The ’80s started off pretty rocky for Rockford, Illinois power-pop combo Cheap Trick. After watching their first chart entry of the decade, “Voices”, struggle to #32 on the charts, the band stood by helplessly as single after single faltered just outside the Top 40. Just look at the trail of tears:

• “Everything Works If You Let It” – #44, 1980
• “Stop This Game” – #48, 1980
• “If You Want My Love” – #45, 1982
• “She’s Tight” – #65, 1982
• “Tonight It’s You” – #44, 1985

Each near-miss had to be frustrating for not only the band, but also for their long-time label, Epic. By 1988, something had to give. Cheap Trick, meet your new songwriters, Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham. They’ve got a little ditty for you called “The Flame” that just smells like a hit.

No, no, I said it smells like a hit. HIT!

Cheap shots aside, “The Flame” did just what was intended, and that’s get Cheap Trick back in the charts and in the public eye. After peaking at #1, its follow-up, the equally dire remake of “Don’t Be Cruel”, continued the hot streak, topping out at #4. The band proved its hit-making skills with covers, so perhaps it was time to showcase their own writing skills with the next single. Sorta.

Now, quite a few people are under the impression that super-ballad writer Diane Warren was responsible for “The Flame”, but she actually co-wrote, along with Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen, Lap of Luxury’s third single. “Ghost Town” was a much more acceptable artistic compromise than the overwrought “Flame”, nicely showcasing Robin Zander’s throaty delivery while keeping the schmaltz at a minimum.

Sadly, “Ghost Town” didn’t wow ’em the way the last two singles did, just making the Top 40. Epic worked a couple more singles off Luxury, but neither made an impact. Two albums later, the band parted ways with Epic, skipping around a few labels before starting their own. But if you think that meant artistic freedom without compromise, let me remind you that 2006’s Rockford featured a lead-off single co-written by another songwriting machine, Linda Perry. Gotta pay those bills.

“Ghost Town” peaked at #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #32 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart in 1988.

Get Cheap Trick music at Amazon or on Cheap Trick

About the Author

John C. Hughes

John C. Hughes began his Lost in the ’80s blog in 2005 and is now proud to be a member of the Popdose family, where he’s introduced LIT80s’s companions, the obviously named Lost in the ’70s and Lost in the ’90s, alongside the slightly more originally named Why You Should Like…

View All Articles