The band finally started to catch on to the world with the release of their third album, “Heaven Tonight”. The album was released on April 24, 1978 and what is interesting is four days later they were touring Japan and played at a little arena called Nippon Budokan and we will get to that story in the next review. First, we need to talk this album. The band’s third album, which in some circles is considered the best, but it is way too early to make that call. This one though does bring the best of the first two albums in to focus. It has some of the first albums raw sound and then it takes some of the power pop sounds of the second and makes a pretty damn fine combination. The album did well as it charted at #48 on the Billboard Charts and going Gold a year later. By 1995, it has since been certified Platinum.
There are also two big firsts on this album. The first is they finally had a single chart with “Surrender” as it went to #62 on the Billboard Hot 100. The other first is more of a recording history fact in that this is the first recording to ever feature a 12-String Bass…yep…that is a right…12 strings. Not the wimpy-ass 4 string bass, nope four strings are for pussies. Only bad ass bass players play a 12 String bass!! Okay, I have no idea if that is true, but it sounds good…to me at least.
This is also the second album in a row to feature only Robin Zander and Tom Petersson on the cover similar to ‘In Color’. Based on the cover, it looks like a standard background, but when you flip it over you see Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos standing in bathroom. Yes, great place for a group photo. As a result, the record company wanted to call the album ‘American Standard’ as that is a very popular brand of plumbing supplies. Thankfully, that was nixed and they went with the ‘Heaven Tonight’ title.
The album kicks off with their first single and first charting single, “Surrender”. The song is a pure classic. It is the battle of kids vs. parents. Mainly the G.I. generation and the baby boomers. The parents are telling the kids to watch out as they might catch a some disease depending on the girls they meet. It is pure punk angst with a power pop sound. Jai Winding is on keyboards and give us just enough synth to add textures and layers to the song. I also love the fact that the kids catch their parents making sweet love on the sofa and they have their kids Kiss records out playing. This is clearly a pretty freaking perfect rock song!!
“On Top of the World” is up next and here we have the 12 String bass in all its glory. Bun E. is also setting the groove with Rick throwing in some killer riffage. Robin’s vocals are amazing as usual. This four-piece know how to lay it down. The song has a fun bounce groove to it and fits so well with the story of two kids that get together and go out and do all sorts of stuff and not worrying about any consequences. It is a fun jaunt through their journey.
Another single off the album is “California Man” which is a cover of The Move’s 1972 hit. It is an old school romp that is catchy as hell filled with hand clamps and more great guitar work and some 50’s style piano thrown in for good measure. It is a fun, raucous romp and the song is purely Trickified to be their own.
Next up is “High Roller” with great percussion work from Bun E. Carlos and he has been compared to Charlie Watts on this song. Nielsen’s guitar sound from this song was probably stolen by the Foo Fighters. The other thing I notice is the Beatles influence in Robin’s vocals and the total vibe of the song. You know, this song is a mixture of so many sounds and textures, that when blended together, it works perfectly.
The most fun song on the album is “Auf Wiedersehen” which means “Goodbye”. Now, the song is about suicide so strange to label as fun, but it is so upbeat and face paced that you can’t help but enjoy. The guitar riffs on this one be Nielssen are some of his best. Robin attacks the vocals with an aggressive tone that is both abrasive and then he can turn it around and be kinda sweet. It is a perfect combination of the rawness from the first mixed the power pop of the second.
If we had vinyl, this would be side two now. The first song is “Takin’ Me Back” which has a lot of keyboards on this one and almost a little too much. At times if feels a little airy and almost dreamy in tone and then other times it rocks out. The song is a big middle finger to an ex and those are always great songs.
“On the Radio” is up next and has a 60’s vibe to it. There is a keyboard solo which is not what you’d expect with the likes of Rick on guitar. It has a whole 60’s DJ scene before that solo that catches you off completely off guard. It is fun, but not one of my favorites, but I wouldn’t delete it either.
Then Cheap Trick goes a little darker and brooding with “Heaven Tonight” which is their second song to discuss suicide. The song has a whole psychedelic vibe to it and Robin sings as if he is tripping a little on LSD and he again reaches deep with this Beatles influence as well a la Lennon. It is strange and beautiful all at the same time and a favorite on the album for me.
“Stiff Competition” takes the sexual innuendos and amplifies them times 10. This overly sexualized rocker is a nice pick me up after the doom and gloom of the prior song. It opens with a Rick Riff and then Bun E.’s drumming is a shining spotlight to the track. It is another fun power pop rocker. Zander handles the dirty lyrics fantastically and has a playfulness with them to make them palatable and enjoyable.
“How Are You?” is the question we are being asked and let me tell you if they were really asking that, I would say I am bloody great after listening to this album. Hell to the Yeah!! The song starts off with an old jazz piano and then Wham Bam, Thank You Mam! turns in to an old school romp. It is a cross between the Beatles (again) and Elton John and that is always a great combo. When the chorus kicks in it is a total blast and helluva good time track. 10 songs in and they still deliver in spades! I read somewhere that between the lyrics “You even scare my friends / What’s with you?” they inserted “The Lord’s Prayer” sped up considerably fast. And if you listen real heard, you can hear something squeaky sounding so I am going to venture to say that it is true.
The final track is not really a track in the full sense. “Oh Claire”. The only lyric is “Oh, konnichi wa” and is a play on the Eau Claire, Wisconsin where the band played a lot before making it big. The song is basically a one minute jam in what sounds like a live setting, but I don’t think it really was.
Now, I don’t have the vinyl as you can tell. My CD has two bonus tracks and both are great. The first is an early outtake of “Stiff Competition” and is rough mix of the song, but you can hear that there is still some work needed, but is still great even in this form. The other song is an outtake of the big hit “Surrender” and again is a rough early mix. Robin’s vocals haven’t been cleaned up and not sure the lyrics are even finished, but I do like the rawness of the song and is a real fun listen as you can tell where they tweaked to get the finished version in the end. I like he Robin sings on and on about who is alright including all the band members and tons of other people. Two great little adds to the CD.
- Surrender – Keeper
- On Top of the World – Keeper
- California Man – Keeper
- High Roller – Keeper
- Auf Wiedersehen – Keeper
- Takin’ Me Back – Keeper
- On the Radio – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Heaven Tonight – Keeper
- Stiff Competition – Keeper
- How Are You? – Keeper
- Oh Claire – (outro…sort of)
- Siff Competition (Outtake)
- Surrender (Outtake)
The Track Score is 9.5 out of 10 Tracks or 95% which is astounding. I didn’t score “Oh Claire” because it is so short and not really a full track so didn’t seem fair to score it. If you liked the rawness of the debut and the power pop of the sophomore release, then this album will take both those sounds a deliver a stellar album for everyone. They seem to be finding who they were with this one and although not perfect, it is pretty damn close. Robin hasn’t sounded better, Rick’s guitar riffs and solos were getting better and better, Bun E. was tearing up the skins and always giving just the right touch to the songs and Tom’s 12-String bass was a thing of beauty laying down great grooves and the driving force on all the songs. Overall, I Score the album a 4.5 out of 5.0 Stars as it is a personal favorite, but I don’t know if it is their best. We will have to wait and see won’t we. The band was coming together and finding their sound and what was coming down the line is something to be heard.