Rick Nielsen has been the commander-in-chief of one of the greatest rock and roll bands in the world for decades. Cheap Trick has been his vision, and as lead guitarist and primary songwriter, Nielsen helped shape the sound, style and attack of the band. More than ably helped by bassist Tom Petersson, erstwhile drummer Bun E. Carlos and the one and only Robin Zander on vocals, Cheap Trick have been a musical force of few peers since first letting those power chords fly.
Nielsen has always had his own style not only when it came to clothes, but also with his guitar playing. Avoiding the scientific and sterile approach of so many six stringers, Nielsen went for feel and let it rock. Cheap Trick are rarely off the road, still delivering the goods at every show. We tip our baseball cap and spin our bow tie to him with our list of the Top 10 Rick Nielsen Cheap Trick Songs.
'Woke Up With a Monster'From: 'Woke Up With a Monster' (1994)
The title track from the unfairly maligned Woke Up With a Monster album from 1994 is a rip-roaring rocker. Sonically, the song has much in common with the very first Trick album, focusing on a more harsh template here, with Nielsen creating a heart-stopping wall of guitars here. Perhaps it was too rough to supply a comeback to radio, or perhaps people had given up on the guys at the time, but there are a lot of good songs on that album, this is one of 'em.
'You're All Talk'From: 'In Color' (1977)
Cheap Trick have been very vocal about their unhappiness concerning the production of the In Color album, saying it took their raw sound and toned it down too much. Be that as it may, great songs abound on the album, and "You're All Talk," No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Rick Nielsen Cheap Trick Songs, still ranks as one of their more unexpected moments. He gets into gear on a circular guitar riff while throwing in some top flight lead breaks and licks along the way, adding up to another lost gem from the guys.
'Mandocello'From: 'Cheap Trick' (1977)
One of many surprises on the first Cheap Trick album, "Mandocello" is a striking and somewhat odd song, thanks largely to the acoustic instrument for which it is named. The mandocello, a lower-tuned member of the mandolin family, adds a unique element to the tune. As an avid guitar collector, Nielsen had Hamer Guitars custom-make an electric version for him at one point.
'Love Comes a-Tumblin Down'From: 'All Shook Up' (1980)
This riff-heavy rocker from the band's 1980 album All Shook Up was written as a tribute to the late, great Bon Scott. Trick and AC/DC had become fast friends in the late-'70s, often crossing paths on the road. As we all know, Bon sadly passed away, and shortly thereafter, Rick penned this tribute to his friend. With lyrical references to Scott and AC/DC, not to mention some killer lead breaks, it's a sincere tip of the hat to a great one gone too soon.
'The House Is Rockin' (With Domestic Problems)'From: 'Dream Police' (1979)
From that ever-so perfect guitar riff through the licks that ring out at the song's end, "The House Is Rockin' (With Domestic Problems)" is prime Cheap Trick all the way. Nielsen is in command with that endless circular riff at the core, while his lead breaks throughout are first class, making this one in a long series of "Lost Trick Classics." There's a nice little Beatles guitar quote at the end as well.
'Heaven Tonight'From: 'Heaven Tonight' (1978)
Co-written by Nielsen and Tom Petersson, the title track from their third album is a haunting, psychedelic wonder. It's a cautionary tale about a drug experience leading to one's demise. The song borrows from many of Rick's favorite reference points, including the Beatles and the Move. The additions of cello, harpsichord, and mandocello (see No. 8 on our list of the Top 10 Rick Nielsen Cheap Trick Songs) help create a surreal, dreamlike sound. The spiraling "you can never come down" refrain coupled with the instrumental climax at the end is chilling.
'Dream Police'From: 'Dream Police' (1979)
The title cut from their 1979 classic album features a rarity, Rick Nielsen at the microphone! His mid-song speech is at the heart of the song with its portrayal of the subject's paranoia. The section has long been a concert highlight where Rick makes yet another spectacle of himself. From the simple riff at its core to the ultra-catchy chorus, it certainly rates as one of Trick's finest moments. The orchestral build up creates tension and dissonance before plunging back into the pure pop delights. And remember, "beware of platitudinous ponderosities."
'Please Mrs. Henry'From: 'Samurai Rock Band' (1977)
If this amazing live version of a whacked-out Bob Dylan song doesn't knock you out, you must be dead. Sounding like the Who having a fight with the Move. The entire band is scorching the earth here with Nielsen in command. This was a live staple for the band in their early days and though they never recorded a studio version, a live version did end up on the 1996 box set Sex, America and Cheap Trick.' This version, however, comes from an early bootleg called Samurai Rock Band, included here because it will melt your head right off your body.
'Need Your Love'From: 'Cheap Trick At Budokan' (1979)
"Need Your Love" is a tour-de-force for the band, showing off all members in the spotlight at various points, with the guitar work of Rick Nielsen at the fore. This closing song on the 1979 album Dream Police was first released in a live rendition on the At Budokan album. Both versions have the right stuff, but we chose the live cut for its extra added drama. The breakdown solo section cooks along at full speed with some fierce playing. Still a highlight of many a live show, "Need Your Love" captures that loose side of the band perfectly.
'The Ballad of TV Violence'From: 'Cheap Trick' (1977)
Cheap Trick's debut album certainly ranks as one of the most solid and focused debut albums of all time. Everything about the band was put on display, from the more melodic pop side to the brutal rock onslaught of this corker, which tops our list of the Top 10 Rick Nielsen Cheap Trick Songs. "The Ballad of TV Violence" (originally titled "The Ballad of Richard Speck") is about serial killer Richard Speck, and is sung from his perspective. Like many of Rick's early songs, the subject matter was not your average boy-meets-girl variety. It's a somewhat disturbing and psychotic song helped along by the twists and turns Rick's guitar makes throughout. It still sends shivers all these years later.