If I haven’t already made it clear, I love requests. Sometimes it’s new music and I get to dive into something fresh—other times it’s a band I know but maybe never took a hard look at their discography. Today’s band falls into the latter category. We all probably know them, but how many have listened to an album start to finish?
In 1967, Rick Nielsen and Tom Peterson formed a band called Fuse in Rockford, Illinois. With Bun E. Carlos on drums, they moved to Philadelphia in 1971. They changed their name and toured Europe for a year and decided to return to Rockford. Thinking they needed another refresh; they adopted the band name Cheap Trick in August of ‘73. The name stemmed from the group attending a concert and Peterson suggesting the act used “every cheap trick in the book” as part of the show.
In ‘75 they hired Robin Zander for lead vocals and recorded their first demo. They would play in warehouses and bowling alleys all over the Midwest, getting their big break in 1976 after signing with Epic Records. Their eponymous debut album came out a year later—which was favored by critics but didn’t sell. The label didn’t give up however, and Cheap Trick released their second album in the same year. It also failed to chart, and it seemed the band might be doomed.
Then something very unusual occurred. Cheap Trick headed to Japan in April of 1978 for a few shows. The welcome they received was a frenzy similar to The Beatles. During the tour, they pressed live recordings of two shows at the Nippon Budokan. Ten songs were used for an album titled Cheap Trick at Budokan, intended to be released in the Japan market, but would explode their popularity both there and back home in the states.
Today I’m listening to Heaven Tonight which was the follow-up to all that fervor in May of 1978. The lead single titled “Surrender” hit airwaves and would become their first single to chart, hitting No. 62. As Budokan was going triple platinum in the USA, fans began picking up the newest record as well, and sales started to rise. It sits around five million sold worldwide to date. Critically, the album was and is considered the height of Cheap Trick’s catalog. You’ll find various five star reviews out there and almost zero criticism.
While I am admittedly unfamiliar with their entire array of music, you can tell this album packs a punch. It sounds like it was recorded with the idea of hopping town to town and filling arenas in mind. The radio-friendly production and use of synth with studio effects let you know they wanted this to elevate their legacy. Labeling this album as one genre would be tough—you’d almost have to discern that track by track. It’s got an ultra-pop feel in spots, then it flips into punk rock and even a little metal or classic arena rock. It’s one of those rare records that if you bought it because you fell in love with one particular single, you may find yourself disappointed that there aren’t 10 more tracks just like it. For the most part, it’s a solid eleven tracks top to bottom, but it plays like a roller coaster—full of ups and down and twists and turns.
Cheap Trick would dip back into obscurity through the ‘80s and bounce back in the ‘90s. They’ve seen the mountain tops and been down in the dumps. But their name recognition and legacy are undeniable, which culminated in the highest honor—being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.
They have a legit repertoire of singles and they put on one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to. They’ve never been afraid to switch styles and work with all sorts of artists, which is probably why they’re still out doing what they love today. Go catch them at your local venue sometime, you won’t be disappointed. Until then, toss on Heaven Tonight and jam away. Thanks for the recommendation, keep ‘em coming!
Top 3 Tracks: