60. Cheap Trick - I Want You to Want Me

I had to do some research to find out what other Cheap Trick album this song was on other than 1978's Live from Budokan, because I didn't think I'd even heard the album version. Turns out it was released on their 1977 effort, In Color. Truth be told, I'm not sure I've ever heard the album version, so ubiquitous the album version has become. So again, there's a specific version of the song I'm talking about, but since it's the one that everyone knows anyway, it's not that much of a request.

There's an interesting story behind the song and its popularity. When In Color was released, they did, in fact, release "I Want You to Want Me." It didn't even make the Billboard Top 100, and it had some weird honky-tonk piano in it. It was a flop. But when it was released in Japan, it became a #1 hit, and a huge #1 hit at that. They were so big in Japan that prior to the Budokan show, they were asked to stay in their hotel (and not even look out the windows) for fear of causing a riot. It was a song that they didn't even play at their stateside concerts, but knew they had to for the Japanese audience. Then at the actual show, the mostly female audience shrieked (but in that good way) during the entire show and sang along, creating a great live recording. Live at Budokan was released in Japan and sold incredibly well. Some American DJs got wind of the record and began playing the live version of "I Want You to Want Me." Live at Budokan ended up becoming the biggest selling import of all time before it was released in the United States. The rest, as they say, is history, with Cheap Trick going on to sell millions more and tour the world again and again.

The live version starts with lead singer Robin Zander simply introducing the next song, saying, "And this next song is called: I want you.... to want me!" Then drummer Bun E. Carlos (who, to me always looked like one of the guy's dads who gave them the money for their original demo in exchange for being the drummer). Guitarist Rick Nielsen called it "...our silly pop song. Four guys, three chords." and he's completely right. But it's that simplicity that gives you the feeling that you've heard it before, even when listening to it for the first time. Like all great pop songs, it's got that boom-boom-pow sensibility that starts with the drums and then is carried on by Nielsen's guitars.

Singer Robin Zander does what solid lead singers do, play rhythm guitar. But Zander does it in that typical lead singer way - he plays it only when he absolutely has to, like when Nielsen tears off on a solo. It's just like when Bono picks up a guitar. It's mostly a prop, but he'll play when he's gottta. But just when you think that everything is straightforward, you get a peek of Tom Petersson's bass. That sucker's got twelve strings on it! Sure you see 12 string guitars every once in a while, but Petersson took it to a new level by giving his bass guitar so much more depth to it, giving "I Want You to Want Me" some extra texture to pump up the musical simplicity of it.

The song has that souped-up do-wop feel reminiscent of early rock n roll. It's a simple melody and straightforward lyrics but there's the extra layer of guitar distortion that they didn't have back then that gives "I Want You to Want Me" its fresh sound. You even get the Japanese girls screaming the lyrics ("Cryin'! Cryin'! Cryin'!") that gives this recording a "Beatles on Ed Sullivan" feel to it.

The lyrics remind me of those early Beatles songs, too:

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I'd love you to love me.
I'm beggin' you to beg me.

But to be honest, until I just looked the lyrics up, I just mangled this next line (the one that he sings really fast)

Feelin' all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dyin'.

I've listened for years and all I ever had right was the feelin' and the dyin'. Everything else was a mystery to me.

But what isn't a mystery is that "I Want You to Want Me" is one of the greatest pop songs ever. It's a song that sounds as fresh and new over thirty years later and if you're anything like me, when this song comes on the radio, you're not only listening, but you're turning it up and singing along. "Feelin' something something something something something dyin'..."

(Fun Fact #64 - I couldn't do a post on Cheap Trick without talking about (and showing) some of Rick Neilsen's crazy guitars. Rick started out as a kid with a stamp collection and a baseball card collection, so when he got into music, he just followed the next logical step. Here are some of his great ones...)

2 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Kent,

    You may or may not remember me from Providence. Anyway, I came across your blog and like reading it. I especially liked the Cheap Trick post. Why? Well, due to the "Green Police" Audi commercial from the Superbowl, I have been listening to the "Dream Police" over and over again on my iPod.

    Hope this note finds you well and that you continue writing your blog.

    Ramon Nasol

  2. Anonymous Says: