It’s hard to believe now, but it didn’t look like things were going to pan out for early ‘70s band Cheap Trick.
Today it’s one of the most covered bands of all time, with its catchy blend of pop, punk and metal in timeless classics like “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender” and “The Flame.”
The band recorded a demo in 1975 and started small, playing in warehouses and bowling alleys before being signed to Epic Records in early 1976.
Its first album, “Cheap Trick,” was released in early 1977. Critics liked it, but it didn’t sell. Their second album, “In Color,” released later that year, included the singles “I Want You To Want Me” and “Southern Girls.” It ranked on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 500 greatest albums of all time, but it wasn’t until that album was released in Japan that the band started to see mainstream popularity in the United States, two years later.
It started with the Budokan live version of “I Want You to Want Me” and later “The Flame,” and by the time the band’s third album, “Heaven Tonight,” was released in May 1978, its first track, “Surrender,” became the song that put them on the map.
But it’s been 35 years now, and Cheap Trick is not only still around, it’s had ongoing cycles of resurgences of popularity. They’ve sold more than 20 million albums, and won 40 gold and platinum recording awards.
This year Cheap Trick is touring with ZZ Top, but the band will make a solo stop in Rutland at the Paramount Theatre, at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28.
The band’s guitarist Rick Nielsen has been a member from the start, and on Monday afternoon he talked about one of his primary roles in the band — songwriting.
Nielsen has been the lead guitarist, backing vocalist, and primary songwriter since the band began. Known for his custom-made guitars, including a famous five-neck, he’s also written almost every song the band has recorded.
“I used to write everything,” he said by phone. “I used to write everything and now we share the writing.
“It’s always different,” he explained about the process. “Sometimes, it’s you need something, or we’re missing something, or (I) just felt like writing a song out of the blue. It’s many different ways; it’s not cookie-cutter. It’s never been like that and probably never will be.”
Nielsen is the lyricist behind the band’s signature song “Surrender,” which he said came from an experience that was “half true and half embellishment.”
“If you know the lyrics, ‘Mother was in the war,’ it actually was my aunt that was in the war,” he said. “She was in the women’s army corps, the WACs, so that’s where that term came from. My parents never smoked weed or listened to Kiss records, but you always heard ‘My parents are weird.’ Well every parent is weird, I’ve never met anybody that didn’t think their parents (were) weird.”
Once Nielsen had a song or the beginning of a song, he took it to the rest of the group to finish it, or decide if it was worth pursuing.
“That’s what you usually do,” he said. “Then you expand on that — is this a good idea, is it worth writing three or four verses? Well, this is a good start, continue. Or this needs lyrical help, or this isn’t heavy enough. There’s so many different variations that go into it. It’s like asking how you write a book. Start with some words and then put them together.”
Those songs have driven the band down the road for 35 years, and Nielsen promised a good time at the Rutland show, saying it’s one of the few appearances they’re doing without ZZ Top, so the set will be longer.
“When we’re out with ZZ Top we usually only get about 15 songs in,” he said. “With our own show it’ll be more songs.”