Cheap Trick on the ‘Ultimate Honor,’ Recording for Michael Jackson, & the Hit That Almost Wasn’t

Rock Hall Inductees return to the Stern Show

April 6, 2016
Photo: The Howard Stern Show

Cheap Trick, one of Howard’s favorite bands, returned to the Stern Show Wednesday for the third time, and first in nearly a decade. Songwriter and lead guitarist Rick Nielsen, lead singer Robin Zander, bassist Tom Petersson, and drummer Daxx Nielsen sat down with Howard to discuss an early encounter with David Bowie, their forthcoming Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, and their new record, “Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello.”

Here are a few revelations from Howard’s chat with the band.

Holding Hands With the Starman

As Howard opened the interview, he asked Cheap Trick if they knew the late David Bowie. “We met him a few times. We met him in Switzerland at some kind of function,” explained Rick. “Tom [Petersson] was holding his hand.”

Obviously, Howard needed more information about that last part.

“[Bowie] didn’t realize it, he was freaking out. Tom walked up behind him and grabbed his hand. Suddenly, Bowie turned around and went [scream].

Tom explained, “I had a bet going with Robin [Zander], [Bowie] was over there talking to Annie Lennox. I said, ‘I think I can get David to talk to me.’ He goes, ‘he’s not going to talk to you’…so I just went over and held his hand. He didn’t really see me, so he kept talking to her. For like five minutes, I’m standing there, and then he finally turns around, he looks at me and goes ‘Oh…you must have the wrong person.'”

Of course, Cheap Trick admired and respected David Bowie, covering a few of his songs at the beginning of their career.

Recording for Michael Jackson

Howard asked Cheap Trick about the origins of their cover of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour.”

“We probably wouldn’t have even done that song if Michael Jackson hadn’t paid for it.”

“[Jackson] was gonna do this movie, cause he bought that Beatles catalogue…,” continued Tom, “so he was going to do this whole big production, this movie, and he gave us $50,000 to go in the studio and record that song.”

“Then we did it,” said Tom, “and then he was going to sue us if we put it out.”

Unfortunately, the movie fizzled before getting off the ground. “We just said ‘screw it,’ we put [the song] out anyhow,” Rick added.

Cheap Trick, of course, are huge fans of the Beatles. Howard deduced that their hit, “If You Want My Love,” was very Beatles-influenced. “It sure sounds like it to me,” confirmed Rick.

Their Long Overdue Rock Hall Induction

After years of rallying cries from Howard, Cheap Trick will finally be inducted into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.

“We are so excited, it’s an honor and we’re not bitching about it one bit like everybody else does,” said Robin.

Howard brought up the idea that, although many say the induction doesn’t matter, it still must feel like an important recognition.

“It’s the ultimate honor, it’s the stamp of approval,” said Rick.

More than anything, the induction should be a great show, though Howard wondered about any awkwardness in reuniting with original drummer Bun E. Carlos. (Rick’s son Daxx has drummed for the band since Bun E.’s departure.)

“I’m sure he still remembers the songs,” Rick said, though he admitted they haven’t rehearsed with him. “We don’t even rehearse with each other, let alone him.”

Indeed, Cheap Trick revealed that they rarely rehearse for a set, especially when it involves their “big” tunes: “Surrender,” “I Want You to Want Me,” and “Dream Police,” all of which they revealed they would perform at the Rock Hall induction ceremony.

“[The Rock Hall] dictate what we play,” admitted Rick.

It turns out that Cheap Trick tried to get Howard to induct them, but were refused by the Rock Hall staff. Instead, Cheap Trick superfan Kid Rock will do the honors.

The Japanese Always Know

Howard marveled at the idea that Cheap Trick were megastars in Japan by the time they recorded “Live at Budokan,” hence the audible crowd enthusiasm on that seminal album.

“We sold out the entire country, it wasn’t just Budokan,” explained Rick.

“Then somebody put [‘I Want You to Want Me’] in a movie. Oh, that was you, Howard,” Zander joked, referring to the band’s placement in “Private Parts.”

Surprisingly though, Cheap Trick almost didn’t put “I Want You to Want Me,” the album’s biggest hit, in their setlist for those Japan concerts. “Five minutes before we went on, it was put in the set,” Nielsen recalled.

Howard asked why they added the song at the last minute. “It had been a hit [in Japan],” said Rick, “but it was the studio version that was the hit…we didn’t even think of it, it was someone else who suggested doing it.”

Howard marveled at the idea that “I Want You to Want Me” could have been left off of “Budokan.” Fortunately, that dark timeline never came to pass.

On Working With John Lennon

Howard also asked about the time Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos had played on the sessions for John Lennon’s final album, “Double Fantasy,” and wondered how that came about. As it were, it all started with a call from producer Jack Douglas, who had mixed “Live at Budokan.”

“[Lennon] wanted a heavier sound, because if you listen to ‘Double Fantasy’ now, it sounds kind of loungy to me,” Rick told Howard. “It sounds like studio guys, which it was. He wanted a harder edge.”

Nielsen cut two tracks with Lennon – “I’m Losing You” and “Moving On.” Rick pointed out that the day they recorded with Lennon is the same day his son Daxx was born.

Rick demonstrated the lead “Losing You” riff that he played for Lennon, who, according to Rick, after hearing it, told Bun E. Carlos, ‘”I wish I would have had [Rick] play on ‘Cold Turkey.’ Clapton choked up.'”

Heartbreakingly, Cheap Trick and Lennon were planning on doing a project together at the time of Lennon’s assassination.

Cheap Trick’s new album, “Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello” is out now.

ALSO SEE: Cheap Trick Performs Live on the Stern Show