Wednesday, April 21, 2021

"The Flame" by Cheap Trick

#1 Alert!
Song#:  3470
Date:  04/09/1988
Debut:  92
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  27
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  After having great success in the late 70s, Cheap Trick's popularity diminished as the 80s wore on. Over the course of five studio album and four songs done for soundtracks, the band failed to get a single inside the Pop Top 40. In 1986, they released their ninth studio album The Doctor. The lone single from the LP failed to make any chart and that left the album stalling at #115. It was the lowest peaking of all their charting studio albums to-date. The band desperately needed something to turn things around and their long-time label, Epic, stepped in to help the situation. With a few exceptions, the band had always written their own material. Epic didn't think that was working out for them so they decided the band needed to work with outside songwriters that could help mold Cheap Trick for the late 80s. The band agreed and their main songwriters, Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander, began working with hit-making composers like Diane Warren, Greg Giuffria, Janna Allen, and Todd Cerney. In addition to the collaborations, four songs solely by outside writers would be selected. Two would be cover tunes and two would be brand new compositions. This lead single was one of the new songs they acquired. The power ballad got off to a slow start, but eventually picked up enough steam to become the band's first (and only) #1 Pop hit. The tune also got to #3 Rock and #29 AC. The single helped the album sell and it got to #16, which was their best showing since 1979's #6 Dream Police. The label's plan worked and the band found themselves back in the spotlight.

ReduxReview:  There was just no doubt in my mind at the time that this song was going to top the Pop chart. It was a killer power ballad. It had everything but the kitchen sink. Hooks galore, lovely melodies, Roy Orbison-isms, excellent 80s production from Richie Zito, an urgent build at the end of the chorus, a good guitar solo, and a nice, emotive vocal from Robin Zander. Really, what more could you want from a late-80s power ballad? Now, was this something that I'd think - oh, this is perfect for Cheap Trick! Nope. It really wasn't their style. However, their (coaxed) decision in recording it was correct. They needed something to reinvigorate their career and Epic's plan to go for a Heart-style comeback did the trick. The band may have balked at having to acquiesce to this label intervention, but on the bright side it relit their star and gave them an enduring 80s classic. Unfortunately, their comeback would ultimately prove to be a brief one.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song was written by Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham. The pair initially approached English singer Elkie Brooks to record the track. Brooks, who scored a pair of UK Top 10s in the late 70s, was just coming off of a 1986 #5 comeback album No More the Fool, which featured the #5 title track. Mitchell and Graham thought "The Flame" would be good for her follow-up LP. Apparently, Brooks didn't like the tune and nixed it. She did, however, record another one of their compositions instead titled "Only Love Will Set You Free." Still believing in their song, Mitchell and Graham began to shop it around and it ended up over at Epic Records, who then offered it to Cheap Trick.  2) According to the band's drummer Bun E. Carlos, an Epic exec found two songs that he knew would be #1 hits. One would be for Cheap Trick while the other would go to another band. For whatever reason, he gave Cheap Trick the option to have first pick. After hearing both songs and discussing it further, the band thought that one of the songs, "The Flame," was a better fit for them. They recorded it and indeed it went to #1. The other demo they listened to that day was the Diane Warren-penned "Look Away." After Cheap Trick nixed that song, it was shuffled over to Chicago for their use. They recorded it and released it as a single in the fall of '88. It would also reach #1. The Epic exec was spot-on in his prediction.


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