Cheap Trick – Heaven Tonight

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Cheap Trick is one of those bands that I wish I liked more than I do. I listened to the debut, and it didn’t stick. I used to own Dream Police, but got rid of it. I have no use for post-Dream Police Cheap Trick at all, and I doubt anyone should, though I’ve been led to believe the Rockford album from 2006 is worth a spin. In Color is pretty great. Cheap Trick came out of Rockford, Illinois around 1973. I could almost believe someone at a record company put this band together:  Robin Zander had pop star looks and a million dollar voice; Rick Nielsen (son of opera singers) was a hot shot guitarist with a wacky image, and a talented songwriter, too; Bun E. Carlos (Brad Carlson), was a dynamic, ambidextrous drummer who, in his early days, toured with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and the Shirelles; and Thom Petersson (born Peterson), basically as handsome as Zander and inventor of the 12-string bass. I’m not always into what Cheap Trick does, but they have made a little bit of great music. Apropos of nothing, Nielsen is part owner of Piece Brewery and Pizza in Chicago.

What I Think of This Album

It’s arguable that At Budokan is the only essential Cheap Trick album, but I don’t like having only live versions of songs (and there are a lot of songs on the rerelease that I do not like at all). Heaven Tonight is likely the best Cheap Trick studio album. As any album that contains “Surrender” would have to be.

It is almost impossible to list all the great things about “Surrender”:  Zander’s priceless whine (“Some Indonesian junk that’s going roooooouuuuuuuund” and “Old maids for the waaaaaaaaaar”); the humor in the lyrics (“But Mommy isn’t one of those / I’ve known her all these yeeeeeaaaaaars”); the contemporary reference to KISS; the massive drums; the synth line; the perfectly placed guitar slashes; the tremolo effect on the guitar; the breakthrough “Awaaaaaaaaaaay” that takes us into the euphoric closing minute; the stacked vocals and melodies in the outro.

Another high point is suicide anthem “Auf Weidersehen” – yes, it’s a suicide anthem – in which Zander sounds truly unhinged, unleashing some amazing screams as the song closes, and Peterssen and Nielsen get gritty and dark, with Carlos bashing the shit out of everything in sight. Check out the reference to Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Likewise unsettling is drug anthem “Heaven Tonight,” with Zander again delivering in spades as Nielsen shows off on the mandocello. There are no strings credits (or keyboards either) but clearly these are present on the album – not cool, Cheap Trick.

The darkness continues with the odd but thrilling “Takin’ Me Back,” featuring unusual synth noises and a stellar chorus. The pick slide on the frantic “On Top of the World” is very cool, as is everything else Nielsen does here (especially the divebombs), and Carlos keeps things moving along on this catchy, piano-reliant number, which slides into a technicolor, ELO-aping closing minute. The cover of the Move’s “California Man” is fine – I can take it or leave it. The guitar solo is impressive (and includes a bit from the Move’s “Brontosaurus”). And I do appreciate the handclaps. I always appreciate handclaps. More handclaps, please.

“Stiff Competition” is silly filler, but it sounds great – Zander and Carlos turn in fine performances. Another throwaway is “On the Radio,” but it has a sunny, loose, California vibe that is pretty irresistible. Jumpy “How Are You?” is similar – very slight but not unpleasant, with an amped up chorus that will get you moving, and some creepy string creaks thrown in for no good reason. “High Roller” is just meh, and “Oh Claire” is stupid.

The reissue contains two bonus tracks, both earlier versions of album tracks. The rough version of “Surrender” is notable only for coarser, misogynistic lyrics, and at the end, Zander humorously ad libs the names of the band members (including himself), the producer, the engineer, and others (“Gary’s all right / Robin’s all right / Ricky’s all right . . . “).

The Best Thing About This Album

A very difficult choice: Carlos’s drumming; Zander’s voice; “Auf Wiedersehen”; Nielson’s skill. But obviously, “Surrender” is why you buy this album.

Release Date

April, 1978 (original); 1998 (reissue)

The Cover Art

I find it a little offensive that they put Zander and Petersson on the front cover, and relegated Carlos and Nielsen to the back. It would have been nice for something a little more creative and less cynical (and maybe more respectful of their bandmates).

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