Cheap Trick had a huge breakthrough with their 1979 live album Cheap Trick at Budokan
, which brought "I Want You To Want Me
" into the Top 10. In 1980, bass player Tom Petersson left the group, and for most of the decade they had a hard time finding another hit, with none of their singles reaching the Top 40.
Peterson returned to the group for their 1988 album Lap of Luxury
, which included the big ballad that would get them back on the airwaves: "The Flame." This was the dawn of the hair metal era, when the likes of Cinderella and Poison were cracking the charts wide open with similar songs. Cheap Trick already had the MTV-ready look and the rock pedigree, they just needed the song.
"The Flame" checked all the boxes, and although it wasn't something the band would whip up themselves, they liked it better than the other option. In an interview with Gerry Galipault, Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos explained: "The vice president at Epic told us he had these two songs and they're both gonna be #1. He goes, 'We got one for you and one for the group Chicago, but you can have first choice.' He said, 'I think the one 'The Flame' would be good for you guys.' The other one was 'Look Away,' and it sounded like some girl singing on the demo. We really didn't like that song anyway, so 'Sure, we'll do 'The Flame.' We're game.'"