David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 44: Cheap Trick (Heaven Tonight)

June 9, 2020

Cheap Trick, especially, Rick Nielsen, were the kings at not having much to say.  That seems to me the most accurate statement of their musical legacy. It's not even meant as a criticism. They are iconic in American rock and roll, and as recognizable a band as has ever existed. Nevertheless, one could argue they were men of few words.

Their most famous album, At Budokan, features multiple songs with approximately these numbers of lines:

"Hello There" -- 6 lines

"Come On, Come On" -- 14 lines

"I Want You To Want Me"  - 12 lines

"Ain't That A Shame" -- 5 lines

"Need Your Love" -- 10 lines (almost as many minutes)

"Goodnight Now" -- 5 lines

That's 60% of the album. Honestly, there are almost as many announcements of "On Drums, Mr. Bun E. Carlos" [insert teenage girl scream here] as there are original lines in three of these songs.  As a guy who loves words, it's no surprise that my favorite Cheap Trick song (and let's face it, true for many of us ) is "Surrender," which weaves a hilarious narrative about family dynamics and teenage angst, throwing in the outrageous image of Mom and Dad having sex to Kiss music. Nielsen has a killer sense of humor, but he uses it more for his stage antics than for the content of his songs.

There can be an art to saying a lot with a little, which Nielsen achieved with the title track to Heaven Tonight. It seems a crime that with all the minimalism present on At Budokan, "Heaven Tonight" is absent. Given the near hysteria a listener could infer from the Budokan crowd, this song of addiction and dependence, probably to sex, would fit right in.

The verses for "Heaven Tonight" offer us little, maybe references to using drugs to get high: "downed the line/you couldn't get much/couldn't get much higher if you tried." Then, stoked by the heavy foreboding, haunting instrumentation as musical context, lead singer, Robin Zander, beckons like a creepy, greasy-haired guy standing by a van offering an experience: "would you like to go to heaven tonight?" If Nielsen sings the line, I buy him as slimy drug dealer; Zander can't help sounding like a sexually-charged rock star offering paradise through sexual encounter. What would one expect from Zander and his pretty boy looks? 

The song turns even darker as one considers his offer: "you can never come down/you can never come down/you can never come down" is spun like a hallucinogenic mantra. It's a high so enticing and so dangerous: "Down inside, you're getting nervous/you've never been this high before." As the song fades out through blistering guitars and drums, Zander growls, wails, and moans, the voice morphing into the music.

The link below is to Cheap Trick (sans Bun E.) on Live At Daryl's House, Daryl Hall's cable show featuring bands hanging and playing with Hall. It captures the song's creepy beauty to perfection. The "you can never come down" bridge is spine-tingling, probably because of the full effect of 6 singers chanting it over and over. Yet none of them can quite match the wailing Zander achieved in the last minute of the original recording. It's a fair trade-off to see (and hear) a little more of Neilsen's guitar solo.

Do you want to hear "Heaven Tonight"?  It will contain maybe 12 original lines, no word more than two syllables (unless you count the fabulous way Zander draws out "nervous"). Yet, I promise you, the message will be fully felt. I also promise that you may want a shower to clean the ickiness off.

"Heaven Tonight." Heaven Tonight. Cheap Trick. Epic. 1978. Link here.

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Day 45: George Harrison "My Sweet Lord." ->

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