In the ’70s, a parade of great Cheap Trick songs put Rockford, Ill., on the rock 'n' roll map. The godfathers of power pop used the pin-up looks of singer Robin Zander to lure in legions of fans -- and then bowled them over with a potent arsenal of blues, New Wave, psych-pop and punk touchstones.
In fact, the quartet is a textbook case of being the sum of its parts: Zander’s commanding presence and golden voice, Rick Nielsen’s blazing lead guitar, Tom Petersson’s anchoring bass and Bun E. Carlos’ effortless drumming. Perennial teenagers, Cheap Trick is still formidable live, and known for pulling out obscure album cuts instead of hits.
Such a deep catalog makes it difficult to play favorites, but here's our list of the Top 10 Cheap Trick songs.
"He’s a Whore"From: ‘Cheap Trick’ (1977)
Power-pop doesn’t get much more perfect than this first-album rager. Slashing (and melodic!) riffs, bouncy chord progressions, a yearning Zander vocal performance and a sub-three-minute running time make the No. 10 entry on our list of the Top 10 Cheap Trick Songs one of their quintessential jams.
"California Man"From: ‘Heaven Tonight’ (1978)
Cheap Trick is especially adept at performing cover songs—see its note-for-note tribute to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But the band is even better at transforming cover songs into something special. Its cover of the Move’s "California Man" is kicky power-pop shot through with Southern-rock charm and a hip-shaking tempo.
"Hello There"From: ‘At Budokan’ (1978)
Although not necessarily the most complicated Cheap Trick song, the version of "Hello There" which opens At Budokan perfectly captures the band’s transformation from a cult act into rock superstars. The tinny noise of screaming fans losing their minds runs underneath this two-minute show-opening ripper, with its razor-edge riffs, a frenzied drum solo and ragged exhortations of "Would you like to do a number with me?" Really, though, it’s the sound of a band exploding into its own.
"Heaven Tonight"From: ‘Heaven Tonight’ (1978)
Before "Gonna Raise Hell," (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Cheap Trick Songs) there was "Heaven Tonight," which remains Cheap Trick’s creepiest moment. The minor-key song replicates the feeling of a disorienting (and seemingly interminable) drug trip: Psychedelic-tinged harpsichord, choppy riffs and the whispering vocal refrain “Would you like to go to heaven tonight?” ooze dread.
"Gonna Raise Hell"From: ‘Dream Police’ (1979)
Like Alice Cooper having a go with David Bowie -- seriously, that slinky tempo is very Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) -- "Gonna Raise Hell" reinforced Cheap Trick’s desire for reinvention. Over nine minutes long, the song lurches forward like a proto-goth trudge before hysterical orchestras and ominous drums add even more abject terror.
"Southern Girls"From: ‘In Color’ (1977)
Besides being ace popsmiths, Cheap Trick also have a way with the blues (which actually made the band a natural tourmate with Aerosmith in 2011). Exhibit A: "Southern Girls," an ode to ladies below the Mason-Dixon line, which has swinging bar-band piano licks and a swaggering groove to go along with gritty guitars.
"ELO Kiddies"From: ‘Cheap Trick’ (1977)
A continued staple of Cheap Trick’s concerts, "ELO Kiddies" has lost none of its attitude over the years. The first song on side two of Cheap Trick’s debut LP is a formidable achievement: Carlos’ whack-a-mole-force drums and glampunk-tinged guitars drive Zander’s increasingly sneering vocals, which urges the "kiddies" in the title into action.
"Dream Police"From: ‘Dream Police’ (1979)
"Dream Police," which lands at No. 3 on our list of the Top 10 Cheap Trick Songs, is a study in contrasts. At its heart, the song is a pillar of power-pop, what with its handclaps, a surging chorus and riffs, and pinpoint harmonies. Still, the No. 26 Billboard hit is deceptively simple: "Dream Police" also boasts disorienting swirls of menacing orchestras and lyrical paranoia about inescapable nightmares—and daytime terrors, too: "The dream police, they live inside of my head."
"Surrender"From: ‘Heaven Tonight’ (1978)
We've described "Surrender" as “a rousing singalong anthem that doubles as a tongue-in-cheek examination of the culture clash between the World War II generation and their hairy, reefer-smoking kids.” To that, we’d add simply that "Surrender" is the type of song that makes us want to go speeding down the freeway at 95 mph with the windows down -- and the music all the way up.
"I Want You to Want Me"From: ‘At Budokan’ (1978)
Rick Nielsen expertly turns idol worship on its head in the hit live version -- in fact, dig a little deeper, and you’ll realize the sweet nothings crooned by the song’s protagonist stem from narcissism, not benevolence. Of course, such thematic brilliance pales in comparison to Carlos’ lively drumming and Zander’s impeccably seductive vocals.