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.'"
This was written by the songwriting team of Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham. They wrote it for the British singer Elkie Brooks, but she wouldn't record it, so Mitchell put his voice on the demo and shopped the song around. It found its way to Epic Records, which gave it to Cheap Trick.
As for Elkie Brooks, she chose another song written by Mitchell and Graham: "Only Love Will Set You Free," which appears on her 1988 album Bookbinder's Kid.
The song is a tender ballad where the singer tells a girl he will always be there for her. It was not typical of Cheap Trick's sound, and was also their only hit not written or co-written by their guitarist Rick Nielsen. The song succeeded in exposing the band to a much larger audience. Another example of a '70s rock band that brought in outside writers and had a successful ballad was Heart, who had a similar breakthrough with "These Dreams."
This was Cheap Trick's only #1 hit, remaining at the top spot in the US for two weeks in the summer of 1988.
In this song, the flame represents the singer's love, which will always burn bright. Those following Cheap Trick's career spotted this song as an outlier, since they eschew metaphor in their songwriting. Note the difference between this song and their previous hit:
After the fire After all the rain I will be the flame
I want you to want me I need you to need me
Cheap Trick used a variety of different producers. The Lap of Luxury album was produced by Richie Zito, who had done Eddie Money's Can't Hold Back. Zito knew this song could be a huge hit, but he also knew it wouldn't be easy to coax them into recording it. His strategy was to divide and conquer, having Robin Zander record his vocals first and then bringing in the other guys individually to add their parts.
We found out what this song sounds like with a beat when the dance music singer Erin Hamilton recorded a club-friendly version in 1998, which went to #12 on the Dance chart. In 2008, a remix of her version was released as "The Flame 08," this time going to #1 on the chart.
Bill from MadisonI don't know... been a fan of cheap trick since 79. I think I get their music. The flame was a great commercial rock ballad departure for them. Everyone was doing it back then, and I imagine the money was good. So why not? Brought cheap trick to a whole lot of new listeners, and robin Zander probably deserved the recognition of his singing and front man appeal by that point. It’s all good, open your minds and accept diversification. Oh... and pretty sure they do perform the flame in certain concert.
William from Reno, NvThis whole damned album is awesome. Not a bad song on it. NOT ONE. That's very rare.
Matthew from Taylor, MiI actually love this song.
Matthew from Taylor, MiOr maybe not....just listened to Spirit's song....yeah, there's a similar start, but nowhere near "note-for-note" like I had read on another site. Guess it's better to check things out on your own before posting something...lol!
Matthew from Taylor, MiThe opening to this song is lifted almost note-for-note from a song called "Nature's Way", done by the band Spirit, in 1970.
Sion from Tucson, AzIf anybody ever sees Cheap Trick in concert you will notice that they refuse to perform this song in concert.
Paul from Langley, BcMy girlfriend and I just broke up and this song realy tugs on my heart strings. The part "after the fire after all the rain. I will be the flame" reminds me of when her place caught on fire Because of the upstairs tenants. I was there for her literally in the rain as we and the neighborhood watched the place burn. She was my first love and no matter what I will always love her and be there for her. "your a strong and beautiful young women J I will always love you".
Dave from Rockford, IlDuring their 25th anniversary show in Rockford, CT lumped all the "Ballads" together. While they acknwoledge their popularity and connection, CT Rocks!!!! They know, and so do their fans.
Claude from Kingston, MaIt's a really good song, but it's a really bad Cheap Trick song. How's that for diplomacy. "She's Tight" and "Surrender" are really good Cheap Trick songs.
T from Tucson, Azafter seeing cheap trick live and seeing grown men and women with tears in thier eyes as they were performing the flame how can you say it's not a good song.Any song that can move a person to tears when performed lives has to be a goood song
Derek from Shrewsbury, Mathis is definatly not the worst cheap trick song its a balled about losing his first love even if you dont like the song you cant say its the worst it takes alot to perform something that comes from the heart and its really impolite to make fun of some ones feelings espetialy ones of love
Daryl from Stoke, EnglandIs there a 'worst' cheap trick song? And how is it ironic?
Debra from Lees Summit, MoI think this is a GREAT song. Definitely my favorite cheap trick ballad. And John -- that is dumb to not like the song just because you misunderstood the lyrics for so long.
Pillow from Milwaukee, WiShawn...why this for a wedding song?! Do you know the lyrics? This song is about him being lonely because his woman has moved on, but that he'll always wait for her and miss her. Kinda creepy and stalker-ish. It is a great song, no doubt, but I don't see it as a wedding song.
John from Brisbane, United StatesI never knew until today why this song is titled The Flame,because I never heard the word ;flame'mentioned in the whole song.I always thought he was singing about always being the SAME. I WILL BE THE SAME I WILL ALWAYS BE THE SHAME.So now I dislike this song.
Shawn from Jackson, MnThis is not Cheap Tricks worst song, My wife and I were married in 1988, and this was our song. We both still love this song even after 20 years.
Ed from Westport, CtThe comments from Scott, Susan and the other Scott show the rift this song has created in fans for years. Honestly, I didn't originally like the song- until I saw them do it live. Robin still nails it- very impressive- especially when you see how Roger Daltrey has no voice left anymore in concert. The song was supposedly "offered" to Cheap Trick by the record company who told them, in effect, "Either you do it or Rod Stewart will make it a #1 hit." So they made it a # 1 hit. Also ironic is their cover of Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel" was their only other Top 5 hit (peaked at # 4)- and was the only cover of an Elvis Presley song to ever get into the Top 5.
Scott from Boston, MaThis is definitely not the worst Cheap Trick song. In fact, I think it's one of their best and definitely one of the best love songs ever. Just because it's different than a lot of their songs doesn't make it bad.
Susan from Melvindale, MiI dont think this is their worst song ever. This song is heart felt..Frist loves can be hard to let go of..The frist cut is the deepest..I know your out there some where..Tangerine... The flame....I also like Cheap trick...If you want my love!!
Scott from Palm Desert, CaIronic that the worst Cheap Trick song ever goes to #1.