On April 2, 1978, Cheap Trick performed at Tokyo's Budokan Hall before a wildly enthusiastic audience. The show was recorded with the idea of releasing a live album for the Japanese market. From their second studio album, "In Color," they launched into "I Want You To Want Me." The studio version of this song is good, but it comes off relatively lifeless when compared to this version. With most live recordings, the audience is only heard screaming or applauding, augmented and abated by random comments from the artist. Here, the audience contributes a vocal part. There is an unbridled joy. The band and the audience are in top form. It was one of those rare moments when magic struck. "Cheap Trick At Budokan" eventually sold over three million copies and was Cheap Trick's best seller.
Cheap Trick hardly looked like a conventional '70s Rock band. Well, half the band did. It was the other two: drummer Bun E. Carlos (Brad Carlson) and guitarist Rick Nielsen. Carlo looked a tad over-weight, with a receding hairline and a droopy mustache was described as looking more like somebody's brother-in-law or an accountant, than a member of a major group.
Then there was Nielsen, a world class musician, with his sweater, bow tie and short hair covered by a baseball cap. He looked like a grownup version of everybody's mischievous and annoying kid brother. He also had a tendency to play outrageous looking guitars. Nielsen, Carlos and bassist Tom Petersson had played together but it wasn't until vocalist/guitarist Robin Zander joined that they became Cheap Trick.
They followed their Budokan success with studio albums "Heaven Tonight" and "Dream Police," and scored with the Fats Domino song "Ain't That a Shame" (also recorded live). "Dream Police" contained the title track and classic "Surrender."
In '80, Petersson left to start a group with his wife but he was back in '88 for "Lap Of Luxury" which included a cover of Elvis' biggest hit "Don't Be Cruel." It did the trick for Cheap Trick too. In the '90s Zander tried it as a solo, and while he found some success, there wasn't much traction.
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Budokan concerts, "Cheap Trick At Budokan: The Complete Concert" was released in '98. The band also undertook an anniversary tour/victory lap.
That would have been a happy ending - a nice wrap-up. But the story continued. While other bands were content playing their hits at county fairs and casinos, Cheap Trick had the gall to record an album of original material.
'06 release "Rockford" (the group's hometown) gave notice Cheap Trick wasn't finished - yet. Even so, they attempted to cash in, once again, commemorating the Budokan concerts. "Budokan! 30th Anniversary Edition," a four-disc package celebrating the classic live album rolled out. There was a previously unreleased DVD with footage from the shows and an expanded, 19-song CD version of the original album.
Bands that have been together for decades are bound to have problems. Cheap trick, sadly, was no exception. Carlos sued the band for hundreds of thousands of dollars in '13, saying they have no right to keep using the band's name without him. He claimed his ex-colleagues had failed to stick to an agreement that saw him leave the performing lineup while remaining a full member of the band for business purposes. But two years later, he dropped the suit.
1977 Cheap Trick
1977 In Color
1978 Heaven Tonight
1979 Dream Police
1980 All Shook Up
1980 Found All The Parts EP (2 live tracks, 2 studio tracks)
1982 One on One
1983 Next Position Please
1985 Standing On The Edge
1986 The Doctor
1988 Lap Of Luxury
1994 Woke Up With A Monster
1997 Cheap Trick
2003 Special One
2009 The Latest
1978 Cheap Trick At Budokan
1980 Found All The Parts
1999 Music for Hangovers
2001 Silver (re-released in '04)
2009 Sgt. Pepper Live
"Cheap Trick At Budokan," and especially "I Want You To Want Me," which totally smashes the studio version, made Cheap Trick. For that reason, and that the band is far more vibrant live, the "Complete Budokan" album is the first choice.
Budokan seems to be the dividing line in Cheap Trick's career. Their first two albums "Cheap Trick" and "In Color" are full on, if somewhat stilted. After Budokan, the group veers toward pop, focusing on singles, even covering Elvis and The Beatles. They did a good job on "Don't Be Cruel" but fared badly with "Magical Mystery Tour." The singles are all on the "Greatest Hits," including their mega-hit ballad, "The Flame."
Albums from 80's bands, recorded after the turn of the century, have generally been embarrassments. No wonder. It's hard to recapture your prime when it's two decades behind you. Some groups (Def Leppard and Duran Duran) go the covers route under the guise they are paying tribute to those who inspired them. The cruel fact is that they have run out of ideas and are milking fan's memories for attention or money. Others land on micro-labels. Styx and Journey went down this path but it's doubtful anyone can name the current line-up. These bands have one or two members from the glory days along with late additions who have often been with the group longer than the musicians they replaced.
Then there's Cheap Trick, original members and all. "Rockford" is not an embarrassment. Whew! Actually, it's pretty good.