To the uninitiated, Cheap Trick’s version of Harry Nilsson’s “Ambush” slides out of the speakers sounding a lot like a lost classic from the band’s own ‘70s catalog.

In that moment, it becomes clear how much love the band has for the work of the late singer-songwriter.

You can hear Cheap Trick's version of "Ambush," an exclusive premiere, below.

The band has covered Nilsson’s work before, most recently sticking “Remember (Christmas)” on its Christmas Christmas album in 2017. Separately, singer Robin Zander recorded a take on the classic “Jump Into the Fire” on his 1993 solo album.

“I vaguely knew about Harry from an article somewhere, then the Beatles mentioned him as their favorite American artist,” Zander tells UCR.

The name-check from the Fab Four opened the door to a lifetime of listening and future discovery for Zander. “[There were] the covers that were extraordinary hits, ‘One’ by Three Dog Night, ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ by the Beatles, ‘Everybody’s Talkin’” from the movie Midnight Cowboy and even a TV theme song, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” he remembers. “Then came The Point, and by then I was hooked. But the best came next: Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson, my personal favorites.”

As Zander relates, it was an easy decision for Cheap Trick to contribute a track to This Is the Town: A Tribute to Nilsson (Volume 2), a new compilation set for release on June 21 that was produced and curated by Kenny Siegal, an old friend of the band. They were on the road when they made plans to go into the studio with Siegal to spend a day recording one of Nilsson’s songs.

Figuring out which one to do was a decision that also came fairly easily. “We were all on the bus and made a list of the songs everyone liked or thought we should consider,” Zander recalls. “Between 1970 and 1974, I had performed many of Harry’s songs and ‘Ambush’ was one I knew fairly well, so it seemed fairly simple to do.”

Zander’s son, Robin Taylor, guests on baritone guitar, leading things off, with drummer Daxx Nielsen dropping in “the big beat.” That was all it took to light the fuse.”The rest of us were off to the races,” Zander says, adding that they nailed it in one take. “It is a great song, and I felt good about what came out. ... And Harry, if you're listening, I hope we made you proud.”

Nilsson’s music has gotten a fresh round of exposure this year thanks to his song “Gotta Get Up” being featured in the Netflix series Russian Doll. As a result, the arrival of This Is the Town is, with a bit of good luck and fortune, well-timed, offering a chance for listeners to take a deeper dive into Nilsson’s great catalog. It’s a trip well worth taking.

 

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