It had to be Christmas Break way back in 1978 or the first week of 1979. I know we were not in school, and basketball practice was over. So, after a lunch at my late high school girlfriend’s house, I cruised up to my “home away from home,” the local independent record store just a couple of miles away from where I grew up. The place was a combination store of records, 8-tracks and cassettes, men’s designer clothes and T-shirt press-on decal store called The Browser. The place did not last too long into the 1980, but for a very brief time in my life, it was my to-go store for music. Plus, the guys that owned the place were both right out of college, music lovers and wanted to give this store a go. Unfortunately, they opened the place just as the car manufacturing cities in Indiana were laying off people, leading to an economic depression where I grew up. But, for that brief moment, The Browser was my “Cheers.”
Anyway, back to late ’78/early ’79, I walked into The Browser, and, immediately, one of the owners called me over to the counter. Excitedly, he tells me, “Since you bought the first copy of any Cheap Trick album from this store (it was In Color) and we know how much you love them, we just got this import album in from Japan because we read it was selling large numbers in New York and L.A. After we listened to it, we were waiting for you to come in so we could play it for you.”
He then turned to his partner and yelled, “Cue up Side Two!” And, what I heard was the opening drum salvo from Cheap Trick’s cover of the Fats Domino standard “Ain’t That a Shame.” I was immediately taken by the sound of this album, which originally was entitled From Tokyo to You but called At Budokan for the American customers. There was an urgency in the live playing of this band from Rockford, Illinois. And, the sequencing of songs on Side Two was impeccably, as “Shame” gave way to the mega-Summer of ’79 hit song “I Want You to Want Me,” followed by “Surrender,” then “Goodnight” ending the set. The last song was the encore “Clock Strikes Twelve.” I was blown away. The music was unbelievable, making me totally give up my stance as KISS Alive! being the best live album I had heard to that point. The problem was the price of this import. It was totally out of my range. So, these guys did the coolest thing ever and dubbed me an 8-track tape of the import. They said they had read that this album was one of the best-selling imports up to that point, and the record company was going to release it in the States in a couple of months. They also promised to call me when it came in.
True to their word, I got the call when Cheap Trick At Budokan was released in February 1979. So, I waited until after my birthday and went to the store to buy the album. And, that album was magical in my hands! After getting back home, I ran back to my bedroom, carefully sliced open the shrink wrap, gently tore it away, exposing the gatefold cover with band pretty boys Robin Zander and Tom Petersson on the cover and band “nerds” Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos on the back, just as they were marketed on the previous two studio albums.
At Budokan may be Cheap Trick’s most famous album, and it made their career for them. But this album, which began as a “Thank You” to their rapid fans in Japan where they had just been treated like The Beatles at the height of Beatlemania 14 years earlier, ended up becoming the big hit the band wanted but not in the manner they desired. Yes, this album made the band a household name, but it also nearly killed them.
You see, back in 1978, Cheap Trick had blown away expectations in Japan during their first tour of the country. Their performance at Budokan was televised on Japanese TV to huge ratings, so the Japanese division of the band’s label decided to capitalize on the excitement by releasing the next night’s concert recording as the aforementioned “present” to their fans over in Japan with this live album known as From Tokyo to You. Of course, some big Cheap Trick fans in the major markets of the States heard the import album, and the rest was history.
So, the band, who were in the studio putting the finishing touches on their fourth studio album, Dream Police, were forced by Epic Records, their label in the US, to put that album on the back-burner in order begin a quick U.S. Tour in support of At Budokan, which was now selling like hotcakes in their native country.
Dumbfounded by the album’s surprise success, Cheap Trick followed instructions and toured in support of this live album. But, what the band failed to understand is the very same thing Peter Frampton faced just three short years earlier: Why is this album selling when the studio versions of these very same songs did not? Still, Budokan‘s sales soared, so did the band’s profile. By the time the Summer of 1979 peaked in July, so had the live album and it’s subsequent hit single, the perfect power pop confection “I Want You to Want Me,” as both hit the Top 10.
Now, At Budokan has taken on mythic proportions. In February 1994, a full fifteen years after its release here in the USA, other recordings made by the band from the famous 1978 Japanese tour were combined with a couple of songs recorded at the Budokan in 1979 and released as Budokan II. Although the music comes from that now mythical two-days worth of performances, Budokan II still sounded a little thrown together. But, since those performances were now lodged in the public’s memory and had grown in stature over the years, Budokan II was met with rave reviews. Still, this album did not save the band. Oh, sure, 1988 was very kind to the band as had their first number one song with “The Flame,” and the album from which it came, Lap of Luxury, performed very well, but nothing really sustained that initial success Cheap Trick experienced in 1979. Yes, Dream Police also went Top 10, but the band never had another Top 10 hit song. And, that happens to be one of the greatest crimes in rock history.
Anyway, in 1998, Epic, again attempting to cash in on At Budokan, put together the whole concert recordings and repackaged it as Cheap Trick at Budokan: The Complete Concert. Finally, we were able to hear what the fans had heard way back in 1978. Now, here was a recorded document of the full set the band played on those fateful nights back in the Spring of 1978. Unfortunately, the album was initially only released on CD. However, a couple of years ago, for Record Store Day, Cheap Trick authorized a special printing of the album on vinyl.
Not to be left alone of the album’s 30th birthday, a special box set of three CDs and a DVD was released. Now, you can watch the televised concert, in addition to listen to recordings of BOTH night’s concerts. Honestly, it is more Budokan! than most people need. So, if you are just a music fan, buy the original album. But, if you are Cheap Trick fan, then The Complete Concert is for you. And, if you are a Cheap Trick fanatic, then the box set is for you. But, if you are afflicted with Cheap Trick-mania, as I am, then owing it all on CD, vinyl AND mp3 is the obvious way to go. Of course, I do need help.
As you know, At Budokan is a classic album, as it gives the best overview of the band’s sound at the time. Additionally, it is a document of the synergy that can take place between a talented band when playing in front of a rabid audience. Those screaming Japanese girls push the performances into the immortal place they now reside.
And, although I am a rabid and loyal fan of Cheap Trick, I am no apologist. Have you ever heard their 1986 album The Doctor? Don’t bother. Same goes for their previous studio album called Standing on the Edge, along with their 1990 clunker Busted. But, you really cannot go wrong with anything else in Cheap Trick’s vast catalog, including their two most recent releases, Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello and We’re All Alright.
Yet, it was At Budokan where the whole ball got rolling for Cheap Trick. Long Live Cheap Trick!