When Cheap Trick's legendary 1978 live 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.
For the uninitiated, Cheap Trick is a band that should've been absolutely huge.
I mean, I know they were big in their day, but 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. For his own part, Robin Zander possessed one of the most powerful rock voices this side of John Lennon.
At first, I'll admit that I dismissed them though. Their first album did nothing for me (I warmed up to it later). I initially wanted nothing to do with them.
But when Cheap Trick's second album In Color was released, I decided I'd better start paying closer attention, and 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. Songs like "High Roller," "Surrender," and their cover of the Move's "California Man," all but sealed the deal for me.
I have to be honest and say that when I heard Sony/Legacy was doing yet another commemorative repackaging of the 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 that huge in Japan), puts the seemingly well tread Budokan concert in an entirely new light. It looks and sounds great, and is an amazing find by the folks at Sony/Legacy.
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. The four disc Budokan! box features the complete concert, but most importantly it also has this great footage on DVD for the first time.
There is also interviews and performance 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.