Despite a clear status as one of the most beloved mainstream rock bands of the late '70s and early '80s, Cheap Trick has never been anything close to a critics' favorite. Nevertheless, the group's output during the first half of the decade has often been underrated and dismissed too quickly. Overall, the songwriting of main composer Rick Nielsen injects enough energy and inventiveness to prevent the typical cliches of arena rock. Here's a chronological look at the best Cheap Trick songs of the '80s.
Though released during the fall of 1979 as the first single from the LP of the same name, this song maintained a healthy presence into 1980 that qualifies it for this list. In addition, its masterful blend of synthesizers and guitar creates an atmosphere of total fun that makes the zany, slightly claustrophobic concept work all the more. However, the central verse and chorus melodies - coupled with frontman Robin Zander's remarkably game delivery of the confessional, somnolent details - ultimately stand as the most permanent elements of what could have easily functioned only as a disposable aural confection.
The second single from Dream Police was written by guitarist Rick Nielsen just like the first, and it's a delightful pop song that is as dreamy as its predecessor. Released in November, it actually peaked in 1980, repeating the title track's Top 40 performance in America and flirting with the Top 10 in Canada. The song's melody remains exceptionally sturdy in spite of the glossy presentation, and the British Invasion touches ring true from Zander's vocal all the way through Nielsen's inventive guitar solo. This pair of well-known singles from the band's third consecutive platinum record launched the new decade quite well.
Following the thoroughly decent but hit-free 1980 LP All Shook Up, Cheap Trick released One on One in 1982. By this time, bassist Tom Petersson had left the band, replaced by Jon Brant. Nielsen certainly produced another classic in this gently melodic gem, which particularly shines during the lengthy bridge: "Lonely is only a place, You don't know what it's like. You can't fight it, There's a hole in my heart, in my heart." This tune failed to reach the U.S. Top 40, but it stands nonetheless as one of the finest guitar pop tracks of 1982.
Just in case anyone had begun to imagine that Cheap Trick had lost its rock chops, the band stepped up with this snarling rocker full of toughness and alpha male swagger. Unfortunately, the group's chart relevance as a self-composing ensemble (in terms of both singles and albums) was gone at this point. In fact, Cheap Trick would not enjoy another Top 40 U.S. pop hit until the disappointing 1988 release Lap of Luxury. Even so, this is prime mainstream rock, edgier than most arena rock competitors and containing a healthy surplus of tunefulness.
5. "I Want You"
Though not released as a single in North America, this spirited track from One on One has remained a second-tier fan favorite for the band. Despite some derivative elements that recall "She's Tight" and the beloved 1978 Cheap Trick anthem "Surrender" more than they should, the song showcases a fun-loving vibe and a keen sense of genre fusion. While not on the level of the band's signature career compositions, Nielsen's songwriting here remains bold and confident.
Perhaps one reason Zander is grinning so broadly on the cover of 1983's Next Position Please is that the album's most successful single (and one of Cheap Trick's best songs ever) was written solely by him. That's not to say any of the band's members ever resented Nielsen's position as primary songwriter; in fact, they benefited greatly from that arrangement. Still, the boost provided by Zander's creative contribution here is palpable and certainly helped Cheap Trick extend its success further into the '80s. An inspired melody and vocal performance.
As perhaps Cheap Trick's finest and most quintessential song of the '80s, this irresistible power ballad stands proudly as the band's final genuine classic of its storied career. Newest member Brant assisted Nielsen and Zander in the song's composition, and that sense of camaraderie strikes a welcome balance in the pop magic on display. Despite unabashedly '80s production that spotlights keyboards more than may seem necessary, the highly satisfying central melody found throughout the verse, bridge and chorus persists as the most pleasantly memorable aspect of the track: "All I want is a place in your heart to fall into..." Romanticized pop brilliance.