I have to be honest and say that when I heard Sony/Legacy was doing yet another commemorative repackaging of Cheap Trick’s legendary 1978 live At Budokan album, I was a bit skeptical.
How much more mileage can you get from a single concert, I thought to myself? The original single disc album only featured about half of the concert, and they already had unearthed all of the previously unreleased songs from the concert on 1998’s At Budokan: The Complete Concert repackage.
I mean, what could possibly be left?
As it turns out, what they found was nothing less than the Holy Grail itself. For the upcoming 30th anniversary boxed set Budokan! (it comes out on November 11), they’ve actually restored the video from the concert for a DVD, complete with a 5.1 Dolby remix.
This astounding footage, which was originally shown just once on Japanese television (Cheap Trick were huge in Japan at the time), puts the seemingly well tread Budokan concert in an entirely new light. Here you can not only hear, but see Cheap Trick at their artistic and commercial peak performing the very show that basically made this band’s career.
It looks and sounds great, and is an amazing find by the folks at Sony/Legacy.
For the uninitiated, Cheap Trick is a band that should’ve been absolutely huge. I’m talking Beatles huge here. And for about five minutes at the end of the seventies, they actually were — especially in Japan. For most of the usual reasons these sort of phenomenons never last in rock and roll, this one didn’t either (however unlike most of them, Cheap Trick are still together all these decades later).
But for a brief time, Cheap Trick were not only one of the biggest bands in the world, they were also arguably the best.
At a time in the late seventies when the rock music audience had become ridiculously polarized — you had your metalheads and arena rock types, your punk rockers, and then you had those who had abandoned rock altogether for disco — Cheap Trick was just about the only band everyone could agree on.
And why not? They had the perfect gimmick for starters. With two pretty boy glam rock types in vocalist Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson, and two nerds in guitarist Rick Nielsen and cigarette smoking drummer Bun E. Carlos, the marketing possibilities — beginning with the album covers — were limitless.
But beyond the look, Cheap Trick had the sound. To begin with, Rick Nielsen’s songs were a wet dream come true for power pop fans brought up on the Beatles, Big Star, and the Raspberries. The songs had the same sort of bright, smart, irresistible pop hooks as those bands that had obviously inspired them. Nielsen was (and is) also a guitarist cut from the Pete Townshend school of big power rhythm chords and economical but effective solos.
As a result, Cheap Trick was that rare breed of band who were embraced by both the critics who loved people like Elvis Costello (but wouldn’t give AC/DC the time of day), as well as the seventies rock dawgs who pledged their allegiance to Ted Nugent and Kiss.
Like I said, Cheap Trick were the band everybody agreed on at a time when rock fans were otherwise more divided than the cliques you remember from high school.
At first, I’ll admit that I dismissed them though. Their first album did nothing for me (I warmed up to it later), and at the time I knew them mainly as the band who seemed to be doing little more than pursuing a career as the permanent opening band for Kiss. Gene Simmons even had taken to wearing a shirt where the words “small dick” duplicated the Cheap Trick logo.
I initially wanted nothing to do with them.
What changed my mind however, at least in part, was a journalist named Ira Robbins, who wrote for a magazine called Trouser Press.
Robbins was a guy whose opinions I really respected, and he was always running power pop and new wave artists like Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Dwight Twilley up the flagpole. He also was a very early champion of Cheap Trick, who he compared to the Beatles and the Raspberries in reviews where I first read the words “power pop” used to describe a band.
So when Cheap Trick’s second album In Color was released, I decided I’d better start paying attention, and it turned out that he was absolutely right. With songs like “Downed,” “Clock Strikes Ten,” and “Come On, Come On,” I became hooked.
By the time of Cheap Trick’s third album Heaven Tonight, I crossed the line from casual to hardcore fan. With songs like “High Roller,” “Surrender,” and their cover of the Move’s “California Man,” Cheap Trick had for me become a band who could do no wrong.
Even though I’ve never been a Kiss fan, that line from Cheap Trick’s song “Surrender” about “mom and dad rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my Kiss records out” is for my money one of the best rock lyrics ever. It made perfect sense to me.
Not long after that, I got the chance to interview Rick Nielsen, and it remains an encounter forever etched in my memory. Cheap Trick were sandwiched between AC/DC and Ted Nugent on a triple bill show in Seattle, and I interviewed Nielsen prior to an in-store album signing the band were doing at the old Peaches record store. Later that day, when I showed up at the in-store with some friends, Nielsen announced me to the room as the guy who uses too many big words. I don’t think I’ve ever been so simultaneously flattered and embarrassed since.
The guys were equally friendly at an after show party I went to following the concert. Robin Zander seemed to take a particular shine to Roxanne, the girl I worked with at my day job at the record store. My memories of that day remain a permanent part of my consciousness growing up.
When the At Budokan album first came out, I paid $20. for the Japanese import. Even though it was released in America about a year later, I never regretted the decision. By this time, the band were nearly as big in America as they were in Japan.
But it wouldn’t last.
The band’s fourth studio album, Dream Police — delayed by the unexpected smash success of Budokan — continued the creative roll of the first three records. But by the time of the followup album, All Shook Up, you could see that the well was beginning to run dry.
Cheap Trick have showed flashes of that original brilliance from time to time in the years since, but have never quite completely recaptured it. To their credit, they did stay together though, becoming a primary influence for latter day bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Mudhoney. They continue to tour and record to this day.
The four disc Budokan! box features the complete concert, but most importantly it also has this great show captured on DVD for the first time.
Here you can see Cheap Trick performing at their peak, having a great time in the borderline Beatlemania atmosphere of Budokan, and responding with an amazingly high energy show that ended up making the band’s career. There is also footage from a 30th anniversary show at Budokan earlier this year, where the band sounds as good as ever, despite showing the wrinkles of age.
Cheap Trick’s Budokan! boxed set will be in stores Tuesday November 11.