Cheap Trick’s ‘In Color’ Turns 35
We take a moment here to salute the sophomore LP by one of rock and roll’s greatest bands, ‘In Color’ by Cheap Trick. Released in September of 1977, it was a sharp turn from the band’s raw and blistering debut from earlier in the year, into a more Pop (with a capital ‘P’) direction.
There was a lot going on back in the hazy, crazy days of 1977. Punk upstarts fighting to be heard over the din of the prog leftovers and mainstream rockers. With radio and the press standoffish about the whole punk rock thing, the brains of the industry came up with the term ‘New Wave’ to describe seemingly all the new sounds emanating from all corners of the globe.
Though it might seem odd now, at the time everyone from AC/DC to Blondie to Cheap Trick were readily tagged as new wave at some point. Hard rock, roots rock, power pop, seemingly anyone who was not Boston or Yes were all put under this tag. While this may have caused some confusion to record buyers, it was an attempt to separate the new from the old.
‘In Color’ fit the times perfectly and has since become regarded as a true power pop classic. Unlike the stripped down, live sound dished out on their debut, ‘In Color’ was a very different creature. Producer Tom Werman tried to capture and emphasize the band’s more pop side. This meant smoothing their naturally raw edges to reveal pop perfection, something that was already there, but obscured by loud guitars. The hopes were that airplay and record sales would follow. They didn’t.
‘Hello There,’ kicks off the album perfectly with an invitation to rock. ‘Big Eyes’ is a stomp that takes the ball and runs with it, while ‘Downed’ slows the pace but not the intensity and remains one of the band’s finest recorded moments.
‘I Want You To Want’ Me’ was to have been ‘the hit,’ but failed to do so. It would, of course, become huge a couple years later when the live version took over radio, but the studio version is one of the band’s lightest moments. Whimsical and playful, it is pure pop of the first order, but lacking the power part of the equation. This is one of the complaints the band had with Werman’s technique, but they wouldn’t be heard too loudly as it, as well as ‘Clock Strikes Ten,’ soon became top ten hits in Japan, leading to near Beatles-like fanaticism there.
If there is one fault with ‘In Color’ is that it failed to capture the energy of the band in full flight. That being said, the album is wall-to-wall pop perfection. ‘Oh Caroline,’ ‘Southern Girls,’ ‘Come On Come On,’ ‘So Good To See You’ as well as all the aforementioned songs are first class melodic rock and roll. Beatles inspired? Of course, but with so much more at play. Rick Nielsen’s songwriting on ‘In Color’ propelled the band onward toward their breakthrough classic ‘Heaven Tonight’ album the following year.
In 1998, the band actually went in the studio and re-recorded the entire album with producer Steve Albini. The result was basically the same songs done up the way the band had always performed them in concert. This version was at one point talked about being released as part of a deluxe reissue along with the original version. This has still never come to light and to this day has never been officially released.
Listen To Cheap Trick Perform ‘In Color’