[Review] Cheap Trick: Heaven Tonight (1978)

Another slice of technicolor heaven that puts the “pow” in power pop.

Kronomyth 3.0: Surrender, but don’t give your soul away.

The three albums produced by Tom Werman are the three best albums Cheap Trick ever made. The one in the middle, Heaven Tonight, even had a hit single and nearly cracked the Top 40. Things were looking up for the rising sons of the power pop scene, although it would take a live album from Japan to show us what had been blooming right under our noses.

When The Beatles burst onto the international music scene in the mid 1960s, they started something they couldn’t finish. It wasn’t called “power pop” back then, but “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There” were ridiculously catchy rock & roll songs that activated all your musical pleasure centers at once and sent you into a state of heightened ecstasy. Sadly, the Fab Four pulled the plug on the machine in 1970 and disassembled it. Electric Light Orchestra tried to rebuild the machine with classical parts a few years later, and Cheap Trick swapped out the strings for a bigger motor a few years after that. Both were a labor of love, not copycat replicas.

Now, I won’t tell you that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Want You to Want Me” are the same thing. The Beatles were the product of an innocent age, and while they seemed perfectly content holding hands, Rick Nielsen had more amorous designs for his other hand. That was clear on the first album, less so on the next two albums as Nielsen toned down the lascivious wordplay. In fact, on the opening Surrender, Cheap Trick is outpartied by their own parents. The pop-band posing was mostly a ruse, while the rock & roll credentials were real.

The rest of the record rolls even tighter than their last. On Top of the World, Auf Wiedersehen, Takin’ Me Back, On the Radio and How Are You form a veritable primer in how to record power pop. Werman may be flipping omelettes these days, but he was flipping brilliant at bottling Cheap Trick’s energy into a pop format. In between, you’ll encounter some ravers (Stiff Competition and a scorching version of The Move’s California Man) and right-brain rockers (High Roller, Heaven Tonight). Challenging the idea that the band’s ascension wasn’t calculated from the beginning of time, the record ends with a prescient “konnichiwa” to the band’s Japanese fanbase, the same audience that would be present for Cheap Trick’s coronation on At Budokan.

On another, more depressing note, I discovered during the research of this album that the sped-up gibberish that appears on “How Are You” is actually an excerpt of The Lord’s Prayer. But it’s only a joke, it’s appearance between the words “you lie” is purely coincidental and the album’s title is nothing but a red herring or a winded oyster. For the night is fine and what can we do but admire the view?

Original elpee version

A1. Surrender (Rick Nielsen) (4:13)
A2. On Top of the World (Rick Nielsen) (4:10)
A3. California Man (Roy Wood) (3:45)
A4. High Roller (Robin Zander/Rick Nielsen/Tom Petersson) (3:58)
A5. Auf Wiedersehen (Rick Nielsen/Tom Petersson) (3:39)
B1. Takin’ Me Back (Rick Nielsen) (4:50)
B2. On the Radio (Rick Nielsen) (4:32)
B3. Heaven Tonight (Rick Nielsen/Tom Petersson) (5:38)
B4. Stiff Competition (Rick Nielsen) (3:39)
B5. How Are You (Rick Nielsen/Tom Petersson) (4:15)
B6. Untitled (Oh Claire) (Bun E. Carlos) (1:01)

CD reissue bonus tracks
12. Stiff Competition (outtake) (Rick Nielsen) (4:02)
13. Surrender (outtake) (Rick Nielsen) (4:52)

Japanese Blue-Spec 2 CD bonus tracks
12. High Roller (alternate version)
13. Stiff Competition (alternate version)
14. Surrender (alternate version)
15. Lookout (live at Osaka ’78)
16. Ain’t That a Shame (live single edit)

Original 8-track version
A1. Surrender
A2. How Are You
A3. On Top of the World (Part 1)
B1. On Top of the World (conclusion)
B2. High Roller
B3. Takin’ Me Back
C1. California Man
C2. Auf Wiedersehen
C3. Stiff Competition
D1. On the Radio
D2. Heaven Tonight

The Players

Bun E. Carlos (traps), Rick Nielsen (guitar, mandocello, vocals), Tom Petersson (bass, 12-string bass, vocals), Robin Zander (vocals and rhythm guitar) with Jai Winding (piano and organ). Produced by Tom Werman; engineered by Gary Ladinsky.

The Pictures

Photography by Reid Miles. Design by Jim Charne and Paula Scher.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on April 24, 1978 in the US (Epic, JE/JET/JEA 35312), the UK and the Netherlands (Epic, EPC82679) and New Zealand (Epic, ELPS 3890) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #48 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1979 in the US and Canada (Epic, PE/PET 35312) and Japan (Epic, 25-3P-45). Certified gold record in Canada.
  2. Re-issued on compact disc on June 13, 1989 in the US (Epic, EK 35312).
  3. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on September 28, 1998 in the US (Epic, EK 65648) with 2 bonus tracks.
  4. Re-packaged with Cheap Trick and In Color on 3CD box set in 1998 in Brazil (Epic, 2 065648).
  5. Re-issued on remastered elpee on October 2, 2015 in the US (Epic).
  6. Re-released on expanded, remastered Blu-Spec CD 2 on September 6, 2017 in Japan (Epic, SICP 31063) with 5 bonus tracks.

1 thought on “[Review] Cheap Trick: Heaven Tonight (1978)

  1. Did you ever notice that there was a trend with Cheap Trick covers? On the front covers of In Color and Heaven Tonight, Robin and Tom look so handsome and desirable, but on the back, Rick and Bun look like geeks.

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