200 Years of Illinois: Cheap Trick is big in Japan

February 7, 2017, marks the approximate, not to say the exact, date of a landmark in Illinois rock and roll. On this day (more or less) in 1979, the Rockford band Cheap Trick released its walloping success of a long-play, Live at Budokan. Part of a rock era when live albums often found gigantic successLive at Budokan vaulted Cheap Trick to superstardom and remains a both a cultural touchstone of its time and a classic album in its own right.

The 1979 lineup of the band—singer Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen, bassist Tom Petersson, and drummer Bun E. Carlos—looked like four guys chosen at random by Rod Serling to start a rock outfit. But they made a good noise that earned them the nickname of the American Beatles at a time when people still longed for the other Beatles to come back and save the world. Their 1977 debut album and incessant touring didn’t do much except build them a following in Japan. But, as we all know, Big in Japan works in rock and roll. In late April, 1978, Cheap Trick recorded two shows at the famous Nippon Budokan arena, a former Olympic judo venue opened for music by the Beatles themselves. Budokan crowds had a reputation for nonstop screaming—Eric Clapton very Britishly called them “almost overappreciative”—and the mob injected a welcome pandemonium and palpable joy into Live at Budokan.

Cheap Trick spent a year or two at the top, fell off somewhat after Petersson left the band, and stormed back to the limelight in the late 1980s by providing the big-voice power balladry then in fashion. In time they became an institution and cemented their status not only as music legends but as Rockford’s biggest claim to rock and roll fame.