Rockford's finest Cheap Trick have never made any secret of their adoration for The Beatles. Right from their debut album, which fused Beatlesesque melodies with spiky rock and power pop, guitarist Rick Nielsen – who, like many disciples, first saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964 – has never pretended to be anything other than a fan.
Indeed, despite the debut album's subject matter (mass murder, suicide, paedophilia, etc.), John Lennon was initially mooted as a possible producer. “We asked him,” Nielsen told Classic Rock, “and our then-manager told us that he wasn’t interested."
The job eventually went to Jack Douglas, who had recommended the band to Epic Records after seeing them play by chance at a bowling alley in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and was on a hot streak after producing Get Your Wings, Rocks and Toys In The Attic for Aerosmith.
Three years later, Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos – plus King Crimson and Peter Gabriel bass legend Tony Levin – got a call from Douglas to join him, John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the Hit Factory studio in New York during the sessions for 1980’s Double Fantasy album. Lennon reportedly feigned shock when Nielsen arrived at the studio, claiming to have been expecting pop heart-throb turned country artist Rick Nelson.
“He looked at me and said: ‘Oh, it’s you!’” recalled Nielsen.
The trio of musicians ended up playing on Lennon's I’m Losing You and the its answer song, Ono's I’m Moving On, adding some grit to sessions Douglas thought were sounding much too polite. The tracks were eventually omitted from Double Fantasy because Nielsen's rough-and-ready guitar was deemed to be at odds with the rest of the collection's audiophile production – versions featuring David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick made the cut – but the former eventually surfaced on 1998's John Lennon Anthology.
More importantly, Nielsen was able to ask Lennon why he hadn't wanted to produce Cheap Trick.”
"I said to John: 'You were our first choice to produce our first album,' recalled Nielsen. "And he said: 'I would have done it.' At that point I was ready to kill our manager, because he was the guy that told us John wasn’t interested."
Another boost to the Cheap Trick man's ego was to come, as Lennon threw some shade in the direction of Eric Clapton. "I was in the studio, playing," Nielsen told Classic Rock. "And John looked at Jack Douglas and said: ‘God, I wish I’d had Rick on Cold Turkey. Clapton choked up.'"
Cheap Trick frontman Robin Zander had a memory of the session too, recounting a another conversation between Lennon and Jack Douglas: “Jack said to him, ‘You should listen to this band – he sounds a lot like you.’ John said, ‘I have, and he sounds more like Paul McCartney.’”
The connections, of course, don't end there. Famed Beatles producer George Martin worked on Cheap Trick’s 1980 album All Shook Up, and described them as his “favourite band to work with who weren’t from Liverpool," while as recently as 2018 the band released a cover of Lennon's Gimme Some Truth (it eventually appeared on 2021's In Another World album, which included another tribute to Lennon: Final Days tips a discreet hat in the direction of Cold Turkey. Once a fan, always a fan.
"They completely changed music, especially in America,” says Nielsen, looking back on the that historic Ed Sullivan booking. “They changed me, too."