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Classic Tracks: Cheap Trick’s “At Budokan”

In August 1977, Cheap Trick had the lead review in Rolling Stone magazine—the same issue marking Elvis’s death—for their new album, In Color. Though a single from the album, “Clock Strikes Ten,” reached Number One in Japan, the band was still an opening act doing 50-minute sets in America. That would all change with the release of Cheap Trick at Budokan and its hit single, “I Want You To Want Me,” in February 1979.

With their budding success in Japan and impending release of their third album, Heaven Tonight, their agent, William Elson at American Talent Int’l and manager, Ken Adamany, began talking about touring the busy act in both Europe and Japan. By February 1978, a deal had been signed with promoter Daniel Nenishkis of Ongakusha Company, Ltd., in Tokyo, for six shows over seven nights, from April 25 to May 1, starting in Fukuoka, then Nagoya, the Koseinenkin Kaikan Chu-Hall in Osaka, two nights at the world-famous Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, and ending in Shizuoka. The venues varied in size, with Osaka holding 2,500 up to Budokan at 10,000. The shows sold out quickly.

Shortly before the tour, Sony had purchased CBS Japan and split it into two independent labels—EPIC/Sony and Columbia/Sony—which they intended to launch with live albums by foreign bands, in the mold of Deep Purple’s Live in Japan six years earlier. “I had offered Aerosmith to make a live album of their concert at Budokan one year before, but was turned down,” says former label executive Norio Nonaka. “So we were desperate to have a chance to make a live album of Cheap Trick.”

Nonaka recruited Tomoo Suzuki, considered one of CBS/Sony’s top engineers, to record three shows: Osaka and the two at Budokan. The album was to then be mixed by the label and released solely in Japan as a souvenir of the band’s first visit to the country. “The label said they wanted to make a recording. We said, ‘Fine,’” Adamany recalls.

Throughout late March and April, the band’s live sound mixer, David Lewis, worked with the promoter’s sound reinforcement contractor, Tokyo Sound Co., to ensure an adequate sound system. Lewis implored them to boost their suggested system to include multiple 4-way JBL 4520 systems and equivalents to fill the halls.

The group arrived on Friday, April 21, and two days later spent the first part of the day rehearsing and fleshing out an expanded set list. “We were suddenly doing a headlining show, 19 songs, and we’d never done that before,” recalls drummer Bun E. Carlos. The group added several songs from the new Heaven Tonight disc, mostly tracks that had been written and played previously since there was no real time to work others up.

The label also requested three new songs, so the band added “Look Out,” which had been floating around since 1975-76, the bluesy “Need Your Love,” which would be recorded on their following album, Dream Police, and the classic “Ain’t That a Shame.”

At the Osaka and Budokan venues, Suzuki arrived with a small CBS/Sony mobile unit that carried two Ampex MM-1200 24-track tape machines, recording to Ampex 456 tape stock, and a 30-input Quad-Eight Electronics 3024 Q.E. recording console, filling up 23 of the 24 tracks available. For miking, he simply took taps from Lewis’ P.A. mixer, with two exceptions: he added a Shure/Unidyne SM-57 to capture Carlos’ snare and a single Sennheiser 421 for his rack toms. Two audience mics were added on either end of the stage, as well, Carlos says.

Suzuki showed up first in Osaka and quietly went about his business, essentially unknown to the band. “We knew they were supposed to be there, but we never saw them, even during soundcheck,” Adamany says. “I remember saying, after the concert, ‘Wow, great show. Too bad they didn’t record it.’ And then, all of a sudden, on stage left the door opens, and there’s a room with two 24-tack machines and three guys. We had no idea they were there.”

Afterwards, Suzuki recalls, “I packed up the equipment at 11 p.m. and headed for Tokyo in my car. It’s about 550 kilometers from Osaka to Tokyo. I reached Tokyo at 5 a.m., slept for two hours, and then entered Nippon Budokan to begin setting up.”


The band had lunch with CBS/Sony Japan execs on May 2 and then flew back to the States. Shortly after their return, Adamany had a listen to a cassette copy of Lewis’ .-inch, 2-track soundboard recordings. Impressed, he played them for Epic product manager Jim Charne, who declared “I Want You To Want Me” a likely hit.

Knowing that the Japanese division was keen on releasing the recording, Adamany had the multitrack tapes sent to Record Plant NY for producer Tom Werman (who had helmed In Color and Heaven Tonight) to hear. Immediately, major flaws in Suzuki’s tracking, consistent across all three nights, became apparent. “The bass was either missing or would cut in and out, and my kick drum just sounded like some tapping,” Carlos explains.

The band rehearses in a Tokyo rehearsal studio on

April 23, 1978, for their week of shows in Japan.

Werman turned to Adamany and stated simply, “There’s nothing there, Ken. There’s just no need for Epic U.S. to get involved.” Carlos adds, “He told us, ‘Why don’t you guys just go into The Capitol Theater in New Jersey and redo it like KISS did with Alive 2?’ Well, we didn’t want to do that. Without Werman, we didn’t have a producer, so we just said, ‘Lookit, me and Rick will do it.’”

The first step was to figure out which songs would appear on the album, and from which of the three nights’ recordings. Carlos brought cassette copies of the board tapes on the road that summer, listening in the back of the bus or in hotel rooms. “I went through all three shows and just marked which ones had no fatal flaws, which ones had the best lead vocals, which had good drums, which for the bass and guitar, which ones didn’t have a bunch of clams on them.”

To effect repairs, the band booked a day in early June at Record Plant Studio A—which turned into one long night—with engineer Jay Messina, who, along with producer Jack Douglas, had recorded the band’s first album in the same room. Messina made a copy of Suzuki’s 24-track reel, creating space for additional tracks by wiping unusable bass or other material. Roadies arrived with Nielsen’s guitars and Petersson’s bass; Carlos’ drums were perhaps fixable via simple EQ work.

Petersson’s bass replacement was considered central. “It appears to have been an issue with the cable connectors in the original recording,” notes reissue producer Bruce Dickinson. “The bass would fade in and out or go completely, or there would be weird buzzing noises that would overwhelm Tom’s sound.”

Nielsen, meanwhile, took the opportunity to both add to and replace his original playing where he wasn’t happy with the recordings—replacing his solo on “C’mon, C’mon” and “Ain’t That a Shame,” pieces on “Surrender,” “Clock Strikes Ten,” “Need Your Love” and, rather skillfully, replacing the beginning of “Hello There.” “It starts cold,” Carlos says, “and Rick did it in just a few takes.” A slew of solos for “Big Eyes” were created, the guitarist clearly excited to hear *all* of them in the night’s mix, and eventually in the final.

Zander replaced and augmented several vocals, for instances where he or Nielsen might have been off mic, even doubling and harmonizing with himself on some tracks. “I Want You” received an entirely new lead vocal, Zander doubling himself.

A rough mix was created that night, with Carlos and Nielsen each making notes on what additional changes were needed, either in overdubs or mixing/editing (Nielsen specifically wanted to hear the audience’s “cryin’, cryin’” answer in “I Want You” and “Lots of chorus” for “Surrender,” among other things).

Additional fixes were recorded on July 18 and 24, mostly vocal overdubs and some guitars, with engineer Mike Beiriger at Record Plant L.A. while the band was on the West Coast. While there, Adamany received a note from EPIC/Sony product manager Tai Ohnishi, requesting final mixes by August 15, to facilitate an October 9 release in Japan.

With time running out, Douglas and Messina were asked to come back in, and the band took advantage of two open days, August 7 and 8, in Studio A, to record more overdubs. The group returned to the road, leaving Adamany to mix with Douglas and Messina. Douglas set about tackling the problem of Carlos’ bass-less kick drum, which Messina described as “more like a knocking sound. I tried to get as much bottom out of what the mic captured, and it still was missing some low end.”

Douglas, throughout his career, has been serially inventive in his approach to recording and mixing. In this case, he explains, “I take the signal and gate it down to just a beat,”—which Messina then keyed to an oscillator putting out 50 or 60 Hz and gated with a Quad-Eight noise gate, opening momentarily when it received the beat—“We then put a speaker up against a bass drum and mike the bass drum and record that. We would call them ‘Bun E in a Box.’ He calls them ‘Budokan Drums.’”

Carlos’ two rack toms had been miked essentially in mono, even with two mics. Douglas created a stereo spread by splitting the signal and adjusting EQ, low and high, on two channels. The “Good night Tokyo” replaced its “Osaka” counterpart on “Goodnight,” “Surrender” had its tempo increased via a discrete speed change, and Douglas created a masterful side-opening intro to “Ain’t That a Shame.” “Rick and I still don’t know how he did that,” Carlos says.

“Jack and Jay didn’t just do the kick drum trick, they brought out so much of the sound of the shows like no one else could have,” Adamany emphasizes. Still there remained some additional items in the mix which he wanted to see happen. By that point, Messina was committed to other work; his mix was mastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound on August 18.

Adamany also booked time with Gary Ladinsky, who had recorded the band’s previous two albums with Tom Werman, at Record Plant L.A. in hopes they could knock out the remaining adjustments. Dates were pushed to mid-September, and in Ladinsky’s absence, they tracked additional fixes with Mike Beiriger in Studio A to “Ain’t That a Shame.”

Ladinsky arrived on September 18 and spent 40 hours over three days remixing, with Beiriger and Adamany, six of the ten songs, leaving Messina’s mixes intact for “Look Out,” “Big Eyes,” “I Want You To Want Me” and “Surrender.”

The kick drum problem, of course, remained (“The kick and snare sounded about the same,” Ladinsky observed), so Messina guided him through the oscillator/noise gating process by phone. Crossfades were once again prepared, and Ladinsky then flew to New York to master, once again, at Sterling, this time with Greg Calbi, subbing for the unavailable Marino. [While in town, that evening, Ladinsky recorded Cheap Trick at The Palladium, for radio broadcast.]

Since it was not a firm bet that Ladinsky would be available for additional mixing, the Messina master had been sent to Japan for manufacturing, but upon completion of the new mixes, Stolzman informed them on October 1 that the original tape was to be returned and lacquers destroyed, pending receipt of the new master tape and lacquers from Sterling, along with new back cover art to add the engineering credits for the new mixes.

On October 14, Ohnishi sent Adamany a box of 25 of the new albums, but something was wrong. “They sounded terrible,” Carlos remembers, “too much midrange—the EQ was all wrong,” the label having apparently attempted their own mastering to the stereo master. Adamany sent a mailgram, telling the label, “Stop pressing album—the parts we sent you from Sterling Sound in New York were not used by your pressing plant. You must use parts from Sterling.”

In the meantime, on October 2, Epic in the U.S. had Sterling cut a 7-track 12-inch sampler, From Tokyo To You, issued to radio on Halloween. “By that time,” Adamany explains, “we had convinced everyone that there was something there. There was a lot of excitement on FM radio over ‘I Want You To Want Me’ and ‘Ain’t That a Shame.’ So they did a big teaser, as a test to consider releasing the album here.”

Within a few weeks, on November 17, Epic issued the second single from Heaven Tonight—“California Man,” backed with the live “I Want You To Want Me” (with no reference to its source on the label, except “Recorded Live in Japan” on the radio copies). The group’s fans were alerted to the release in a regular tour info mailing, which also noted that a live album “currently available only in Japan,” would become available as an import around December 1.

Imports indeed began to show up in the States, and, due to the airplay of “I Want You To Want Me” and other tracks off the sampler, began selling like hotcakes. Demand was huge, and on February 2, At Budokan was finally released in the States.

On March 20, “I Want You To Want Me,” backed with the live “Clock Strikes Ten,” was issued as a single, which peaked at No. 7 on Billboard’s Hot 100, finally bringing Cheap Trick to the forefront of American radio and to American fans.

A second single, an edit of “Ain’t That a Shame” (done by Adamany and a friend, Mercury Records exec Robin McBride at his home studio), was issued July 27. A third single was considered, but by that time Epic, which had held Dream Police to give Budokan its space, released the new studio album on September 21.

“Budokan brought in so many new fans; for many, it was their first Cheap Trick album,” Adamany observes. “So when the exceptionally well-produced and recorded Dream Police came out, there was a big rush to buy it, but it sounded so different to them. To the new fans, Cheap Trick At Budokan was Cheap Trick.”