; Tom Petersson (born May 9, 1950, in Rockford, IL), bass; and Robin Zander (born January 23, 1952, in Loves Park, IL; joined group, 1973), vocals.
Group formed by Zander as the Boyz in Rockford, IL, mid-1960s; name changed to Fuse, late 1960s; released debut album (as Fuse), 1969; band relocated to Philadelphia, PA, and changed name to Sick Man of Europe, early 1970s; returned to Rockford, added vocalist Zander, and adopted name Cheap Trick, 1973; released self-titled debut album on Epic, 1977.
Addresses: Record company —Warner Bros., 3300 Warner Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505.
establishing themselves as one of the hardest-working and dedicated groups on the local circuit. At the urging of their manager, Ken Adamany (who’d been a member of rocker Steve Miller’s high school group), the band began to focus on their stage show. Nielsen made use of his vast guitar collection, often switching between dozens of differently designed models during performances.
The band’s members also displayed a diversity in style and demeanor. Zander and Petersson, Stereo Review noted, “looked like air-brushed teen dreams.” Carlos’s appearance suggested seedy, smoke-filled jazz halls, while Nielsen exuded an air of fun-loving geekiness. Cheap Trick went on the road in the early 1970s, opening for megastars Kiss, Santana, Boston, and the Kinks, among others, and averaged an astonishing 250 shows a year.
Despite a core of devoted fans, Cheap Trick, the band’s first album, wasn’t released until 1977. Critics praised its wit and mainstream, Beatle-esque melodies, and though it did well in Europe and especially well in Japan, audience response was slower in the United States, where the record sold only 150,000 copies. In Japan, where Western music was enjoying unprecedented popularity, Cheap Trick went gold.
The following year the band’s second release, In Color, also achieved gold status in Japan, but U.S. sales were again disappointing. During their 1978 tour of Japan, Cheap Trick was besieged by mobs of screaming, adoring fans. The hysterical response became known as “Trickmania.”
The band squeezed out another album in 1978, Heaven Tonight, which did somewhat better in the United States than their past albums, climbing to Number 48 on the U.S. charts and earning platinum status in Japan. In February of 1979 the group’s crowning achievement, Live at Budokan, settled in for a yearlong stay on the American charts, peaking at Number Four. The album’s single, “I Want You to Want Me,” also made it to the Top Ten. Later that year, when Cheap Trick’s next release, Dream Police, soared to an impressive Number Six in the United States, the group took a break during which all of the band members, except Petersson, contributed to John Lennon’s 1980 Double Fantasy sessions in New York.
Petersson left Cheap Trick in August of 1980. He and his wife formed a group called Dagmar and recorded a 1982 album that Epic refused to release. The company had used the same tactic with a 1981 Cheap Trick album, precipitating lawsuits. Replacing Petersson on bass was Pete Comita and, later, Jon Brant. Cheap Trick releases during the 1980s included All Shook Up, 1980, One On One, 1981, Next Position Please, 1983, and Standing on the Edge, 1985. Though the critics lauded the band’s musical artistry, none of the albums came anywhere near the Top Ten.
During the late 1980s, many bands that had been popular in the 1970s were planning comeback albums. Cheap Trick took advantage of the revival and hired Don Grierson, the vice-president at Epic Records who had resuscitated the floundering popularity of Heart. He persuaded Cheap Trick to use outside writers for their material and hired a number of top tunesmiths, including Mike Chapman (who had worked with Pat Benatar) and Janna Allen (Daryl Hall’s writing partner). A total of 13 writers received credit for the ten songs on the band’s 1983 release, Lap of Luxury.
The album went platinum and produced a Number One hit, “The Flame”—a ballad that Nielsen so disliked on first hearing that he yanked it from the tape player and ground the cassette beneath his boot heel. One track cut from the album, “Don’t Be Cruel,” was the first Elvis Presley cover to hit the U.S. Top Ten since Presley’s death. Some credit for the band’s revival was attributed to Petersson, who had returned to the group in time to record the album. At the time Cheap Trick had been opening for Robert Plant, but with the overwhelming success of Lap of Luxury, they began a headline tour of their own.
Cheap Trick began a grueling schedule of concert tours that took them to all 50 states and to 22 countries. Their 1990 album, Busted, made it to Number 48 on the U.S. charts and the band’s music found its way onto movie soundtracks including Top Gun, Spring Break, Heavy Metal, The Roadie, Tequila Sunrise, Over the Top, Encino Man, and Gladiator. Zander cut a solo album, Robin Zander, which featured “Surrender To Me,” a duet with Heart’s Ann Wilson. For this solo effort, Spin magazine noted that the singer had “dug through his collection of classic rock to appropriate a wide variety of styles” and went on to add that he’d made “a damn fine job of it.” Zander rejoined Cheap Trick in time for the band’s tour of Japan, their former stronghold, where they recorded Live At Budokan II.
In 1994, Cheap Trick released Woke up With a Monster, their first studio recording since 1990’s Busted. The album contains 12 original songs and features Cheap Trick’s distinctive blend of foot-tapping pop and searing rock. “In a way it’s a return to the basic energy of our first albums,” bassist Petersson explained in a Warner Bros. promotional release. “It’s also the first one in a while where our own songwriting is front and center. This time around we wanted it to be all us.”
Cheap Trick, Epic, 1977.
In Color, Epic, 1978.
Heaven Tonight, Epic, 1978.
Live at Budokan, Epic, 1979.
Dream Police, Epic, 1979.
All Shook Up, Epic, 1980.
Found All the Parts, 1980 (10-inch release).
One on One, Epic, 1981.
Next Position Please, Epic, 1983.
Standing on the Edge, Epic, 1985.
Lap of Luxury, Epic, 1988.
Busted, Epic, 1990.
Live at Budokan II, Epic, 1993.
Woke up With a Monster, Warner Bros., 1994.
Robin Zander recorded self-titled solo album, Interscope, 1993.
Pareles, Jon, and Patricia Romanowski, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard Books, 1991.
Salicrup, Jim, Cheap Trick Busted, Marvel Comics, 1990.
Billboard, December 18, 1993.
Boston Herald, February 2, 1989.
New York Tribune, August 4, 1988.
RIP, June 1994.
Spin, August 1993.
Stereo Review, August 1988.
—Joseph M. Reiner
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