If you are looking for big-guitar rock n’ roll teen anthems, it doesn’t get any better than the opening track of off Cheap Trick‘s 1978 album “Heaven Tonight.” (My unrepentant love for Cheap Trick will be on full display this Saturday, as J.D. Warnock and I perform with Nick Colby and Peter Buxton as Heaven Tonight – A Tribute to Cheap Trick, the hardest-working band in the U.S.)
“Surrender” is my favorite anthem ever, hands down–which is weird, considering it has some of the most bizarre lyrics ever heard in a mainstream rock hit. Check it:
“Mother told me, yes, she told me I’d meet girls like you.
She also told me, “Stay away, you’ll never know what you’ll catch.”
Just the other day I heard a soldier falling off some Indonesian junk that’s going ’round.”
Supposedly, the song is from the POV of a baby boomer singing about his G.I. generation parents (which explains the bit about the “WACs in the Philippines” in the second verse). For me, it’s all about how your parents were freaks once too. It kinda creates this common bond that makes your own confusion OK. And judging by what his parents are doing in the third verse, they still are freaks:
“When I woke up, Mom and Dad are rolling on the couch.
Rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my Kiss records out.”
It’s all a lead-up to the biggest, best shout-along ending ever put on record. As Rick Neilsen’s guitar rings out huge-ass chords and Bun E. Carlos shreds the snare drum, Robin Zander sings:
By the time “Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright” turns into “We’re all alright, we’re all alright, ” I can hear the crowd chanting along like I’m there. All of a sudden, “Surrender” is all inclusive. We’re all in this crazy-ass life together and at this moment, singing along with Cheap Trick, everything is OK. It’s a fleeting moment, but it never fails to get me off my feet every time. (The bit is such a classic one that the Trick added a couple “We’re all alright”s to the tail end of their theme for “That 70s Show”–which itself is a cover of a classic Big Star song!)
Of course, there are two versions of “Surrender.” There’s the studio version from “Heaven Tonight,” which peaked at #62 on the Billboard chart and paved the way for the success of “Cheap Trick at Budokan.”
Then there is the live version form that famous record, which is famously sampled at the beginning of “Jimmy James” by The Beastie Boys from their “Check Your Head” record: “This is the first song on our new album!” (Sadly, I must admit I know a lot of people who have no idea that’s the intro to “Surrender.” Always good to give them a heads up, though, and spread the Trick gospel.)
“Surrender” is ranked #465 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, but I think it should be in the Top 10. Easy. It’s a classic song by a criminally underrated band who continue to perform live and sound great today.
The Great Songs series so far: