The Date: April 28 or 30th
The Place: Tokyo, Japan
"I want you to want...me. I want you to want...ME!"
And with the kick off of a shuffling drum starts the next number in my favorite all time song list:
Cheap Trick "I Want You To Want Me" (1977 / 1979)
As big a hit song as this is, it took a while to grow on me. I had heard the song on the radio of course before I had bought a Cheap Trick record, but couldn't tell you at the time that I had. Just one of those songs on the radio that I didn't care who sang it or why. Before buying their stuff, the song I knew Cheap Trick for was "Surrender" aka "Mommy's alright, daddy's alright, they're just a little bit weird". It seemed like their best known song, even the ticket scalper in Fast Times At Ridgemont High sang "Surrender" when trying to sell Cheap Trick tickets. "Surrender" came with the record At Budokan and since it was the Nice Price (i.e. permanently discounted) I was motivated to buy it. Thanks to my two music bibles in high school (The Encyclopedia of Rock and The Rolling Stone Magazine Rock Encyclopedia) I knew their biggest hit was also from that album, "I Want You To Want Me". So I figured bonus, I get the song I want plus whatever their biggest hit was.
I've been Tricked!
So I bought the At Budokan record and when I got to "I Want You To Want Me" I listened intently. This was Cheap Trick's biggest hit! Shuffling drums, springy bass line, guy singer whining sort of like Marilyn Monroe with a shot of testosterone...sounds kind of familiar...really? This is the big hit? A song with like six lines or something, one of which makes a huge deal about wearing a brand new shirt?? What kind of guy likes clothes that much??? The live audience on the record seems to like it, some weird chanting going on after the singer says something about seeing him crying. Decent guitar solo, huh not a lot of pace changes in this just the same beat going til the very end.
In high school, I thought this song was sooo overrated. I'd play it off the record sometimes, but usually when spinning that tasty piece of vinyl I'd throw on "Surrender" or the racuous "Clock Strikes Ten". Later when I had the song on The Greatest Hits cd I got a little more used to the song but wouldn't say I loved it.
So what changed?
Have a Coke and a smile
The song started to show up in other media, delivered in a way that hit my easily influenced mind the right way. In other words, it was used in a soft drink commercial. Edited down to 20 or so seconds, "I Want You To Want Me" in a Diet Coke ad completely changed my mind on this one. Hearing the live recording played loud in the advertisement with some guy singing along in the shower or rocking out in his apartment seemed cool to me. And the hook drilled it's way into my brain and wouldn't let go. Damn you ad execs, you nailed it! But I still prefer Pepsi, so you do not attain total victory on me.
Then, my brother started playing the soundtrack to the film 10 Things I Hate About You every time we saw him and it included "I Want You To Want Me", except it was finally sung by an actual girl. The group was called Letters For Cleo and the cover wasn't bad. Sometimes I would see a video for this version, with the band playing on top of a roof. It was pretty much a straight cover, except the girl went the pixie alterna girl route instead of the cooing Robin Zander delivery. I got a copy of this song off my brother and played it semi regularly. Never did get into Letters For Cleo, this cover is my only true exposure to the band. And it seems the internet remembers this version coming from the band Save Ferris instead, so Letters For Cleo don't even get credit for their own work anymore. Wonder where they are now?
I wanted to play the original song on my own time, but I had sold off my Cheap Trick's greatest hits CD before any of this happened (I had really needed the money) and the only Cheap Trick version I had on a 70s rock compilation cassette and it sounded real different. REAL different.
WTF? Who put Billy Joel in there?
The Cheap Trick "I Want You To Want Me" I had was the studio version, presumably from the In Color album. It was a little slower, cleaner (natch) and lighter. The gritty slightly ragged guitar from the live take was replaced with a polite piano that would say "please" and "thank you" instead of "hell yeah!". Yeah, that metaphor made no sense but you know what I mean. There's even a piano solo at the end, what the hell is this from The Sting soundtrack? You ever notice Robert Redford always plays like, liars in his movies? Wait, there's echo on the word "cryin" in the chorus, that's what that weird chanting was! The fans were singing the echo. Wow, that echo sucks.
After hearing this version off the tape, I felt like I was in a mirror universe. Up was down, left was right, The Enterprise wanted to destroy the Halkan counsel instead of negotiate, Sulu wanted to bang Uhura...it was sheer utter unmitigated...wait for it...madness.
I needed to get the original live version. Needed it bad, so I bought The Complete Budokan Concert on two cds so I could have it. Bwa ha ha ha!
Mad About The Mouse
"I Want You To Want Me" has continued to hold sway over me after my reassesment of it. When I bought the Cheap Trick box set it came with a cool alternate studio take of the song that, interestingly, sounds a lot like the live version but with some studio polish. This version quickly ramped up into my favorites and is the one I like the most of the many, many various takes on what's become a well worn classic.
On top of this, "I Want You To Want Me" seems to have become a rite of passage for female Disney actresses. They're all over You Tube, there's Lindsey used to be hot Lohan, some blond girl from a movie called Bandslam and then a group called KSM that flail through it like a Noxema ad. For whatever the reason, the Mouse is lovin' this one for the kids. Oh, that sounded really wrong.
The Want Ads
So when it comes to "I Want You To Want Me" I went from indifference to thinking it's the stuff of genius. Simplicity at its finest. And to their credit, any attempts at making a copy of their own smash hit weren't memorable enough to stay in my memory. That takes guts to not remake their own song with different words to milk the sucker dry, it's not like Cheap Trick is necessarily above that sort of thing (play "The Flame" and "Can't Help Falling Into Love" back to back and see if you o.d. on power ballad ice). Even the recent Weezer song "If You're Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To)" owes a nod of debt to this sturdy classic. And now ladies and gentlemen, check out this dude Dr. K who sings the song with an Elvis styled voice. Awesome!