A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Record Store Day reissue of At Budokan – The Complete Concert 2-LP by Cheap Trick.
The 1970s are known for lots of things which happened musically, like the break-up of The Beatles, the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, John Bonham and Elvis Presley, the birth of both punk and disco and many other events. Yet one of the biggest deals of the decade was, perhaps, the concept of a live album release as an EVENT.
Through the seventies, live albums were a really, really big deal. Albums like Alive!, Kick Out The Jams, Rust Never Sleeps, Double Live Gonzo and Frampton Comes Alive all served as benchmark releases for KISS, The MC5, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Ted Nugent and Peter Frampton respectively, and each quickly became classic albums in their own right.
Some may have claimed that the success of those albums and the bands who made them was an exercise in self-actualization: releasing an album with the sound of an enormous audience losing its combined mind for the guys on stage actually did put a lot more meat in the proverbial seats. But the truth is that, back then, bands knew they were making the lion’s share of THEIR money (not their record label’s money) on tickets and T-shifts. The records themselves were really just like flyers for the shows, so it was in their best interest to put on the best show they could.
It could be logically argued that, because live albums began to get an increasing amount of interest, more people became enamored with actually being at the concerts. So larger venues were required in order to accommodate larger crowds and, in turn, created a greater demand for more impressive live albums – it was something of a self-perpetuating cycle. As an extension of that logic, eventually some live albums became regarded as classics. Without question, however, the album which demands the title of ‘cultural event’ is Cheap Trick‘s At Budokan.
At Budokan was a moment all unto itself. Recorded live in Japan in 1978, the album found Cheap Trick performing a set which featured some of its greatest hits before an absolutely mammoth crowd and the results can only be regarded as classic in sound and form. To this day, it continues to sound special.
In 1978, what fans absorbed on record was a good cross section of the show: songs like “Big Eyes,” “Surrender,” “I Want You To Want Me” and Cheap Trick’s cover of “Ain’t That A Shame” quickly came to be regarded as the quintessential versions of the songs and surpassed their studio counterparts in popularity in some cases. But eventually fans wanted the whole show to listen to and love. To fill that desire, Sony issued At Budokan as a four-disc set featuring both music and video discs in 2008, but the desire to get back to basics – a simple vinyl set featuring all the music from the show – endured. Now, finally in 2016, that desire has finally been met with a new 2-LP Record Store Day reissue of At Budokan.
… And is this reissue ever precisely everything a vinyl-loving fan could ask for. Sounding as though it may have been transferred to vinyl from the DVD presentation (listeners get that first moment when Cheap Trick is walking up the ramp talking to each other before they take the stage), listeners will be able to feel the excitement build for those first few seconds before the noise of the crowd overtakes them (yes, seriously). The vinyl presentation sounds absolutely flawless – it’s easy and great to feel the immediacy of the moment in this beginning.
… And then the record explodes and Cheap Trick goes to work. The string of songs which opens At Budokan – “Hello There,” “Come On, Come On” and “ELO Kiddies” – can hook a listener hard and pretty effortlessly even almost forty years after the album’s first release. Each track would someday get called a power-pop anthem but, when they were first released, they were just fantastic and sweet molten bubblegum. Here, Rick Nielson’s guitar work defines a phenomenon with chunky power chords and searing leads while Robin Zander’s sugar-sweet voice begins inspiring listeners to at least hum along (if not outright sing) immediately and Bun E. Carlos holds the low end down and propels the songs along with it masterfully.
It’s cool because, really, there isn’t a lot of build; the band just hits the tracks and starts chugging along like a brilliant inevitable force. Listeners will get pulled in and pinned in place right off, and begin to imagine the visual scene which must have played out at Budokan for this show – it’s just hypnotic.
The spell cast early in the running of this reissue of At Budokan proves not to be broken at any point as the album progresses. In fact, listeners will thrill as “Lookout” and “Down” drive adrenaline levels skyward and “Surrender” and Auf Wiedersehen” compel listeners to hurriedly switch from disc one to disc two to find cuts like “High Roller,”“I Want You To Want Me” and “California Man” and realize that not a goddamned one of them isn’t a classic.
At no point do the energy levels falter and there really isn’t a single misplaced or ill-advised moment anywhere here, the whole thing just plays like a steamroller which will sell every listener caught in its path and, in the end, all they’ll want to do is hear it again. The first time is really all it takes to have every listener who hears At Budokan won. Even now, forty years later, the album plays perfectly as an accessible document which is pure, perfect and purely perfect rock – there’s just no escape.
“So, with the Fiftieth Anniversary marker on the horizon for At Budokan just ten years from now, why reissue this album for Record Store Day now,” you might ask? Well, one could argue that there are plenty of reasons: Cheap Trick has finally been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame stands out as a good one as well as the fact that the band will be releasing their seventeenth album this year (so why not try to saturate the market?). And all of those hold water but the truth is that there doesn’t need to be a special occasion to reissue At Budokan. This album will always sell because it is just that good – so making it available for Record Store Day or any other day, really, just makes sense.
The new Record Store Day reissue of At Budokan is out now. Find it at your favourite independent record store today!