The fantasy of owning a time machine is a fun one, isn’t it? Most people would go back and stop Hitler. Patton Oswalt would go to 1983 and kill George Lucas with a shovel. I, on the other hand, have a much simpler, if less lofty, wish. I’d go to the offices of Epic Records and crash the meeting where they discussed what song they should release as the third single from Lap of Luxury, Cheap Trick’s 1988 comeback record, and stop them from doing something tragic.
Epic was probably feeling bulletproof at the time. They had forced the band into accepting songs from outside sources, or else they’d be dropped. The band, grudgingly, agreed, and the first single, the non-Cheap Trick-written “The Flame,” was a Number One smash. Epic played it even safer with the second single, a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” and were rewarded with yet another Top Five hit. (To be fair, this was the obvious choice for second single.) However, with two consecutive Top 5 singles under their belts, Epic clearly thought that this outside writer’s thing was what Cheap Trick needed all along, and so when it came to the third single, they went with a song written by one of the most successful – and most hated – factory writers of all time: Diane Warren.
You just shuddered, didn’t you? I know I did.
“Ghost Town” may sport a co-writing credit by Rick Neilsen, but please; this is Cheap Trick song the same way that “She’s a Beauty” is a Tubes song (which is to say, it’s not). Even worse, the song was another ballad, meaning that three singles in, Cheap Trick had yet to release a truly Cheap Trick-like song. By the time they finally did release a typical CH song, “Never Had a Lot to Lose,” it was too late. The programmers weren’t interested anymore, and the song stalled in the bottom reaches of the chart.
Fools. They had a perfect third single sitting right in front of them.
“All We Need Is a Dream” was the Hit That Got Away, and quite possibly could have changed the band’s fortunes on a number of levels. First off, the song was a Cheap Trick original – though it features a co-writing credit by Greg “Call to Your Heart” Giuffria – meaning if it becomes a hit, the band would have the leverage to tell the label that the public still wants Cheap Trick songs that sound like Cheap Trick, not some faceless studio band. (The most obvious benefit to this is that we would later be spared “Can’t Stop Fallin’ into Love,” the dreadfully dull lead single from the band’s 1990 follow-up album Busted.) More importantly, the song wasn’t another damn ballad. Def Leppard was launching hit after hit from Hysteria at the time; what radio station that played “Armageddon It” or Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” wouldn’t have spun the daylights out of “All We Need Is a Dream”? Huge chorus, some studio trickery with that flanging sound on the keyboards, and Robin Zander doing that unforgettable “HELLO!” at the beginning of the verses? Stupid, stupid, stupid decision not to release this as a single.
To be honest, I can’t really tell you why I’m so passionate about this one song of theirs. I always imagined that I’d be really good at picking the singles from an album, and when Epic didn’t do what I would have done, it became a crusade of sorts. Whew. I feel better now.