By Joe Jamnitzky
Artist: Cheap Trick
Album: Cheap Trick
Serial killers. Suicide. Pedophiles. Not the sort of topics you would relate to Cheap Trick, but sure enough, they’re all present on their debut album.
Cheap Trick is an example of a strange phenomenon I’ve seen happen on more than one occasion. Once in a while, a band comes along and doesn’t do well here at first (or sometimes ever)…but they become immediate successes in Japan. Artists such as Cheap Trick, Queen, and The Runaways, all experienced insane popularity in Japan before ever making a dent here.
In the case of Cheap Trick, their first 3 albums didn’t even crack the Top 40 here. “Surrender”, which is now considered one of their signature songs, only hit No. 62. The twist here is that it would be their live album, “Cheap Trick at Budokan”, recorded in Japan, that would end up launching them as stars around the world, including their own country (and it wasn’t even meant to be released here!).
It’s no secret that, live, the band was a much different beast than in the studio. In contrast to the polish that made the hits so smooth sounding, they were raw and aggressive. That’s where the debut comes in. Thanks, in part, to producer Jack Douglas (who had just recently worked on a string of classic Aerosmith albums), this first album managed to capture the raw, unpolished sound that the band was capable of. Along with that, it also was very dark lyrically.
“Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School” is a song about a pedophile. “Oh Candy” (released as a single, with no success) was written about a who committed suicide. Closing track (and this writer’s personal favorite) “The Ballad of TV Violence (I’m Not the Only Boy)” is about Richard Speck, who was a serial killer.
It’s not all darkness though, but even upbeat tracks like “He’s a Whore” (which, despite the title, is not just about sex) and opening track “ELO Kiddies” (which is open to interpretation, since even the band members have all given various explanations regarding what it’s about) have a sense of mischievousness that, while not quite lacking from future albums, definitely shines through much more here.
What we end up with is an album that was a much more accurate representation of the band’s sound. After the lack of success it had here (not even breaking the Top 200), they would go with a different producer. While it would eventually lead to success for the band, it would also result in them sounding much smoother and safer (a move even the band would bemoan in later years).
In the years since, despite career ups and downs, they’re still going strong, having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and their first 4 albums are now regarded as classics.
The debut, though, stands out.