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Cheap Trick: Cheap Trick - Album Of The Week Club review

Cheap Trick's debut album had a rougher edge than in later years, but the songwriting and sense of humour were already in place

Cheap Trick: Cheap Trick
(Image: © Epic Records)
Cheap Trick: Cheap Trick

(Image credit: Epic Records)

Hot Love
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace
He's a Whore
Mandocello
The Ballad of TV Violence (I'm Not the Only Boy)
ELO Kiddies
Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School
Taxman, Mr. Thief
Cry, Cry
Oh, Candy

A combination of zany and sophisticated, Cheap Trick certainly took their cues from The Beatles. But in a career spanning more than four decades (they formed in Rockford, Illinois in 1973), they’ve proven top be the masters of power pop, with a retinue of classic songs almost as vast as guitarist Rick Nielsen’s collection of unusual guitars.

With Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas at the helm, Cheap Trick's debut album had a rougher approach than we’d come to expect from them in later years, but the raw feel of the performances gave the songs an extra frisson. 

It suited the songs, which represented the band’s live set at the time. ELO Kiddies, He’s A Whore and Mandocello all have a directness that owed something to The Who, albeit with a quirky undercurrent more in keeping with The Move.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in February 1977

  • In Your Mind - Bryan Ferry
  • Ra - Utopia
  • Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
  • Marquee Moon - Television
  • White Snake - David Coverdale
  • Songs from the Wood - Jethro Tull
  • Sleepwalker - The Kinks
  • Harbor - America
  • Damned Damned Damned - The Damned
  • (I'm) Stranded - The Saints
  • Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel
  • Freeways - Bachman–Turner Overdrive
  • Next - Journey

What they said...

"These guys play rock & roll like Vince Lombardi coached football: heavy emphasis on basics with a strain of demented violence to keep the opposition intimidated. The closest musical analogy is the Who, who have always sounded like the inmates of Bedlam on their best stuff. Cheap Trick not only sounds like their attendant forgot to lock their cages, they look like it, too." (Rolling Stone)

"Cheap Trick revel in taboo subjects with abandon, devoting themselves to the power of the hook, as well as sheer volume and gut-wrenching rock & roll -- though the record is more musically accomplished than punk rock, it shares the same aesthetic. The combination of off-kilter humour, bizarre subjects, and blissful power pop made Cheap Trick one of the defining albums of its era, as well as one of the most influential. " (AllMusic)

"The album has no weak songs. Even the band was confident in its own material and jokingly designated one side of the LP as ‘Side 1’ and the other – as ‘Side A’. And, to be honest, there is no desire to argue with this, because what’s presented on the album is top-grade pop music deserving its place among the classics. It is a pity, though, that this classic is known to a much smaller audience than it deserves." (Sputnuk Music)

What you said...

Jacob Tannehill: What a great album. What an outstanding debut album. On of the first LPs that I owned. It sounded like nothing else at the time. To go from Mandocello to He’s A Whore to Oh Candy. These guys only got better, and also stumbled a bit along the way but, not everyone is perfect. But this was and still is a great representation of who Cheap Trick is.

Adam Ranger: Not heard this before today (heard much of their later stuff though). This is an interesting album with a mix of styles. It has bluesy AC/DC-style grooves, flashes of the more polished sound that was to follow, and tracks that sound punky/new wave in places (not surprising given the 1977 release date). Overall I enjoyed this album. Not all songs work for me – some seem a bit of a mess or unfinished – but there is an energy on the playing that I Love.

Jonathan Novajosky: I thought it was decent, more so on my second listen through the album. ELO Kiddies is a pretty annoying opener but after that I enjoyed most of the tracks to an extent. Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School is one of the better tracks with its very catchy "Ooooh" accompanied with claps in the background. Mandocello is the real star here. I immediately loved the heavy bass and overall mellow feel to it – serving as a nice "break" and change of sound from the preceding tracks.

I really don't have a lot else to say about most of the other songs. Cheap Trick's debut is a solid one, but I can't see myself going back for any reason besides the two songs I mentioned. 6.5/10

John Davidson: Not for me this one I'm afraid. When ELO Kiddies started I initially thought this might be interesting (though there is a whiff of Gary Glitter about it) but the vocals and lyrics started to annoy me before the end of the first song, and they didn't improve as the album went on.

Some of the music is pretty good. Though it contains elements of proto-punk and new wave overall. it is closer in style to the mainstream American rock of Tom Petty, Bob Seger and the like than it is to the hard rockers and metal bands that I preferred at the time.

Like everyone else on the planet I had At Budokan, but also like pretty much everyone else I stopped listening to them by 1980.

While this debut has some rougher edges than their later, more polished, crowd-pleasers it isn't improved by the relative lack of focus on song writing. While the musicianship is certainly good, none of it is in notably great and the vocal phrasing and the quirky (but not funny) lyrics are a particular low point for me.

Best song - Mandocello. Overall, as I said, it does nothing for me. 4/10

Shane Reho: A near-perfect debut. Cheap Trick prove here that they could've done great things in the hard rock mould had they stuck with it, but that didn't happen. That hard sound is better heard on the LP, which sounds a lot rawer than the remaster. Cry Cry is the only song I'd say isn't as strong as the rest, but that's not by much. 

While most of the album is a hard onslaught, they also threw in Mandocello, the album's only mellow moment, and one of the best songs they ever did. Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace should've been on At Budokan, it's one of their best jams (hell, they should've put a few songs from here on it, nothing from this album made it, which is a shame, no pun intended). 

Taxman Mr Thief has one of Rick Nielsen's best riffs. That and He's a Whore should've been hits. It's understandable why the latter wasn't due to its title and topic matter, but there's no excuse for Taxman. Then again, what's worse, male prostitution (He's a Whore), murder (Ballad of TV Violence), suicide (Oh Candy) or pedophilia (Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School)? 

Even with all those dark themes, this album is nothing but fun to listen to. They may have gotten more radio-friendly later on (though they didn't completely abandon such themes: Surrender shares a side of vinyl with Auf Wiedersehen, which seems to encourage suicide), they never made a better album. I would put Dream Police as a close second, though. 9/10.

Jay Turner: As Cheap Trick goes, it's a strong album. I'm not the biggest fan, but I like it much better than their other studio efforts. Some producers tend to wash out the raw nature of the bands they are recording. That didn't happen here! Sounds great! Dream Police sounds like bubble gum compared to this one. Great choice this week

Mike Knoop: Cheap Trick fascinate me. 

1) I can still remember where I was the first time I heard the At Budokan version of I Want You Want to Want Me, and my mind was blown when I later heard Surrender, and it was even better! 

2) They were my first (and second) concert – but not until 1983. Therefore, the 80s version of Cheap Trick with Jon Brant on bass was my Cheap Trick because that’s what I grew up with – and the videos for She’s Tight and If You Want My Love were played pretty steadily on baby MTV. 

3) By the time Tom Petersson came back in 1988, I was long gone. The Flame still makes me want to vomit. 

4) I always read the real Cheap Trick mother lode was in the first three albums and how influential they were on a lot of the bands I admired. 

5) Based on the number of songs from their first three albums on greatest hits collections, Cheap Trick themselves didn’t believe that. Even when they got to pick the songs, the choices were weighted to hit singles from the 80s – until they’d been around long enough to get the two-disc “best of” treatment.

OK, thank you for your patience. Now to the album at hand. I’m sad to say I find it good, but far from great. ELO Kiddies is a pretty strong statement of intent – and shows Rick Nielsen’s cheeky humour by having actually nothing to do with ELO as best as I can tell. Cry, Cry is a fun bluesy vamp and really shows off Robin Zander’s amazing voice. He’s A Whore is a pretty fantastic rocker, unless you listen to the lyrics too closely – were gigolos really that prevalent in the 70s? Finally, Mandocello is a beautiful heartbreaker with the emotional weight that I was expecting – but didn’t get – from Oh, Candy. Again, Zander’s voice is incredible. The rest of the album kind of passes by without releasing the earworms. It’s no Boston or Van Halen, but the seeds of one of the most interesting, if not always successful, American rock bands are there.

For my money, Cheap Trick peaked with Dream Police (fourth studio album if you’re keeping track) the first time around, and then again with the Todd Rundgren-produced Next Position Please in 1983. If someone has a favourite Cheap Trick album later than ’88, please let me know and I’ll check it out. Sometimes a favourite album by a band isn’t always where we expect it to be.

Jeff Coler: So, like a lot of people, I didn’t latch onto Cheap Trick until the fabulousness of At Budokan and Dream Police. At 15 years old, I was awestruck by the power of the stereo guitar intro of This House Is Rockin’, the pop ferociousness of Surrender, and the anthemic Gonna Raise Hell (which very nearly got voted in as our senior class theme song for graduation, lol). 

Once I was exposed, of course I had to work backwards through their catalog...but have to admit I’m not as familiar with their debut as I am with In Color and Heaven Tonight. It’s been quite refreshing to listen to the raw, nearly indie-before-indie-was-cool quality of this album... so kudos to the group for offering this up as the selection of the week. 

It’s been quite enjoyable, and a real nostalgic trip back in time, to treat my ears to this debut. 40 years later, I still believe Robin Zander has one of rock’s most amazing voices and it’s easy to see why 90s rock stars, such as Kurt Cobain – and punk icons like the Ramones – have often been cited as being heavily influenced by the infectious power pop of Cheap Trick. 

Bun E Carlos’s accountant-by-day, rocker-by-night wardrobe was nearly as iconic as the Angus Young schoolboy uniform. And Rick Nielsen has to undoubtedly be one of the most unique guitar personalities from this era. I’d agree with most of the comments this week in that Mandocello is one of the more captivating tracks, although I’m a bass player, so may be a bit biased (way to go, Tom), but there’s a gratifying lo-if edginess to the entire album, start to finish.

Andrew Johnston: I’m biased, but I love this band and I love this album. For me it combines the downright weirdness of prime time 70s Alice Cooper (Elo Kiddies, Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School), Beatle-esque hooks (Taxman, Mr Thief) and Slade’s rabble-rousing (Hot Love), all with a touch of The Monkees’ goofiness. Overall it’s darker than many of their subsequent releases (though there’s always a hint of menace among the sparkling power pop - think The Ballad Of Burt And Linda from 2009’s The Latest). But in terms of a statement of intent, they pretty much nailed it with this self-titled debut.

Melanie Kyle: I absolutely love Cheap Trick! This debut effort by them set the tone for their entire career. There was a lot of great music released in 1977, but I would say this album sounds different from everything else. Rock, pop and completely irreverent! I've always enjoyed the way the band played off on stereotypes. You've got Robin and Tom, good-looking and gorgeous and you have Bun E and Rick looking like dweebs. 

But boy could those guys play! Rick Nielsen is one of the greatest guitar players out there in rock and roll today or any other time. They are not a flashy band, but they are a hell of a lot of fun and consummate songwriters. This album is not as fully fleshed-out as some of their other stuff, but that's to be expected for a debut effort. Highlights for me are the opening track ELO Kiddies, their Beatles homage Taxman, Mr Thief, and the the rave up Hot Love. interesting how the final track The Ballad Of TV Violence sounds a bit like John Lennon's I Found Out...

Brian Carr: I suggested the album, so it would be bad form not to write something, wouldn’t it?

Cheap Trick is one of quite a few bands I picked up in pieces. Dream Police was one of my favourite albums when I discovered it in the early to mid-eighties, and I loved the MTV hits from One On One. It may have been into the nineties before I sank my teeth into their excellent debut album.

Kudos to Shane Reho for pointing out the song sequence oddity. Apple Music and Spotify start with Elo Kiddies, while the CD begins with Hot Love. I feel like the latter works much better, but maybe that’s from years of listening to the CD. The slamming Hot Love works great as an opener and Oh, Candy, the tribute to a fallen friend, sounds more like a final song. Regardless of the song order, it’s always great revisiting Cheap Trick. Maybe it’s too odd, or dark, or maybe the songs simply aren’t radio material, but since no songs made the radio, there’s no chance for burnout, which means the album always sounds fresh to my ears.

Cheap Trick have always pledged their love of the Beatles (including the lyrics on Taxman, one of my absolute favourite Cheap Trick songs), and there are moments that are reminiscent of the Liverpool quartet, but their music also reminds me of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound with layered guitars, Tom Petersson’s massive twelve string bass and other assorted sounds. Even Rick Nielsen’s playing style is primarily big riffs and noise over flashy solos. Bun E. is solid throughout and Robin Zander is such a great singer. I simply love this album.

As a personal aside: in the summer of 1988, my family moved to the Rockford, Illinois area. That was the year I turned 16, so it wasn’t long before I was working in one of the malls in town. On three separate occasions, Nielsen, Zander and Carlos came in while I was working (first two at the movie theater; the third at a music store). Rockford isn’t the greatest city, but it’s their home and always has been, and it was cool seeing awesome musicians watching movies with their families or buying music just like the rest of us.

Marco LG: I am new to Cheap Trick, and I didn’t have much time for research, so I am giving my opinion on this album alone without any references. To me it’s a mix bag of rather good tunes and forgettable ones. The absolute highlight for me is Speak Now or Forever Hold your Peace, the absolute zenith is the opener ELO Kiddies. The former has me wanting for more, the latter is cringeworthy. I’ll give this debut a 6 out of 10 while I give the following two or three albums a spin.

Final Score: 7.68 ⁄10 (187 votes cast, with a total score of 1437)

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