Cheap Trick (Epic)
Cheap Tricks for Bellrays: Bob Vennum of rock & soulers the Bellrays told us about his love for a Cheap Trick gem.
Bob Vennum: I remember hearing Cheap Trick for the first time at a friend’s house. She played Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and then In Color. Despite immediately wanting to go home and grab my guitar and figure out the cool chord progression to “I Want You to Want Me”, I remember thinking how wimpy it sounded next to “American Girl” or “Breakdown”. My immediate reaction was that it sounded like one of the local bands around that had put out their own record.
The next year they put out Live at Budakon and then I got it. I don’t think I put my guitar down for a month! It hit me so hard that this article could’ve easily been all about that record.
By the mid ’90s I had been doing original music in local bands for almost 10 years. The rejection letters (and phone bills) from label submissions were piling up and it was obvious that it didn’t matter how good we were (and we were pretty good). Whether or not he industry was intent on looking the other way, it was disheartening and I wouldn’t say I was down about it but….
Then I found “Cheap Trick” on Red Ant Records in a discount rack at Tower. It had no title. It looked like a bootleg, but I didn’t recognize any of the song titles, so I bought it. I took it home and listened to it and immediately, there was Bun E Carlos messing up the opening drum beat to “Anytime” and starting over. This small thing made the album more personal from the beginning. I was having fun as I listened to this band play their songs, imagining that they were having as much fun as I was. The whole sound is clean, raw and big. This was a great rock and roll band doing what they were supposed to be doing, playing music while somebody in the control room just…captured it. There was none of the over-the-top production of the last couple of records. They weren’t weighed down having to provide “hits” by slogging along with industry songwriters like Diane Warren. These songs were just as catchy and original as anything the “pros” were putting on the radio. “Anytime” or “Say Goodbye” could’ve been in any heavy rotation. I was caught off guard with how simple and fun it all sounded. Robin Zander is still easily one of the best singers ever and he simply shines in every cut. Rick Nielsen is the rock guitar hero who doesn’t have to go out and prove it every song with a solo but when you need it, he’s right there where he should be.
Eventually I realized that I had listened to it from beginning to end like, 6 or 7 times. Hearing that record made making music even more important to me. I was convinced that they were right there ahead of me, in my way, standing on my spot, doing what I was supposed to be doing. But I couldn’t be mad about it because they were doing it so…well! I don’t really know how much support they got from Red Ant. I know the label went under shortly afterwards. But whether they had it or not, this album gave me feeling that I could make something like this happen. I could take my band into a studio, play hard rock pop songs and put out a great record. It would be enough. It felt like they chose to do this.
I’m not here to argue that this is Cheap Trick’s greatest record. It’s more about the timing of it coming out when it did. It gave me something to shoot for. If established (world famous) rock and roll artists older than me, who the industry had all but dumped could put out a record like this then an unknown like me had no excuse not to at least try.
Listening to it still makes me want to play.
Cheap Tricks for Bellrays: The Bellrays’ single “Ball of Confusion” is out now.
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