The Story Behind “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick and Why Production of the Album Was Deemed a “Disaster”

Cheap Trick’s third album Heaven Tonight was released on April 24, 1978. Four days later, the band were onstage at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, playing in front of 12,000 screaming fans. They recorded two nights of shows to create a live album to be released in Japan only. As American radio started playing the live version of “I Want You to Want Me,” import sales of the album steadily rose, causing Epic Records to release Cheap Trick at Budokan in the States.

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The success of the live album caused the delay of the band’s fourth studio album. Cheap Trick hadn’t had much success at radio with their first three albums. They released a studio version of “I Want You to Want Me” in 1977, but it failed even to reach the Billboard charts. The band was building a reputation as a great live band, but mainstream success eluded them. But Cheap Trick at Budokan was lauded as one of the best live albums in rock history, setting the stage for their next single. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick.

Promotional Video

Epic Records finally released the album on September 21, 1979, almost a full two years before the debut of MTV Music Television. Epic made a promotional video for “Dream Police.” The band certainly benefitted from its visual image, which featured the duo of lead singer Robin Zander and bass player Tom Petersson, who possessed the classic rock star good looks paired with the other half of the quartet, guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos, who had a much more interesting vibe. These personas were explored in the intro to the music video as they walked into a police lineup.

Zander: “I didn’t do it. Five years ago, I had no idea I’d be here. Who are you anyway? What do you take me for? I must be dreaming.”

Carlos: “Pardon me. Listen, I’ll never eat a double cheeseburger before bed again, really.”

Petersson: “I’m telling you, I didn’t do it. But if I did do it, it was an accident.” (These were the very words Sex Pistol Sid Vicious said to the police after his girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found dead in their New York City hotel room).

Nielsen: “In promulgating your esoteric cogitations and articulating your superficial sentimentalities, amicable, philosophical, and psychological observations, beware of platitudinous ponderosities. Are we really the Dream Police?”

Then the song begins…

The dream police
They live inside of my head
The dream police
They come to me in my bed
The dream police
They’re coming to arrest me
Oh no

“We Just Do It”

During this period, Cheap Trick’s sound expanded. Strings and synthesizers were brought into the mix. Nielsen told Mike Hayes in the book Reputation is a Fragile Thing: The Story of Cheap Trick: “We write personality songs so [Zander] can assume a personality for it. If it’s a hate song, he’ll sound like a son of a b—h. He’s good at that. To get a certain feel, you’ve got to sing words in a certain way. It takes directing, but we don’t sit around and analyze. We just do it.”

You know that talk is cheap
And rumors ain’t nice
And when I fall asleep
I don’t think I’ll survive
The night the night

The Perfect Instrument

Nielsen wrote most of the songs, but it was Zander’s voice that drove them. Said Nielsen: “The music and the lyrics go hand in hand. When it’s a violent and demanding spot, Robin sings like it’s violent and it’s demanding, whether you know what the lyrics are about. If he’s screaming ‘Ayayayayayayayay,’ he’s screaming at the top of his lungs, you know he’s not saying, ‘Oh, yes honey, I love you, and the picnic was wonderful this afternoon.’ You might not know exactly what it’s about, but there’s enough theatrics in what we do that you get the feeling, you get the idea, and then if you know the lyrics on top of it, then it makes a lot more sense. His voice has so many modulations—it’s the perfect instrument for my songs. He can utilize his pitching to convey the basic emotions with ease.”

‘Cause they’re waiting for me
Looking for me
Every single night
(They’re) driving me insane
Those men inside my brain

It Was a Disaster

Producer Tom Werman told David M. Gotz at Record Review: “Dream Police was a disaster. It was done in 30 days. I had 48 hours to hear all the material, and maybe half of it was finished. I still have the cassettes of songs from the Dream Police album, well-known songs with completely different lyrics and titles.”

The dream police
They live inside of my head
The dream police
They come to me in my bed
The dream police
They’re coming to arrest me
Oh no

Staying Power

Cheap Trick continued making strong albums, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted them in 2016. Nielsen spoke of his band’s journey: “What we did was we experimented, tried all kinds of stuff. A lot of it we failed at. We played for years with no fuss at all, but we thought it was good, and we kept at it. I think if you look at why we’re here today, it’s a foundation of good music, good albums, good press, and a good logo.”

Well, I can’t tell lies
‘Cause they’re listening to me
And when I fall asleep
Bet they’re spying on me tonight,
Tonight
‘Cause they’re waiting for me
Looking for me
Every single night
(They’re) driving me insane
Those men inside my brain
I try to sleep
They’re wide awake
They won’t let me alone
They don’t get paid to take vacations
Or let me alone
They spy on me
I try to hide
They won’t let me alone
They persecute me
They’re the judge and jury all in one

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Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images

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