“Like”-ing Cheap Trick on facebook is a weird experience, in a way, just like the phenomenon of how legendary they are in Japan while floating in relative intermediacy in the States is weird. Like, no real artisan of rock would deny that they have a way better catalogue than the Foo Fighters, and yet it’s the Trick that was opening for the Foo at the recent Wrigley Field show. It’s like the situation described in Ben Folds’ song “Fred Jones Part 2,” in a way, old people being stepped on by Johnny-come-latelies.
One thing I know about Cheap Trick is that Live at Budokan was my absolutely favorite driving album on the planet for a couple months, a couple years ago. Another thing I know is that they’re from just on the other side of Chicago from where I am, developed bulbous popularity in Japan while being overlooked in the bloated, machinist U.S., and from 1977-1980 put out five albums, yes, five albums (including Budokan), ranging from really solid, to classic, and on back again. I used to make the ILLEST mix CD’s with “Dream Police” on them back when my CD player would work.
Maybe it’s like how apparently for a while Lucinda Williams was too “country” for rock and roll fans, and too frisky and guitar-loopy for the true grit honky tonkers. Maybe Cheap Trick was too “punk” for the hillbillies, not hippy-ish enough for the hippies, and didn’t have mohawks, for the aesthetic needs of Sex Pistol douche bags. I see no other explanation. Shonen Knife’s latest album is literally a Cheap Trick ripoff, it’s blatant to tell for any seasoned listener of both bands. They are the anonymous uncle that keeps sending the rock and roll world checks, in the form of interface song rudiment. I’ve tallied one bad album in their catalogue, 1990’s Busted… other than that it’s kinda like Van Morrison… maybe lacking in if anything variation, but not necessarily being called upon to vary, either, rather to keep spitting in the limelight simple, intense Midwestern proverbs over power chords, in Robin Zander’s inimitable sneer.
One of these, in “Elo Kiddies,” is, “So you missed some school / You know that school’s for fools / Today money rules / And everybody steals it.” This isn’t your Arlo Guthrie, literary third-person motif-oriented draw, this is a blue-collar Chicagoan shooting straight from the hip. “Elo Kiddies” is the type of song that if played on mainstream radio, would make people turn the radio off, or, if they’d dubbed the song, listen to it again. They would scratch their heads, fishing in their retrievals for every line they could, so that they could repeat it to their classmates or co-workers the next day. And they would remember exactly where they heard it, what time, and what the weather was like, the way very few radio rock songs can make you do, some though perhaps being The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” and The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”